Alex Csiszar: The catalogue that made metrics, and changed science

As new ways emerge to assess research, Alex Csiszar recalls how the first one transformed the practice and place of science in society.

In 1830, Charles Babbage had an unusual idea. Exasperated by how little recognition science was getting in England, the computer pioneer and scientific provocateur suggested that quantifying authorship might be a way to identify scientific eminence.

Like many of Babbage’s radical ideas, this one persuaded almost nobody, but it eventually proved prophetic. Before the end of the century, listing papers and comparing publication counts had become a popular pursuit among scientific authors and other observers. Within a few decades, academic scientists were coming to fear the creed of ‚publish or perish‘ (see ‚Catalogues and counts‘). …

Nature 551, 163–165 (doi:10.1038/551163a



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