simplification to put into perspective – Jornal from USP

simplification to put into perspective – Jornal from USP

THE academic platform search.com recently released the results of its Top University Ranking, a ranking of universities that is primarily based on the reputation of their researchers. According to the platform, the choice of methodology arose from the need for a transparent form of classification using objective metrics. The classification is done based on the index h, including the number of researchers with h-index equal to or greater than 40 and the sum of their h-indexes, the number of papers published and the sum of citations from these works. In this way, the platform claims to be “the only one that capitalizes on the human as a valuable resource for research institutes and offers its data and procedures publicly in a completely transparent way.” The data used in this edition of the ranking were obtained from the databases of Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Graph, until 6 December 2021.

Simplicity and transparency are certainly positive aspects of this ranking, especially when compared with the most popular rankings, based on various parameters, including subjective ones. However, in addition to the inherent limitations of quantitative parameters such as the h-index, it is interesting to note that the Research.com platform ranking uses absolute data, not normalized by the number of teachers / researchers in each institution.

Research.com University Rankings results are broken down into knowledge areas. Taking the field of chemistry for example, the first three positions are: Kyoto University, University of Tokyo and University of California (Berkeley). There are four Japanese, three North American, one Swiss, one English and one Chinese universities in the top ten. By way of comparison, the 2022 edition of the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking for physical sciences areawhich includes the field of chemistry, puts the University of California (Berkeley), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Princeton University in the top three, and Peking University is the top Asian university in the rankings, in fifteenth place.

Despite the comparison between chemistry and physical sciences, the difference between the rankings in the two rankings can be analyzed using absolute numbers from Research.com. For example, Caltech, with about 300 professors / researchers ranks second on THE and sixteenth on Research.com. Kyoto University has more than 3,900 professors and researchers and is 1st on Research.com and 67th on THE. Comparing the 108 chemistry researchers with an h-index greater than or equal to 40 of the University of Kyoto with the 37 of the Caltech does not seem very instructive.

In Brazilian chemistry, the University of Sao Paulo (USP), the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), they occupy the top three positions in the Research.com rankings. USP is ranked 108th in the chemical area world ranking in this same ranking. There are 28 researchers with an h-index of at least 40 and more than 5,500 publications. The sum of the h-indices of these 28 researchers is 1,402. In the Times Higher Education ranking for physical sciences, the University of Sao Paulo, Unicamp and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) occupy the best ranking and are in the group between positions 401-500.

At the USP, in addition to the professors of the Institute of Chemistry (IQ), in the capital, and of the Institute of Chemistry of São Carlos (IQSC), there are 28 colleagues listed from other USP units. There are eight in the IQ and six in the IQSC, which is only half of those listed. Of course, research in a particular field, such as chemistry, at a university like the USP is not limited to specific institutes. This distribution reinforces the fact that the ranking in question indicates, at best, the volume of quality research carried out in an institution. A more modest objective than that indicated on the Research.com platform site: “to answer the question of which university is the best for chemistry”.

In second place in Brazil, Unicamp is ranked 213 in the Reseach.com global ranking. of the 16 researchers listed, 11 are at the Unicamp Institute of Chemistry. Normalizing the number of professors with index h greater than or equal to 40 by the number of professors in each institution, we would have: IQ / Unicamp (11/72) = 15.3%, IQSC / USP (6/52) = 11.5 % and IQ / USP (8/106) = 7.5%. This example reinforces the limitation of non-normalized data. In fact, in addition to the important parameter relating to the total volume of quality research used by the Research.com ranking, normalized results such as these can be useful to candidates for a degree in Chemistry or degree programs, for example. After all, undergraduate and graduate students are not simply connected to a university, but to a university unit and / or degree program.

Of course, factors such as the specificities of the research of interest, the academic and scientific environment, teaching and research infrastructures, employability, etc. are also taken into account in these choices, but the simplicity of the Research.com ranking should be viewed with caution. In the midst of so many and different university rankings, it is increasingly important to dissect the data, putting it into perspective.