22 Using Google Scholar to Check Author Expertise

Not all, or even most, expertise is academic. But when the expertise cited is academic, scholarly publications by the researcher can go a long way to establishing their position in the academic community.

Let’s look at David Bann, who wrote the PLOS Medicine article we looked at a chapter ago. To do that we go to Google Scholar (not the general page) and type in his name.

Figure 62

We see a couple things here. First, he has a history of publishing in this area of lifespan obesity patterns. At the bottom of each result we see how many times each article he is associated with is cited. These aren’t amazing numbers, but for a niche area they are a healthy citation rate. Many articles published aren’t cited at all, and here at least one work of his has over 100 citations.

Additionally if we scan down that right side column we see some names we might recognize–the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and another PLOS article.

Keep in mind that we are looking for expertise in the area of the claim. These are great credentials for talking about obesity. They are not great credentials for talking about opiate addiction. But right now we care about obesity, so that’s OK.

By point of comparison, we can look at a publication in Europhysics News that attacks the standard view of the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse. We see this represented in this story on popular alternative news and conspiracy site AnonHQ:

Figure 63

The journal cited is Europhysics News, and when we look it up in Google we find no impact factor at all. In fact, a short investigation of the journal reveals it is not a peer-reviewed journal, but a magazine associated with the European Physics Society. The author here is either lying, or does not understand the difference between a scientific journal and a scientific organization’s magazine.

So much for the source. But what about the authors? Do they have a variety of papers on the mathematical modeling of building demolitions?

If you punch the names into Google Scholar, you’ll find that at least one of the authors does have some modelling experience on architectural stresses, although most of his published work was from years ago.

Figure 64

What do we make of this? It’s fair to say that the article here was not peer-reviewed and shouldn’t be treated as a substantial contribution to the body of research on the 9/11 collapse. The headline of the blog article that brought us here is wrong, as is their claim that a European Scientific Journal concluded 9/11 was a controlled demolition. That’s flat out false.

But it’s worthwhile to note that at least one of the people writing this paper does have some expertise in a related field. We’re left with that question of “What does generally mean?” in the phrase “Experts generally agree on X.”

What should we do with this article? Well, it’s an article published in a non-peer-reviewed journal by an expert who published a number of other respected articles (though quite a long time ago, in one case). To an expert, that definitely could be interesting. To a novice looking for the majority and significant minority views of the field, it’s probably not the best source.


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Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers Copyright © 2017 by Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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