In addition to publishing academic papers, modern researchers often use social media to build up their public personas.
University of Liverpool geneticist Neil Hall noticed that many scientists with popular social media profiles were overvalued based on metrics other than their works’ scientific integrity.
Hall created the “Kardashian Index” to measure the discrepancy between a scientist’s social media profile and publication record. The metric provides a direct comparison of Twitter followers and citation numbers.
Hall points out that social media makes it easy for people to build impressive public profiles by “essentially ‘shouting louder’ than others.” He hopes the Kardashian Index will help scientists protect themselves from “mindlessly lauding shallow popularity” and lead to more informed and critical views of peers’ opinions.
In his introductory paper, Hall says:
I am concerned that phenomena similar to that of Kim Kardashian may also exist in the scientific community. I think it is possible that there are individuals who are famous for being famous (or, to put it in science jargon, renowned for being renowned). We are all aware that certain people are seemingly invited as keynote speakers, not because of their contributions to the published literature but because of who they are. In the age of social media there are people who have high-profile scientific blogs or twitter feeds but have not actually published many peer-reviewed papers of significance; in essence, scientists who are seen as leaders in their field simply because of their notoriety. I was recently involved in a discussion where it was suggested that someone should be invited to speak at a meeting ‘because they will tweet about it and more people will come’. If that is not the research community equivalent of buying a Kardashian endorsement I don’t know what is.
The Kardashian Index will basically indicate whether a scientist has an overblown reputation on social media. Hall’s paper also underscores the discrimination women face within 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,” wrote Hall. “Hence, most Kardashians are men!”