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Highly Accessed Open Badges Comment

The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists

Neil Hall

Genome Biology 2014, 15:424  doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0

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A social media fire-storm

Mihai Pop   (2014-09-08 10:56)  University of Maryland

This article caused a veritable social media fire-storm which raised some points that I would like to discuss in more detail here.

A first criticism to Neil's paper is that we do not truly have a problem - publicizing science is OK irrespective of who does it. We do not have to look too far to see that this is not always the case. Take, for example, Jenny McCarthy's misinformed activism which has severely hampered public health efforts around the world. While such egregious examples are not obvious within the scientific community, it is critical that we learn to moderate intensity of opinion by taking into account the qualifications of the person delivering it. 

A second point raised is that "measures" such as the K-index unfairly discriminate against young, not yet established scientists. While there is a grain of truth to this statement, it discounts the tremendous value of training and experience.  One would be a fool to take the advice of a first year medical student over that of an established practitioner - why would the situation be any different in science?  As we progress in our career we learn, we mature, and we slowly develop authority in our respective fields. It's the elders' soft spoken advice we should take heed to rather than the raucous shouts of the apprentices. 

Finally, a point iterated in virtually all criticisms of Neil's paper is that he attacks efforts to more broadly disseminate science and to educate.  To all those who have taken that message from his paper I would like to point out that he specifically singles out twitter rather than generally all social media.  Science is a complex cycle of experimentation and reflection, and its subtleties are what needs to be discussed among scientists as well as exposed to the public.  Loudly shouting 140 character soundbytes is not thoughtful discussion nor education.


Competing interests

I was Neil's co-worker.

I do not have a twitter account.


Because competence is a better qualification for leadership than loud shouting

Wolfgang Huber   (2014-08-04 18:27)  EMBL

Thanks to Neil for raising two important issues, although as any decent philosopher, he only gives us the questions, not the answers:

  1. How do we best define a scientist's real value to the community?
  2. Why are there some people that have a much bigger followership than 1. justifies, and do we want that?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to 1. is  more subtle than just WoK citations. As for 2., there are many frustrating examples in the world of science that mirror the Kardashian-Syria example, and it'll be good for us to be mindful about them.


Competing interests



The Kardashian index... why should we care?

Madhu Singh   (2014-07-31 10:43)  University of Iowa

First, I should congratulate the author for getting attention of the editors of Genome Biology to even get this 'paper' published.  Next, I should congratulate the editors for thinking 'out of the box' to accept this manuscript.  It will surely increase the traffic, even if the journal doesn't need a boost in its impact factor.

Now, about the Kardashian index.  Unless the scientists are being judged by their peers for hiring, promotions, funding, or publications, the social media impact is harmless.  The disconcerting part in the paper was that the author witnessed his peers succumbing to the Kardashian index for extending invitation to someone whose selection was mainly, if not the solely, on the basis of social media impact.

There will always be people in any field who gain popularity because of their personality rather than substance.  Social media is simply amplifying this effect.  The entire concept of impact factor in sciences by any measure is ridiculous; it only tells what is trendy in a given era (a Kardashian-like index?).

I think the Kardashians might be doing some good to science by increasing awareness among people.  That is a much needed impetus to research during this lean period of funding.

Competing interests



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