Can we build something better than Scopus and Web of Science?

Scopus and Web of Science (Wos) are the two most used tools right now for doing biblometric/data analysis on publications. Mostly because there is not really any other alternatives out there. With Return On Investment (ROI) projects becoming a large and important task of academic and research institutions, there are a lot of problems with the only large-scale citation index being the two of them.


Bibliometric data is already messy to begin with, it usually requires a lot of massaging (usually by eyeballs instead of algorithms) to produce meaningful results. This often makes the results of a bibliometric study unreplicable, which, in any discipline that aims to be scientific, is a big concern. Having two databases like Scopus and WoS, which substantially overlap, but have just enough unique content to still produce vary different results, puts pressure on a bibliometric researcher to use both of them in order to provide a full picture of what is out there.

Unfortunately there is no real way to match and merge results from Scopus and WoS after. Different meta-fields and title spellings would leave the researcher with a massive amount of overlapping content. So instead of using both, a researcher usually uses just one of them. Often their institution can afford only one as well and the choice is made for them. And when they only chose one… they miss out on hundreds of thousands of publications that WoS has but Scopus doesn’t and vice versa. The two databases are also biased in favour of very different subject fields. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

WoS and Scopus’ coverage doesn’t even really cover that much of all the scholarly literature out there anyway. They both have surprising low coverage of Open Access Journals. WoS only indexes about 1,300 OA Journals or 12% of DOAJ and Scopus only does about 4153 OA Journals, 39% of DOAJ (Past Blog post from me on this). This is a big problem. Researchers who publish OA aren’t very likely to get the impact of their publications included in ROIs studies because of this.  DOAJ metadata is available for free. Scopus and WoS should set up a mutually beneficial approval process with them.

(Scopus and WoS both recently launched really cool Open Access indicators in the past couple years. That allow users to see what articles are OA and accessible and which ones are not. However, I’ve noticed a few miss-identifications of journals as OA in Scopus, which result in the user hitting a paywall. I’ve pointed them out a few times to Scopus but they haven’t changed them yet. Here is a short list of them. Hopefully this blog post takes off and they have them fixed by the time you read it. )

Scopus and WoS are both, of course, very expensive tools that cost a lot to maintain. Usually they get high use from researchers so librarians don’t mind that much. But it still makes it harder for smaller libraries to afford them. Being able to search and measure for impact is important though. So much so that some countries have set up more affordable and national indexes like the Indian Citation Index. (You can register for one-month of free individual access, no credit card or payment information needed).

Now, to be fair, Scopus and WoS do a great job taming all this metadata that they receive. There is no denying that. And hopefully ORCID will do wonders (fingers crossed) for sorting out all the confusion between author names.

But imagine if there was an International Open Access Citation Index. One that wasn’t behind paywalls and that could be used by anyone. Ok. Yes its metadata would be messy because yes it wouldn’t have as “robust” a selection process as Scopus and WoS do. But do we really want that? If robust selection processes result in too many journals being left out of the index, is it worth it?

Now we do have Google Scholar, but that’s a search interface, not citation index. You can’t export data and tinker with data from Google to gauge impact. An OA citation index would also allow you more of the ability to filter and analyze your results.

An OA citation index could be connected more seamlessly to ORCID then Scopus or WoS are. Lack of paywalls and ability to directly link between ORCID profiles in our OA citation indexes hopefully would work wonders for getting more authors signed up for ORCID.

This OA citation index would have both closed and OA content. We could set up an overseeing board and publication approval process like DOAJ has. Perhaps libraries could take the lead on it. Maybe Google could help.

Publishers already provide a lot of their metadata for free to discovery service knowledge bases, databases, and google, so it doesn’t seem like it would require that much effort to get them to supply their metadata for this project. (Well, maybe there might be problems getting metadata from Elsevier because they have a competing tool, but if everybody else is doing it… )

Admittedly, this is some pretty idealistic blabber. It’s clear I haven’t thought this OA citation index idea all the way through. I would love to hear some more discussion from smarter people about why this would / wouldn’t work. But isn’t it worth trying? Has it been tried?


About Ryan Regier

Doing Library Stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier
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