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 in the last section. To do that, we go to Google Scholar (not the general page) and type in his name (below).

The Google Scholar search results for “David Bann,” which features his many publications in lifespan obesity patterns. Most of the publications we find are from the last ten years.

The results reveal some interesting bits of information. First, Bann has a history of publishing in the area of lifespan obesity patterns. At the bottom of each result, we see how many times each article he authored or co-authored is cited. These are not amazing numbers, but for a niche area they are a healthy citation rate. Many articles published are not cited at all, but at least one of his works has over 100 citations.

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

Remember that we are looking for expertise in the area of the claim. These are great credentials on the topic of obesity. They would not be great if we were looking for evidence of Bann’s expertise on the topic of opiate addiction. Happily, for this exercise, we are only concerned about the topic of obesity.

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 view represented in this story on a popular alternative news and conspiracy site called AnonHQ:

The AnonHQ article titled, “It’s Official: European Scientific Journal Concludes 9/11 was a Controlled Demolition.” The article has over 14,000 views and was published on September 11, 2016.

The journal cited is Europhysics News, and when we look it up in Google, we find no impact factor. 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 is being untruthful, or does not understand the difference between a scientific journal and a scientific organization’s magazine.

But what about the authors? Do they have a variety of papers on the mathematical modeling of building demolitions? If you search for the names in Google Scholar, you will 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.

The Google Scholar search results for “Robert Korol,” who appears to have published architectural research in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

It is fair to say that this article was not peer-reviewed and should not 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 false, as is their claim that a European Scientific Journal concluded 9/11 was a controlled demolition.

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

What should we do with this article? Well, it is 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 new fact-checker looking for the majority and significant minority views of the field, it is probably not the best source.


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Web Literacy for College Students 2nd Ed Copyright © 2020 by NSCC and Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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