These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an academic who doesn’t think that Google Scholar Profiles are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Some days, I agree.
Why? Because my Google Scholar Profile captures more citations to my work than Web of Knowledge or Scopus, automatically adds (and tracks citations for) new papers I’ve published, is better at finding citations that appear in non-English language publications, and gives me a nice fat h-index. I’m sure you find it valuable for similar reasons.
And yet, Google Scholar is still deeply flawed. It has some key disadvantages that keep it from being as awesome as most imagine that it is.
In this post, I’m going to do some good ol’ fashioned consciousness-raising and describe Google Scholar Profiles’ limitations. And in our next post, I’ll share tips I’ve learned for getting the most out of your Google Scholar Profile, limitations be darned.
1. Google Scholar Profiles include dirty data
Let’s begin with the most basic element of your Profile: your name. If your name includes diacritics, ligatures, or even apostrophes, Google Scholar may be missing citations to your work. (Sorry, O’Connor!) And if you have a common name, it’s likely you’ll end up with others’ publications in your Profile, which you are unfortunately responsible for identifying and removing. (We’ll cover how to do that in our next post.)
Now, what about the quality of citations? Google Scholar claims to pull citations from anywhere on the scholarly web into your Profile, but their definition of “the scholarly web” is less rigorous than many people realize. For example, our co-founder, Heather, has citations on her Google Scholar Profile for a Friendfeed post. And others have found Google Scholar citations to their work in student handbooks and LibGuides–not the worst places you can get a cite from, but still: Nature they ain’t.
Google Scholar citations are also, like any metric, susceptible to gaming. But whereas organizations like PLOS and Thomson Reuters’ Journal Citation Index will flag and ban those found to be gaming the system, Google Scholar does not respond quickly (if at all) to reports of gaming. And as researchers point out, Google’s lack of transparency with respect to how data is collected means that gaming is all the more difficult to discover.
The service also misses citations in a treasure-trove of scholarly material that’s stored in institutional repositories. Why? Because Google Scholar won’t harvest information from repositories in the format that repositories across the world tend to use (Dublin Core).
Google Scholar Profile data is far from perfect, but that’s a small problem compared to the next issue.
2. Google Scholar Profiles may not last
Remember Google Reader? Google has a history of killing beloved products when the bottom line is in question. It’s not exaggerating to say that Google Scholar Profiles could literally go away at any moment.
To me, it’s not unlike the problem of monoculture in agriculture. Monoculture can be a good thing. For those unfamiliar with the term, monoculture is when farmers identify the most powerful species of a crop–the one that is easiest to grow and yields the best harvest year after year–and then grow that crop exclusively. Google Scholar Profiles were, for a long time, the most easy to use and powerful citation reports available to scholars, and so Google Scholar has become one of the most-used platforms in academia.
But monoculture is also risky. Growing only one species of a crop can be catastrophic to a nation’s food supply if, for example, that species were wiped out by blight one year. Similarly, academia’s near-singular dependence on Google Scholar Profile data could be harmful to many if Google Scholar were to be shelved.
3. Google Scholar Profiles won’t allow itself to be improved upon
Other issues aside, it’s worth acknowledging that Google Scholar Profiles are very good at doing one thing: finding citations on the scholarly web. But that’s pretty much all they do, and Google is actively preventing anyone else from improving upon their service.
It’s been pointed out before that the lack of a Google Scholar API means that no one can add value to or improve the tool. That means that services like Impactstory cannot include citations from Google Scholar on Impactstory, nor can we build upon Google Scholar Profiles to find and display metrics beyond citations or automatically push new publications to Profiles. Based on the number of Google Scholar-related help tickets we receive, this lack of interoperability is a major pain point for researchers.
4. Google Scholar Profiles only measure a narrow kind of scholarly impact
Google Scholar Profiles aren’t designed to meet the needs of web-native scholarship. These days, researchers are putting their software, data, posters, and other scholarly products online alongside their papers. Yet Google Scholar Profiles don’t allow them to track citations–nor any other type of impact indicator, including altmetrics–to those outputs.
Google Scholar Profiles also promote a much-maligned One Metric to Rule Them All: the h-index. We’ve already talked about the many reasons why scholars should stop caring about the h-index; most of those reasons stem from the fact that h-indices, like Google Scholar Profiles, aren’t designed with web-native scholarship in mind.
Now that we’re clear on the limitations of Google Scholar Profiles, we’ll help you overcome ‘em by sharing 7 essential workarounds for your Google Scholar Profile in tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned!