Science vs. Scientometrics

April 14 | 2021

How to tell a good scientist from a bad one? In the absence of basic trust in researchers, scientometric practices have been widely introduced in Russia.

Katerina Guba


Photo: Russian science officials are constantly looking for reliable indicators of the effectiveness of their scientists. (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)


Russian science has become a vivid example of the dominance of scientometrics, which has permeated not only the offices of high-level university managers in charge of important decisions but also academics’ day-to-day activities.

The Russian experience indicates that scientometrics has two research management objectives:

  • to evaluate a given project, researcher, or organization in the process of resource allocation; and
  • to confirm the status of a researcher, scientific organization, or journal.

How did scientometrics come to dominate Russian science?


Calculating University Effectiveness

University reporting has long resorted to scientometric indicators, which universities are required to disclose annually. One of the most important of these indicators is the number of publications and citations in three different research databases per 100 faculty members. Since 2012 this form of reporting has been used to monitor educational organizations’ effectiveness.

Project 5-100 also places special emphasis on scientometrics. Select universities receive considerable state resources in exchange for improvement in rankings and relevant indicators. The most important benchmark has turned out to be the number of publications and citations indexed in international databases.


Earning Effectiveness Points

The new benchmarks not only affected the two dozen institutions participating in Project 5-100 but were picked up by other universities, which likewise began to encourage their faculty to intensify publication activity through the use of bonuses and so-called effective employment contracts.

Prior to the introduction of such contracts, professors could start thinking about publishing closer to the end of their tenure. Temporary employment agreements were renewed almost by default, although faculty still had to go through a formal procedure and show a certain number of published works.

With the advent of effective contracts, publications now play the principal role in determining professors’ employment.

Effective contracts stipulate that a portion of a faculty member’s salary is calculated in accordance with a points-based system. Publishing is not the only way to earn points, but it is often the one that guarantees the highest number of points.

At the same time, journal articles have different weights depending on the “value” of a given journal.

  • Publications indexed by the Russian Science Citation Index (RSCI) are worth the least.
  • Articles in journals from the Higher Attestation Commission’s (VAK) list are valued relatively more than those in the RSCI.
  • Journals indexed in Scopus and Web of Science (WoS) are the most valued.

This leaves some room for maneuver for those who are not ready to publish in international journals. But having one’s article in these journals does bring additional financial benefits.


How Research Institutes’ Effectiveness Is Evaluated

Scientometrics is used to evaluate not only universities, but also research institutes, which undergo an expert evaluation once every five years.

Research institutes provide annual data covering several dozen indicators, which serve as the basis for calculating threshold performance values subsequently used to compare each institute’s benchmarks.

At the next stage, the institute is evaluated by an expert, who uses, among other methods, scientometric variables.

As a result, organizations are divided into three categories:

  • leaders;
  • stably operating; and
  • laggards

According to the results of a 2017 expert evaluation, institutes in the first category—leaders—have 0.68 research publications per researcher in journals indexed by WoS.

Institutes in the second category have just over half as many—0.36.

Finally, institutes in the laggards category have only 0.13.

The results of these assessments are considered during funding allocation. Institutions that lag behind can expect closure or reorganization.


In Search of Excellence

In response to publication pressure from management, scientists commonly resort to dishonest practices. In turn, scientometrics continues to perfect its instruments of influence. The race becomes more sophisticated.

For example, at first it was enough to publish in indexed journals. Today, however, what matters for the calculation of bonuses is not only the fact of publication, but also the quartile of a given scientific journal. Publishing one article in a first-quartile journal is equivalent to publishing two articles in lower-quartile journals.

The new Holistic Publishing Performance Score for research institutes will consider co-authorship and multiple affiliations in addition to quartiles.


Confirming the Status of Scientist

There are different situations when a scientist might need to confirm her research achievements—for instance, to become an expert at a foundation, join an examination committee, or earn a place on the editorial board of a journal.

This confirmational function of scientometrics is especially common when awarding degrees.

In the late 1990s, defending a dissertation was not a Herculean task. It required, aside from submitting the manuscript itself, passing three examinations and publishing the results of the study in an academic journal, which could be substituted by conference abstracts.

Since the early 2000s, however, this simple procedure has been amended with complications and clarifications, including a number of scientometric requirements.

Examination committee members are required to report how many publications and citations they have according to citation databases.

Editors of VAK journals must provide data on the number of articles published by reviewers and editorial board members and specify the number of academics, corresponding members, PhD holders, and candidates of science, as well as report the journal’s scientometric data.

Dissertation research results are accepted only if they were published in journals with confirmed status.

Regulations dating back to 1994 contained a vague note that dissertation results must be published in an academic journal, without specifying any characteristics that the journal needed to have. Furthermore, patents and abstracts were accepted as equivalent to articles.

In 2006, a new directive prescribed a mandatory number of publications and created a special list of designated journals under the VAK.

In 2013, the number of required publications rose:

  • To defend a doctoral dissertation in social sciences and humanities, no fewer than 15 were required (for other disciplines, no fewer than 10),
  • To defend a candidate of science dissertation, three and two, respectively, were required.

The criteria for VAK journals have been further formalized; they must now provide quantitative data about their operations.


How Scientometrics Assesses Research Project Leaders

The Russian Science Foundation uses scientometric benchmarks to judge research competitions. Academics in charge of research projects must provide evidence of articles in indexed journals to confirm their status as a published author.

Moreover, over the past five years, the publications threshold has risen significantly. In 2014, research project leaders had to have had no fewer than three articles in indexed journals over the course of three years. In 2017, this number rose to five articles over the course of five years. In 2021 it reached eight.  

