01 August 2014

The Anonymous Nobody Index: a measure of alternatives to doing actual work

It's come to my attention that Dr. Neil Hall, "Legendary self styled maverick genome scientist…and father of 4," has developed a new influence metric that will almost certainly take the marketing and communications field by storm:
In the era of social media there are now many different ways that a scientist can build their public profile; the publication of high-quality scientific papers being just one. While social media is a valuable tool for outreach and the sharing of ideas, there is a danger that this form of communication is gaining too high a value and that we are losing sight of key metrics of scientific value, such as citation indices. To help quantify this, I propose the ‘Kardashian Index’, a measure of discrepancy between a scientist’s social media profile and publication record based on the direct comparison of numbers of citations and Twitter followers.
I, of course, was instantly offended by this.  Pulling meaningless social media metrics out of your ass with gratuitous references to pop culture is MY job.  Yet there it was, published in a scientific journal, no less.

Being a narcissistic online social media guru - and an American one, no less - my first instinct was of course to calculate my own "K-index." I checked my Twitter followers (somewhere around 3500) and my number of scientific citations (roughly zero).

I could be wrong, but according to Dr. Hall's model I think my K-index is infinity.

Dr. Hall's model is, of course, sheer brilliance.  If he's not careful the folks at Klout may grab the patent on it. For the first time we may be able to accurately measure the degree to which someone is an undeserving clod who never really accomplished anything meaningful in life.  You know the ones - the really popular ones, who get all the attention, the pretty ones who just coast through life, having things handed to them at every turn, having people fawn all over them, as if THEY were the smart ones, THEY were the ones who deserved to be prom king, THEY were the ones who dated the really cute girls, THEY were the ones who could just seem to say the right thing at the right time while YOU, the really smart one, the one who was shy and maybe a little funny-looking or smelly but so industrious and well-meaning and really nice if they just got to know you a little bit, YOU, the one who works and will probably discover something really really important - something that you don't really have the time to explain because people really won't understand it anyway and there isn't enough damn time to teach others the really complicated things that just come easy to you - YOU really deserve all that attention, and sure, sure it would be great if someone famous mentioned your work on Twitter or the radio or television or whatever, and yeah, you suppose it would be nice if someone tried to help you explain why your work is important so it continued to get funding from people who don't know a lot about science but do know a lot about finance or law or marketing so they have money...

Sorry, was I talking out loud just then?

Anyway, there is one small problem with Dr. Hall's article - one that is no doubt going to be cited I don't know how many times. It's that time he steps out of character to give us something "on a serious note" - possibly written when he realized that his model likely calls women "Kardashians" because they are underrepresented in scientific citations:
My introduction highlights the fact that women have a history of being ignored by the scientific community. Interestingly, in my analysis, very few women (only one in fact) had a highly inflated Twitter following, while most (11/14) had fewer followers than would be expected. Hence, most Kardashians are men! This ‘study’ does not prove that we, as a community, are continuing to ignore women, or if women are less likely to engage in self-promotion, but it is consistent with either or both of these scenarios.
So I'll step out of character as well.  Here's a little bit of PR advice, given in good faith, to an obviously smart guy who was clearly trying to make a joke.

Don't go there.

Don't go through the goofy exercise of cherry-picking a few people you think don't deserve their publicity and then try to make some vague, CYA statement on gender.  Don't throw out a thinly-veiled (albeit clever) critique of science communication and self-promotion while failing to clearly articulate what you really think about this important issue.  

Don't create a situation where your "fifteen minutes of fame" is spent on something other than your work - especially while you're insisting that it's your work that really matters.

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