Bibliometrics in Press. Representations and Uses of Bibliometric Indicators in the Italian Daily Newspapers

Eugenio Petrovich

Scholars in science and technology studies and bibliometricians are increasingly revealing the performative nature of bibliometric indicators. Far from being neutral technical measures, indicators such as the Impact Factor and the h-index are deeply transforming the social and epistemic structures of contemporary science. At the same time, scholars have highlighted how bibliometric indicators are endowed with social meanings that go beyond their purely technical definitions. These social representations of bibliometric indicators are constructed and negotiated between different groups of actors within several arenas. This study aims to investigate how bibliometric indicators are used in a context, which, so far, has not yet been covered by researchers, that of daily newspapers. By a content analysis of a corpus of 583 articles that appeared in four major Italian newspapers between 1990 and 2020, we chronicle the main functions that bibliometrics and bibliometric indicators played in the Italian press. Our material shows, among other things, that the public discourse developed in newspapers creates a favorable environment for bibliometrics-centered science policies, that bibliometric indicators contribute to the social construction of scientific facts in the press, especially in science news related to medicine, and that professional bibliometric expertise struggles to be represented in newspapers and hence reach the general public.

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