What’s Your Kardashian Index?

Today a colleague sent me a link to a Genome Biology paper entitled “The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists.”  At first glance, it reminded me of Greg Caporaso’s post about Twitter last month.  But as I continued to read, the slight truth behind the premise described in the paper fascinated, amused, and slightly troubled me.

In this short communication, the author, Neil Hall, defines the Kardashian index as “a measure of discrepancy between a scientist’s social media profile and publication record based on the direct comparison of numbers of citations and Twitter followers.”  The K-index is calculated by dividing the actual number of Twitter followers a scientist has by the number of Twitter followers said scientist should have based on their citations.  A high K index indicates that said scientist may have built their reputation on a shaky foundation (i.e. the Kardashians, circled in Figure from the paper below), while a low K index indicates that said scientist is not being given credit where credit is due.


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Check it out for, at the very least, an amusing read perfect for a sluggish Tuesday afternoon.  And maybe after reading it, you’ll have a new outlook on Twitter and what your followers are telling you about your scientific prowess.

What’s your Kardashian index?

14 thoughts on “What’s Your Kardashian Index?

  1. Mine’s 29* but what is Jonathan Eisen’s/@phylogenomics???

    *not including self-cites which, oddly, seems wrong for this index.

  2. Well, in some ways I love this – especially since I used to work with Neil Hall.

    However, I really wish he had done more to try and tease apart correlation and causation. For example, time series analysis might show which came first – lots of followers or lots of citations and that might help lead to better models of cause and effect.

    Regardless, this is a very important contribution to the studies of the connections between Kardashian’s and science.

  3. I didn’t calculate mine. Because I’m a scientist in industry, my output isn’t measured the same way. I don’t work on the same currency as academics. But I kinda think it would be unfair to not consider me a scientist*.

    That said, as I noted on Twitter–what do you think Neil deGrasse Tyson’s KI is? I don’t know his publication record. But I’d bet $10 he scores in the Kardashian range. Yet his scicomm outreach has been massive. This is not a bad thing, or a shameful thing.

    Sure there are some abusers of reputation. And there are definitely unsung heroes of science. Further–I know this is humor. But it strikes me as a bit prejudicial, like some of the same “tall poppy” stuff that Sagan and other communicators have suffered from.

    *PS: you want jobs for your trainees outside of academia? Stop dissing and discounting alternative careers. Not anyone here personally of course, I mean the royal “you”.

    1. I am with you. The more I think about this, the more I really dislike this whole concept. It makes people who may communicate well but not have a lot of citations seem vapid when it should be the opposite.

      1. I really hate this. People who look “good” (i.e., “under-appreciated”) by this metric are likely to be older and well-established. Tenured, for example. The simplest way to claim a low K-index is to have begun publishing a couple of decades before Twitter was created, or to be boring on Twitter, or both. I am deeply suspicious when powerful, privileged and influential people name themselves as victims.

        I get that this is supposed to be a joke. I get that there are personalities out there who get a lot of attention on social media but haven’t published many earth-shattering papers. I want to laugh along with Neil Hall as I read it, but I can feel the smirks that will come along with almost every mention of the K-index, and most of those smirks will be professorial smirks.

        This is a joke that is only funny when looking down on people less materially fortunate than one’s self. Yuck.

        1. It’s the same as with all metrics (albeit more tongue-in-cheek and inherently flawed) in that you can’t generalize people. Context is everything. Still, if it’s point was to stir discussion, it’s been partially successful. We are being bombarded with metrics and perhaps this will help question the value of all.

  4. I guess I see it from the other side. Yes, the “Kardashian” thing is kind of a crappy way to introduce this idea, implying that if you haven’t been cited enough you haven’t “earned” the right for people to even know about you. But if you can ignore the whole “Kardashian” name and the way it was proposed I think it is kind of an interesting statistic.

    I work in a disclipline where communication with the general public is valued almost as highly as (sometimes even more than) journal publications. A big reason the land-grant schools exist, after all, is to help the normal folk. I think anyone with a very low K-index shouldn’t be celebrated. Instead, they should use it as a sign they need to step up their outreach efforts. It’s the same as when I hear scientists complain they “don’t have time for social media.” If you don’t have time to communicate your science to people, well, you’re doing it wrong.

    As a side note, I’ve been telling myself I was going to learn 1) github and 2) building R packages for longer than I’ll admit. I used this as a simiple problem to try and do both. I’ve created an R package that has only 1 function (Kindex) that calculates the K-index based on twitter follwers and citations. It is here if anyone would like to try it: https://github.com/akniss/R-KardashianIndex

    1. Heh–right, it should be a feature, not a bug!

      And I do get the humor and absurdity of all sorts of metrics. But I think it’s playing into the stereotype of “social media is a waste of time” in a way that’s not helpful.

  5. Let me offer a bit more middle-of-the-road view.

    First, anyone who has been publishing a couple of decades before twitter existed will have a low KI, but as time goes on I think that would change as people who see social media a more a part of life start publishing more as well. So the trendline and averages would flatten a bit over time I expect, or the scatter would narrow, or both.

    Second, when someone says they haven’t time for social media that isn’t just because they are old fuddy-duddies. FFS, I write for a living and every second I spend on the twitter time-suck is a second I am earning no money. I would love to “build my brand” but exposure doesn’t pay my rent. Paid assignments pay my rent.

    The same is true of many scientists I think who care about what they do — it’s certainly possible that after loads of hours doing research you want to sit down with a glass of wine or a TV show or whatevs and not deal with people.

    I am NOT saying outreach is unimportant, it’s part of what I do for a living. But I recognize that there are only so many hours in a day, too. I notice that the online gurus who love social media the most have a tendency to be people with fewer demands on them — they skew younger, single, and the older ones have paid gigs that offer them the time or mandate to go on twitter all day long. This isn’t true of everyone, but the skew is noticeable.

    I don’t have that, and I have a spouse to care for and a house to deal with. So I sympathize more with people who say “I am trying to do science which is what I am paid for.” Even Niel deGrasse Tyson — a very good scientist in his own right — has taken on outreach as essentially a full time job.

    I’d be happier if universities recognized the outreach as part of the job to begin with, and emphasized publishing less. That’s sort of another discussion tho.

    1. Thanks for posting these. I really enjoy it when a certain topic causes so much discussion…and this one has definitely given us something to talk and think hard about.

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Embriette Hyde

Embriette Hyde is a postdoctoral associate in Rob Knight's lab at UCSD.