Measuring institutional research productivity for the life sciences: the importance of accounting for the order of authors in the byline

Giovanni Abramo, Ciriaco Andrea D'Angelo, Francesco Rosati

Accurate measurement of institutional research productivity should account for the real contribution of the research staff to the output produced in collaboration with other organizations. In the framework of bibliometric measurement, this implies accounting for both the number of co-authors and each individual's real contribution to scientific publications. Common practice in the life sciences is to indicate such contribution through the order of author names in the byline. In this work, we measure the distortion introduced to university-level bibliometric productivity rankings when the number of co-authors or their position in the byline is ignored. The field of observation consists of all Italian universities active in the life sciences (Biology and Medicine). The analysis is based on the research output of the university staff over the period 2004-2008. Based on the results, we recommend against the use of bibliometric indicators that ignore co-authorship and real contribution of each author to research outputs.

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