Professor Kean Birch takes a deeper dive into Web of Science’s ‘most cited’

Woman typing on a keyboard

Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Kean Birch recently learned that two of his papers were the “Most Cited” and “Most Read” articles at the world’s leading science and technology studies journal, Science, Technology, & Human Values, at the same time. And this got him thinking.

Kean Birch
Kean Birch

What other sorts of metrics are out there about him?

Part of the reason for thinking about metrics is that they are central to the way that universities are ranked nowadays, whether that is national rankings like Maclean’s magazine, or global rankings like Times Higher Education, QS World University Rankings, or Academic World University Rankings. Such rankings are a fact of life for any university researcher and for any university, and these rankings are configured – in one way or another – by metrics including citations counts.

Metrics matter for professorial careers, since they can and do play a major role in hiring and promotion decisions. It’s worthwhile then, thought Birch, to try and understand his own personal citation score and its relationship to his academic career and to the University’s reputation. So, he decided to look at his citation performance and achievements in more depth.

Web of Science, the world’s leading citation index, is the best starting point for this. It covers more than 21,000 journals, 104,000 books, and eight million conference papers according to its website. Exploring Web of Science, Birch came across something interesting. Web of Science classifies some publications as “Highly Cited Papers,” representing those publications that “As of May/June 2019 … received enough citations to place it in the top one per cent of the academic field of Social Sciences, general based on a highly cited threshold for the field and publication year.” In order to avoid a range of problems with comparing citations, Web of Science adjusts crude citations by discipline, time since publications, and so on in order to come up with this ranking.

In looking up his own research, Birch discovered that he has three “highly cited papers” according to Web of Science, meaning that all three are among the top one per cent of the world’s most cited social science publications. These articles are:

  1. Birch, K. (2017) Rethinking value in the bio-economy: Finance, assetization and the management of value, Science, Technology and Human Values 42(3): 460-490.
  2. Birch, K. and Tyfield, D. (2013) Theorizing the bioeconomy: Biovalue, biocapital, bioeconomics or …what?, Science, Technology and Human Values 38(3): 299-327.
  3. MacKinnon, D., Cumbers, A., Pike, A., Birch, K. and McMaster, R. (2009) Evolution in economic geography: Institutions, political economy and adaptation, Economic Geography 85(2): 129-150.

According to Web of Science, York University has a total of 289 “highly cited papers” by current – and sometimes past – researchers, although they are distributed unevenly across the University. For example, as far as Birch could discern from the Web of Science database, there are another two “highly cited papers” by current researchers in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies:

  1. Martin, A., Myers, N. and Viseu, A. (2015) The politics of care in technoscience, Social Studies of Science 45(5): 625-641.
  2. Lileeva, A. and Trefler, D. (2010) Improved access to foreign markets raises plant-level productivity … for some plants, The Quarterly Journal of Economics 125(3): 1051-1099.

“It’s obviously great to find out that your work is in the top one per cent of the world’s research,” said Birch in light of these findings, “and it’s gratifying to be recognized by Web of Science like this. I’m only 42, so hopefully I’ll be able to produce a few more influential pieces over the rest of my career.”

A screen capture of the Web of Science results for Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Kean Birch