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The construct validity of the h-index

Cameron Stewart Barnes ( University of New England, Armidale, Australia)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 12 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to show how bibliometrics would benefit from a stronger programme of construct validity.


The value of the construct validity concept is demonstrated by applying this approach to the evaluation of the h-index, a widely used metric.


The paper demonstrates that the h-index comprehensively fails any test of construct validity. In simple terms, the metric does not measure what it purports to measure. This conclusion suggests that the current popularity of the h-index as a topic for bibliometric research represents wasted effort, which might have been avoided if researchers had adopted the approach suggested in this paper.

Research limitations/implications

This study is based on the analysis of a single bibliometric concept.

Practical implications

The conclusion that the h-index fails any test in terms of construct validity implies that the widespread use of this metric within the higher education sector as a management tool represents poor practice, and almost certainly results in the misallocation of resources.

Social implications

This paper suggests that the current enthusiasm for the h-index within the higher education sector is misplaced. The implication is that universities, grant funding bodies and faculty administrators should abandon the use of the h-index as a management tool. Such a change would have a significant effect on current hiring, promotion and tenure practices within the sector, as well as current attitudes towards the measurement of academic performance.


The originality of the paper lies in the systematic application of the concept of construct validity to bibliometric enquiry.



Barnes, C.S. (2016), "The construct validity of the h-index", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 No. 5, pp. 878-895.



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