The Research Reputation-Industrial Complex: Corporate influence on the research ecosystem

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I braved airline travel in COVID America to attend the fall 2021 meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), which took place Dec. 13–14 in Washington, DC. At the opening plenary session, the forward-looking head of CNI, Clifford Lynch, talked about a topography of emerging advances and trends he sees in the broad terrain of research and scholarship. While the talk was interesting, during the Q&A portion, a question about research impact indicators particularly piqued my interest because the questioner used the term “research reputation-industrial complex” to describe the overreliance on simplistic metrics and indicators in research evaluation processes.

As it happened, using that phrase in his question was none other than library luminary Lorcan Dempsey, a prodigious thinker in the information profession with a longtime career at OCLC. Dempsey was gracious enough to give me some of his time to discuss issues related to the generation and refinement of research impact metrics by for-profit entities, namely Elsevier, Clarivate, and Digital Science. Dempsey suggested that info pros and librarians should question the motives of commercial players and their roles in research evaluation. Dempsey made it clear to me that he is merely an observer and by no means an expert in scientometrics or research evaluation, yet I thought his point merited pondering.

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