In a letter in the latest issue of Curent Science, Prof. Ramasesha and Prof. Diptiman Sen (both from IISc), present a strong case against the use of scientometrics in "judging" the scientific contributions of individual scintists.
Scientometry can be helpful in assessing institutions and departments, instead of individuals. This is so because, like statistics, scientometric analysis is helpful when applied to large numbers. It can tell us about the state of activity of groups to make decisions regarding funding and remedial measures to improve a certain institution or department. But, using it to evaluate individual scientists for career advancements and recognitions must be stopped. Henceforth nominations for awards and fellowships, papers for promotion, and application forms for faculty positions should desist from asking for scientometric information of individuals. Assessments must be made solely on the merit of the scientific contributions of the individual concerned.
Ramasesha and Sen are right to demand that application forms "desist from asking for scientometric information of individuals.
Here's something that was brought to my attention sometime ago by a commenter: a school of biological sciences at an IIT was proud to display on its website (alas, the URL no longer exists) the h-index expected of its faculty applicants at different levels. The commenter went on to point out that Prof. Venky Ramakrishnan, one of the 2009 Nobel winners in Chemistry, would not be eligible! [Update (10 March 2011): This particular meme is wrong. See this post. See also the comments by Giridhar and Sunil, below. The appearance of this meme here is my mistake, and it doesn't take anything away from Ramasesha and Sen's argument, below, which is a lot more carefully worded.]
Ramasesha and Sen use a similar argument:
Thankfully, for the most prestigious prize in science, it is heartening to see that scientometrics is not the basis of the award. Recent Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists who may not rank at the top either on the number of publications or on the h-index. Examples are Venky Ramakrishnan (2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)and Koichi Tanaka (2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). It is indeed well known that in some instances the work for which a Nobel Prize is awarded becomes highly cited only after the award, as the award highlights the importance of the work.
It's a short, punchy letter. Do read all of it.