Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Bibliometrics and the Evaluation of Australian Sociology (1)

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Bibliometrics and the Evaluation of Australian Sociology (1)

Article excerpt


Bibliometrics is the analysis of publication and citation data. This type of data is relevant to many areas of sociological interest, especially research on international differences, occupational attainment, stratification, institutions, prestige, gender and social network analysis. In other fields, bibliometric data are commonly examined to evaluate the standing of a discipline. While excellent reviews of Australian sociology have been published in recent years (e.g. Western 1998; Baldock 1994), bibliometric data have not yet been used to supplement such studies. In fact, bibliometric analysis has rarely been a component of Australian sociological research of any sort. One reason is that obtaining appropriate data tends to be time-consuming and expensive. In recent years, however, these data have become more readily available, and important reasons have emerged suggesting these data should be of interest to Australian sociologists.

A major development of concern to researchers in this country is the increasing attention the government devotes to measures purporting to gauge the performance of universities and other government-funded enterprises. Considerable attention has been given to the issue of performance-based funding (see Anderson, Johnson and Milligan 1996). In the area of academic research, these measures almost always involve examining aspects of publication activity. A positive element of government interest in this area is that more bibliometric data are becoming available to researchers. These data are inherently relevant to the investigation of a wide variety of sociological issues. A more troublesome side to this development, however, is that Australian sociology itself is a target of investigations of academic performance.

The government has recognised very recently (Kemp 1999) that the publication component of the Research Quantum `is not in the best interests of Australian research' (due to collection expenses, the misreporting of information and the absence of a research `quality' component with which to differentiate publications). This realisation, however, has in no way diminished government interest in performance evaluation. While it appears the evaluation process may become more decentralised, the government will continue to expect institutions to provide `auditable performance indicators' which will include `research outputs (publications, patents, and consultancies)' and `research impact (citations, successful innovation and commercialisation)' indicators.

That the `quality' of Australian sociological research is a specific concern of the government can be seen in subtle ways, even in government requests for tender (RFT). A recent RFT for a study of the impact of educational research provides a good example. First, this RFT pointed out that `educational administrators and practitioners consider that much educational research is irrelevant'. It then specified that the proposed study should examine `the extent to which research in areas not directly founded on pedagogy, such as the sociology of education, have contributed to improvements in teaching and learning and educational administration' (italics added) (Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs 1998). It seems unfortunate that sociology was singled out for special attention in a study that essentially focuses on the irrelevance of research. Of course, government interest in tracking research performance extends far beyond sociology, but it is reasonable to assume that at least some government officials have doubts about the merits of sociological research, certainly in the area of education and very likely far beyond that.

Whatever opinion people may have about sociology, however, two issues should be made clear. First, while it is reasonable to question the appropriateness of methodologies used to evaluate research quality, the government has a legitimate interest in determining if public research funding is being used effectively. …

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