Do bibliometrics introduce gender, institutional or interdisciplinary biases into research evaluations?

Mike Thelwall (Lead / Corresponding author), Kayvan Kousha, Emma Stuart, Meiko Makita, Mahshid Abdoli, Paul Wilson, Jonathan Levitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Systematic evaluations of publicly funded research sometimes use bibliometrics alone or bibliometric-informed peer review, but it is not known whether bibliometrics introduce biases when supporting or replacing peer review. This article assesses this by comparing three alternative mechanisms for scoring 73,612 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) journal articles from all 34 field-based Units of Assessment (UoAs) 2014–17: REF peer review scores, field normalised citations, and journal average field normalised citation impact. The results suggest that in almost all academic fields, bibliometric scoring can disadvantage departments publishing high quality research, as judged by peer review, with the main exception of article citation rates in chemistry. Thus, introducing journal or article level citation information into peer review exercises may have a regression to the mean effect. Bibliometric scoring slightly advantaged women compared to men, but this varied between UoAs and was most evident in the physical sciences, engineering, and social sciences. In contrast, interdisciplinary research gained from bibliometric scoring in about half of the UoAs, but relatively substantially in two. In conclusion, out of the three potential sources of bibliometric bias examined, the most serious seems to be the tendency for bibliometric scores to work against high quality departments, assuming that the peer review scores are correct. This is almost a paradox: although high quality departments tend to get the highest bibliometric scores, bibliometrics conceal the full extent of departmental quality advantages, as judged by peer review. This should be considered when using bibliometrics or bibliometric informed peer review.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104829
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number8
Early online date12 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • Gender
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Peer review
  • REF2021
  • Research bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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