Academia Discovers Hit Counting

Working alongside legal academics, I hear a lot about a web site called SSRN, the Social Science Research Network. It’s a free service that hosts thousands of academic papers on law, economics, and business. It also tracks the number of times each paper is downloaded and publishes regular reports on the most-downloaded papers and authors.

A couple of years ago, some institutions began using SSRN download counts to evaluate faculty job candidates. Aspiring academics got wind of this and started asking all their friends to download their papers. SSRN responded by requiring users to register to download papers. Irritated professors then boycotted SSRN.

As some sensible people pointed out, the rankings aren’t that meaningful anyway. The real loser is the scholarship SSRN was meant to encourage.

I find this somewhat funny, because these professors have had to learn what web advertisers discovered in the nineties: hit counts are virtually meaningless.