Viability of bibliometrics

Differences between the disciplines

In Finnish universities in 2011–2012, for example, articles in journals accounted for 93% of scholarly publications in the medical and health sciences, and 67% in the natural sciences, agriculture and forestry. In the social sciences and humanities, they accounted for less than 50% of the total scholarly publication output, with chapters in books and monographs being even more common in the humanities. In engineering, papers in conference proceedings accounted for more than 50% of publication output.

A large proportion of scientific publications is currently written in English, which has established its position as the main language in most scientific fields. Especially in the “hard” sciences Finnish language publications are rare. National publications account for only 10% of Finnish universities’ scientific publications in the natural sciences and engineering, and 15% in the medical and health sciences. On the other hand, about 50% of publications in the social sciences and humanities are published in domestic forums.

Three main distinctive patterns in publishing between disciplines exist: that found in the natural sciences and medicine, that of engineering, and that of the humanities. Publications in natural sciences and medicine are typically articles in international journals authored by a group of scholars, and the rate of publications per researcher is high. Researchers in natural sciences and medicine tend to have a high degree of dependence on the results reached in earlier studies and a shared methodology and techniques. The principal audience is the international scientific community.

The abovementioned characteristics apply to engineering as well but the audience structure is more heterogeneous. The articles in engineering are mostly published in conference proceedings instead of journals, because in a fast-developing field that is the best way for getting research results published rapidly and for reaching relevant audiences, such as national or international industry partners.

In the humanities, scholars prefer the book format and tend to write alone or in pairs. National publication forums are typical, and researchers contribute fewer publications per year. The lower degree of competition means that more time can be devoted to developing a comprehensive description of a research topic or problem. Monographs and edited books are better for reaching the non-scholarly audience important in many fields in the humanities. The social sciences also represent this pattern of publishing to some extent but the share of publications in journals is higher. The social sciences have a higher degree of collaboration than the humanities, and thus fall somewhere between the natural sciences, medicine and the humanities in their publishing patterns. The monographs and book articles have retained their status as important publishing types in the social sciences and especially in the humanities. Monographs and edited books may also better reach the non-scholarly audience, which is important to many fields in the humanities and social sciences.

Decorative image. Pile of books.
Decorative image. Cover of a scientific journal: Thermal Science 5/2015.

Viability of bibliometrics at different disciplines

Bibliometric databases, such as Web of Science and Scopus, favour so-called exact sciences. These include natural sciences, such as biochemistry, pharmacy and medicine. Findings in these fields of science are usually published as articles in English-written journals. The more a certain field publishes in books (monographies) and in other languages than English, the weaker results bibliometrics provides. Typical examples are human sciences and sociological sciences. These fields often rely on indicators provided by Google Scholar content. Thus, the opportunities of bibliometrics are very different for example between historians and medical scientists.

Evaluating research via bibliometrics is not an easy task. Read what to consider when using bibliometric evaluation responsibly.

Further information:

Finnish national guide to publication metrics: Differences between fields of science.

Puuska, H.-M. 2014. Scholarly publishing patterns in Finland: A comparison of disciplinary groups. Academic dissertations. Tampere University Press, Tampere.

(3/2023 JN)

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