Academic Analytics RecentResearch Center

The “quantification” of the Social Sciences

AARC Senior Researcher Bill Savage and I recently published an article in PLOS ONE documenting changing publishing practices in the social sciences. In short, social scientists are, by and large, publishing more journal articles and fewer books than they were a decade ago. The trends we observed are much stronger than we anticipated – journal article publication has increased as much as 64% between 2011 and 2019, while book publication is down as much as 54% in the same period, with some variation across disciplines. The publication patterns of social science fields are becoming more similar to those of STEM areas, and less similar to the humanities.

We propose that this trend is, partially, a response to several external stimuli including increased research funding for explicitly quantitative social science projects making use of recently available big data (e.g., social media trends, digitized government records, geolocation data), journal article-centric research evaluation schemes, and increased collaboration rates (team science) among social scientists, resulting in more articles per person.

One question arising from this work is whether this trend represents a wholesale shift among social scientists (unlikely). I think it’s more likely that social scientists engage in a plurality of research methods, among which quantitative studies are growing in volume, following STEM’s trend towards greater rates of publication. Meanwhile, studies employing qualitative research methods (and mixed methods) also continue to thrive but have not grown in volume to the same degree as quantitative studies. A future study might seek to understand the extent to which studies employing qualitative research methods have grown or declined with respect to the increase in quantitative studies in the social sciences. Another related avenue for future research is exploring the relationship between the social sciences and the humanities, and whether the changing methods and publishing practices of the social sciences has impacted that relationship.

 

Anthony J. Olejniczak, Ph.D.

Director, Academic Analytics Research Center

 

References

Savage WE and Olejniczak AJ (2022) More journal articles and fewer books: Publication practices in the social sciences in the 2010’s. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0263410.

Share this article

AARC Twitter
AARC Linkedin