Social scientists and humanities researchers can no longer rely on articles published in journals indexed by the Russian Science Citation Index.


Scientometrics as a Substitute for Trust

In many cases, scientometrics substitutes for the expert opinion of scientists themselves.

We can seek our colleagues’ advice on who should be part of an examination committee or editorial board of a journal. But given the lack of basic trust in academics, managers want additional data.

The situation is especially dire in the social sciences and humanities, as evidenced by a new decree requiring academics in these disciplines to publish at least 50 articles in first-, second-, and third-quartile journals over the course of 10 years. For other academic fields, the number is no fewer than 30, but only in first- and second-quartile journals.

Such unexpected discrimination can easily be explained by government suspicion that social scientists and humanities researchers are more likely to produce low-quality research—hence the need to set such a high bar.

Scientometric indicators therefore serve as a guarantee of sorts, eliminating the risk of author collusion.

* * *

As long as this distrust of scientists persists, scientometrics will continue to permeate academic management practices.

At the same time, broad reliance on scientometrics triggers retaliatory dishonest practices intended to circumvent the system. Plagiarism, publishing in predatory journals, and fake co-authorship are just a few examples.

These practices in turn serve to confirm officials’ belief that scientists cannot be trusted. The search for reliable metrics continues, threatening to become a vicious cycle.

Katerina Guba is Director of the Center for Institutional Analysis of Science and Education at the European University at St. Petersburg.


School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Almaty Management University

Almaty, 31 October 2 November 2024


Academic freedom is a cornerstone of scholarly and research activities worldwide. The globalization of higher education and science necessitates a shared understanding of academic freedom principles globally, particularly in Eurasian countries. Despite the universality of academic freedom, the commitment to its protection and promotion varies and is shaped by the intricate interplay of legal, socio-political, and cultural contexts. A country’s legal regulations and policy frameworks significantly impact how the protection and promotion of academic freedom are understood and implemented.

The quality of democracy and freedom protection in a country also affects the level of academic freedom there. This effect is evident in the rapid challenges all political systems face, such as managerialism and consumerism in higher education. It is even more pronounced in undemocratic regimes with breaches of institutional autonomy and ideologization of higher education.

Equally striking is how the global academy interprets academic freedom when it encounters local traditions that are not universally democratic. In this regard, the operation of campuses of leading universities in authoritarian countries and the debates about the principles and conditions of their operation deserve additional interest.

These observable diversities raise the question of whether global academic freedom can be discussed as a universal concept and how to distinguish the diversity of academic freedom manifestations from aberrations. It also raises the question of how to protect and promote academic freedom as a principle while considering the legal, socio-economic, and cultural contexts in which it is practiced.

For a conference exploring the complexities of academic freedom in a global context, with a particular focus on Eurasian countries, here are some potential topics that could be addressed:

  • The cultural and social context of academic freedom in practice, the contextualization of academic freedom, its cultural and political interpretations, and the universality of academic freedom.
  • Academic freedom in democratic vs. authoritarian regimes, the balance between the social-economic dimension of academic freedom and political rights’ dimension,
  • Legal framework of academic freedom, comparative analyses of legislation, the impact of legal tradition on the application of academic freedom in different countries,
  • Globalization and academic freedom, including academic freedom on international campuses, academic exchange, and academic freedom strategies for maintaining academic standards and freedom in diverse political landscapes.
  • Managerialism and academic freedom, balance between financial sustainability and scholarly independence. Academic integrity and academic freedom
  • Effect of the social and political crises for the academic freedom, academic freedom for persecuted scholars: issues and supports of the scholars in exile
  • Ethnic and moral considerations in upholding academic freedom, including ethical dilemmas scholars faced due to the conflict between national and international academic standards.

The conference is organized by CISRus (Center for Independent Social Research) with generous support of Almaty Management University (AlmaU) and in information partnership with Ghent University.

The conference will be conducted in English. We welcome applications for individual contributions, which should include the title, a brief description (up to 200 words), and a short academic biography of the presenter (approximately 100 words). Presentations will be organized in either thematic panels or roundtable discussions. The organizing committee reserves the right to determine the presentation format (panel or round table) for each selected participant.

Please send your applications to the email:


Application Deadline: July 25, 2024

The Conference Committee is ready to provide accommodation for all participants for the days of the conference and has some capacity to contribute to the ticket costs as well. Please indicate your need for accommodation and travel expenses with your application.


The conference committee:

Dmitry Dubrovsky (Research Scholar, Department of Social Science, Charles University; Professor, Free University)

 Aleksandr Vileikis (Professor, School of entrepreneurship and innovation, AlmaU)

Elizaveta Potapova (Senior Researcher, Public Policy and Management Institute, Lithuania)

Irina Olimpieva (Director CISRus, Research Professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University)


About AlmaU:

Almaty Management University – is a world-class, entrepreneurial, socially responsible university. More than 35 years in the education market, the oldest private university in the country, the 1st business school of the Republic of Kazakhstan, a pioneer of business education in the CIS.

The School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (SEI) is a leading and internationally accredited (BGA&AMBA) entrepreneurship school with a commitment to excellence, innovation, and global perspective. SEI AlmaU offers a range of cutting-edge entrepreneurship programs designed to prepare students for successful careers in diverse fields.


Information for traveling:

Kazakhstan has adopted a policy allowing dozens of countries to enter without a visa. Please contact your local Kazakhstani embassy for further details. For guests who may require a visa, AlmaU will issue a letter of invitation confirming their participation in the conference. Participants will also receive information about housing and traveling to Almaty.


Біз сіздермен Алматыда кездесуді асыға күтеміз !

We are looking forward to meeting you in Almaty!

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