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    Google Scholar – Platforming the scholarly economy

    tags: refusal
    October 27th, 2022


    Goldenfein, J. & Griffin, D. (2022). Google Scholar – Platforming the scholarly economy. Internet Policy Review, 11(3). https://doi.org/10.14763/2022.3.1671 [direct PDF link]



    Google Scholar has become an important player in the scholarly economy. Whereas typical academic publishers sell bibliometrics, analytics and ranking products, Alphabet, through Google Scholar, provides “free” tools for academic search and scholarly evaluation that have made it central to academic practice. Leveraging political imperatives for open access publishing, Google Scholar has managed to intermediate data flows between researchers, research managers and repositories, and built its system of citation counting into a unit of value that coordinates the scholarly economy. At the same time, Google Scholar’s user-friendly but opaque tools undermine certain academic norms, especially around academic autonomy and the academy’s capacity to understand how it evaluates itself.


    Here are tweets from Jake introducing the paper:

    Here I mention the paper (with reference to refusal - more below), quoting from our closing paragraph:


    Unquestioned reliance on such opaque measures in hiring, promotion and tenure committees, let alone decisions about what to read and who can speak, displace academic autonomy. If the academy cannot develop “an accountability relationship” with Google Scholar, it must find other ways to meet its own obligations (Rached, 2016).

    • citation: Rached, D. H. (2016). The concept(s) of accountability: Form in search of substance. Leiden Journal of International Law, 29(2), 317–342. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0922156516000042 [rached2016concept]

    Here I mention the paper (quote-tweeting a semi-viral tweet mentioning, in part, fear of Google abandoning Google Scholar):


    1. a line from our paper, in the section: Evaluative Bibliometrics in the Scholarly Economy
    2. Quoted words are drawn from Alberto Martín’s reply to the Ethan Mollick tweet, Martín is an author of the paper Mollick is referencing: Martín-Martín et al.’s “Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic, Scopus, Dimensions, Web of Science, and OpenCitations’ COCI: a multidisciplinary comparison of coverage via citations” (2021), in Scientometrics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-020-03690-4 [martín2021google]


    A paper with Jake Goldenfein on academia relinquishing autonomy by its use of Google Scholar. Earlier versions of the paper (some with Sebastian Benthall and Eran Toch) were discussed at the Digital Life Initiative at Cornell Tech (blog post here), “Money talks? – The impact of corporate funding on information law and policy research”, the 2019 Northeast Privacy Scholars Workshop, and the Doctoral Reading and Theory Workshop at UC Berkeley’s Information School. Here is an early draft on SSRN. Jake has a separate piece in the LPE project: Law, Metrics, And The Scholarly Economy. Partially supported by funding from NSF INSPIRE SES1537324.


    While refusal is not the point of our paper, except for refusal of the status quo, as a research praxis and a form of refusal, I have not used Google Scholar since 2021-12-01. I discuss this in a running Twitter thread.

    See also my reply to a question on Twitter here:

    See my reply quoting from our paper down-thread of the same question, here:

    The quote is extracted from our conclusion:

    Google Scholar does not have a monopoly on opacity. There is a dearth of transparency and accountability across the now numerous tools for evaluation and ranking. Google Scholar is not the only bibliometrics platform demonstrating these features or causing these issues. [ . . . ] But as Onara O’Neill describes, old intermediaries are being replaced with new intermediaries ‘whose contributions are harder to grasp, and who are not and cannot be disciplined by the measures used to discipline the old intermediaries’ (O’Neill, 2020).


    Some discuss Google Scholar as a gift from Alphabet/Google or an act of charity or generosity straightforwardly, without noting how gifts and acts of charity are employed in relations of power.

    We discuss some of this in a section called “Free”. Here is a tweet from my making brief mention of this with a short excerpt:


    Xnet ((@X_net_ ???)(https://twitter.com/X_net_/)) - 2022-10-25:

    La opacidad de las herramientas de Google Scholar y su sistema de recuento de citas , que coordina la economía académica, destruye normas fundamentales:

    🎓 La autonomía de la Academia y su capacidad para entender como se evalúa a sí misma. [ . . . ]

    Alberto Martín-Martín (@albertomartin@twitter.com) - 2022-10-22:

    This piece lays out good arguments for why it is problematic to let unaccountable organizations such as Google Scholar to intermediate access to the scholarly record [link omitted] #dontleaveittogoogle

    The issue is not limited to Google Scholar of course, there are other commercial platforms that function as intermediaries, but Google Scholar is distinctive in one thing: they don’t need 💰 from academic institutions to function, and so they “cannot be disciplined”

    Overall, I think it’s a great piece, although I miss some self-criticism. These platforms dominate the landscape because the scholarly community doesn’t recognise its responsibility to manage its own records, which includes discovery tools, so ultimately the fault is in us

    Gianluca Sgueo (@GianlucaSgueo@twitter.com) - 2022-10-14:

    #GoogleScholar is central to the professional lives of academics. Yet they have zero agency on the service. This study claims that the platforms is taking away some of the autonomy that #academia still has left

    Sebastian Baltes (@s_baltes@twitter.com) provided an excerpting - 2022-10-13:

    “Google Scholar […] has leveraged its system of citation counting into a tool that coordinates the scholarly economy. […] it infuses the scholarly context with platform dynamics in ways that trouble a set of contextual norms.”