Is the Web of Science a universal authority on science?

El Centro de Pensamiento en Gobernanza y Gestión del Conocimiento, la Ciencia, la Tecnología y la Innovación -GCTI y el Doctorado en Estudios Políticos de la Universidad Externado de Colombia, en asocio con la Asociación Colombiana para el Avance de la Ciencia – ACAC, l@s invita al evento de la referencia, descrito abajo, el cual se llevará a cabo en el marco de la serie de coloquios de investigación doctoral GCTI ( el día Jueves 13 de Agosto a las 07:00 en el salón  B-209 de la Universidad Externado de Colombia,

Doctorante: Diego Chavarro, SPRU, Universidad de Sussex

Comentaristas: Diana Lucio (investigadora del OCyT), Maria Alejandra Tejada (Doctorante de la Universidad de Twente, Países Bajos)

No es necesario confirmar asistencia, pues la entrada es libre.

Aquellos que por alguna razón no puedan asistir al evento, pueden acompañarnos vía ‘Live streaming’. Si este es su caso, favor indicarlo enviando un correo a:


Coloquio de investigación Doctoral: “Is the Web of Science a universal authority on science?”

In this thesis I examine the cognitive authority of Journal Indexing Systems (JIS), which are communication systems in science. JIS are services that offer valuable bibliographic information on a core of journals selected by JIS indexers based on a set of criteria. Specifically, this thesis analyses in depth the Web of Science, which continues to be mostly accepted by the policy-making and scholarly communities as offering a global coverage of the most prestigious scientific journals. The study has two parts: in the first I test whether WoS can be acknowledged as a cognitive authority on science based on the application of universalistic principles. In the second part I seek to gain insights into the perceptions and responses of researchers to the perceived authority of WoS.  The following sections provide an overview of the thesis.

From an informational point of view, JIS constitute what Wilson (1983) calls cognitive authorities. Cognitive authorities are persons or organisations whose opinions effect an influence on what others think. This influence should be “legitimate” in the sense that it is based on assumptions of trustworthiness and disinterestedness rather than imposition. However, as the author acknowledges, “Bibliographical control is a form of power, and if knowledge itself is a source of power, (…) bibliographical control is in a certain way power over power, power to obtain the knowledge recorded in written form” (Wilson, 1968, p. 4).

JIS are regarded as cognitive authorities in the science communication system. Although they were not originally built to support research policy decisions, national and international assessment bodies, such as governments, organisations involved in the production of university rankings, and universities themselves, now create indicators of scientific excellence from their databases and some of them have been incorporated into ranking systems for rewarding academic performance. The increasing importance of and reference to JIS as a means of reflecting the scientific excellence of a country is evidenced, importantly, by research evaluation exercises, which are being adopted worldwide.

The Web of Science (WoS) is the most accredited JIS among the existing JIS. It covers more than 12,000 journals worldwide and provides citation analysis and indicators through its journal citation reports (JCR) and other products. As noted above, the widely adopted national research evaluation systems have elevated its importance for the academic community and policy makers because it is used as a benchmark for ranking the scientific production of researchers worldwide. Publishing in journals indexed by WoS has come to be a synonym for international quality standards (Lillis and Curry, 2010, p. 137). It is the apparent cognitive authority of WoS that has motivated the aim of this thesis.

Importantly, the extent to which WoS can be used as a comprehensive database for different disciplines and territories is not clear. Researchers have pointed out linguistic, geographical and disciplinary biases that presumably might render this JIS as unsuitable for assessing the whole science communication system. Despite the concerns with the universal applicability of WoS as the key reference for scientific quality, it continues to be perceived  by the academic and policy communities as an “authority” with the “power” to differentiate between what is science from what is not. Furthermore, the dominance of WoS seemingly prevails in a context in which “the changing governance of the public sciences (…) has been accompanied by a rapid increase in the types and numbers of formal organisations involved in the production, coordination and evaluation of pubic scientific knowledge” (Whitley and Glasser, 2012). In other words, WoS has acquired a formal authority for research assessment.

Yet there is an emergence of regional JIS that are gaining recognition by national research evaluation systems. Specifically, in Ibero-America there are three big initiatives: Latindex, RedALyC, and Scielo. These are multidisciplinary JIS that cover journals produced in Latin America, the Caribbean, Portugal, Spain and other territories such as South Africa. In China there is the Chinese Citation Index, and in some countries, such as Japan, India and Russia there are recent developments to create bibliographic and citation indexes too. The emergence of these alternative JIS seem to challenge the universal cognitive authority of WoS. What may explain the dominance of WoS, despite these initiatives? This thesis aims to inquire about the universality of the cognitive authority of WoS through two research questions:

1. Is WoS a universal cognitive authority on science?
2. How do researchers perceive WoS in contrast to other available Journal Indexing Systems?

In this presentation I will explain how I am approaching the research of question 1.  Specifically, I will show my conceptual framework to understand cognitive authority in the context of JIS. The framework is based on Robert Merton’s studies on universalism and particularism in science. After this, I will explain the rationale for two quantitative analyses in order to answer the question. Preliminary results will be broadly presented, and further steps in the thesis will be outlined.

Diego Chavarro trabajó en el Observatorio Colombiano de Ciencia y Tecnología de 2003 a 2006 realizando proyectos de investigación y estadísticas cienciométricas. De 2007 a 2010 trabajó en la Vicerrectoría de Investigaciones en la Universidad de los Andes, haciendo análisis de la producción científica de la universidad para la formulación de la política de investigación. Cursó una maestría en la Universidad de Sussex – SPRU sobre estudios de política pública de ciencia y tecnología, que culminó en 2012. Actualmente es estudiante de doctorado en el mismo departamento, con beca de Colciencias. Ha publicado en temas relacionados con el impacto social de la ciencia, la interdisciplinariedad y la ciencia en latinoamérica.

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