Challenges of measuring the impact of software: an examination of the lme4 R package

Kai Li, Pei-Ying Chen, Erjia Yan

The rise of software as a research object is mirrored in the increasing interests towards quantitative studies of scientific software. However, due to the inconsistent practice of citing software, most of the existing studies analyzing the impact of scientific software are based on identification of software name mentions in full-text publications. Despite its limitations, citation data have a much larger quantity and broader coverage of scientific fields than full-text data and thus could support findings in much larger scopes. This paper presents an analysis aiming to evaluate the extent to which citations data can be used to reconstruct the impact of software. Specifically, we identified the variety of citable objects related to the lme4 R package and examined how the package's impact is scattered across these objects. Our results reveal a little-discussed challenge of using citation data to measure the impact of software, that even within the category of formal citation, there might be different forms in which the same software object is cited. This challenge can be mitigated by more carefully selecting objects as the proxy of software. However, it cannot be fully solved until we have one-software-one-proxy policy for software citation.

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