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Rating Academic Reputation

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4 Responses

  1. John Armstrong says:

    Actually reading the articles would be determining an academic’s quality, not his reputation. The two can be wildly different, though I’ll decline to give a list of who I think makes up the difference in my field until I’ve gotten tenure somewhere.

  2. John — Fair point. There is indeed a distinction between quality and reputation. Reputation is broader than quality — it encompasses a scholar’s quality as well as her popularity/visibility.

    Quality is the most important component of reputation in my opinion. Thus, when I speak normatively about how we ought to evaluate another scholar’s reputation, I believe that we should do so by giving a very strong weight to quality. Not that visiblity/popularity aren’t important — but they should matter far less in my opinion.

    As metrics of quality, citations, SSRN downloads, and article placements are not very good. Thus, we’re using metrics that measure the least important dimensions of a scholar’s reputation, thus giving short shrift to the most important reputational component — quality.

  3. John Armstrong says:

    I agree that quality “should” be the dominant factor in reputation, but in the real world it just ain’t so (at least in my experience). Reputation is “the beliefs and opinions that are generally held about someone” (OED). It’s almost synonymous with popularity and visibility. I’m willing to believe that SSRNs, citations, and the like are an accurate measure of reputation even if they don’t really measure quality.

    As an example, when I write a paper that mentions a certain basic component in knot theory, I must cite Kurt Reidemeister’s 1934 paper, even though in practice the results are not exactly those I’m using and there have been numerous refinements and better proofs that have come along in the interim. That paper isn’t the highest quality one that’s on-point, but it’s the most popular and visible one and if I don’t cite it my paper would never get past a referee.

  4. John — The fact that one is popular and visible just means that many people do, in fact, hold “beliefs and opinions” about that person. But reputation does not just involve the quantity of people who hold beliefs or opinions — rather, it also involves what these beliefs and opinions are. Thus, the indicators you mention go to how widely known a scholar might be, but not to the reputation, which also involves the content of the beliefs and opinions. If Scholar X is being cited because he’s the paradigm of a moron, then is this a reputation worth having?