Monday, June 09, 2008

Pecking Order

Check out this story in today's New York Times. Entitled "Now Professors Get Their Star Rankings, Too," the article discusses the history and significance of the Social Science Research Network, or SSRN, as it is more popularly known. According to its homepage, SSRN is "devoted to the rapid worldwide dissemination of social science research and is composed of a number of specialized research networks in each of the social sciences." SSRN has two parts: an abstract database of over 188,000 working papers and forthcoming papers, and a full-text database containing over 151,000 downloadable documents. According to the Times, the definition of "documents" is expansive enough to include "pensees, abstracts, informal arguments, outlines, rough drafts and working papers, up to the finished products you might find in academic journals." SSRN's greatest strength is in the economic and legal scholarship, where its influence is growing.

This growing influence comes from the ability to "slice[] and dice[]" the downloads rankings "with only a click: most downloads over all or most downloads in the last 12 months, either by article, by author or by institution." According to one of my colleagues, the ability to parse the downloads has made SSRN the leading metric of scholarly influence in the legal academy. However, how meaningful are download counts when bloggers "can promote their work and offer links to their articles"?

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