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Google Scholar and New Wave Researchers

November 7, 2019

Commissioned by The Publishing Research Consortium, CIBER Research conducted the Harbingers Study, a 3-year longitudinal study of 100+ international Early Career Researchers (ECRs), defined as new wave researchers (junior, untenured, and postdocs). Not surprisingly they found ECRs are digital natives and possess millennial beliefs of openness, sharing and transparency. Social media and smartphone use looms large as well as “challenging the orthodoxy.”


“Average number of papers per academic across five disciplines and three databases, July 2015.” Fig. 3. from Halevi, Moed, and Bar-Ilan (2017).

When it came to information discovery it confirmed the popularity of Google generally and Google Scholar specifically. “2 out of 5 ECRs use Google Scholar extensively for scholarly purposes.” The original study covered 7 countries (China, Malaysia, Poland, France, Spain, the U.K, and the U.S.).

A recently reported “interim finding” on ECR information seeking and finding based on the effort to expand the number of countries where ECRs are surveyed: 93% of ECRs in Russia are Google users and 72% actively use Google Scholar with “lower use by arts and humanities ECRs, however.”

What does this tell us?  Despite many enduring concerns, Google and Google Scholar are truly embedded in emerging scholarly research practice.

Dr. Alberto Martín-Martín, a new faculty member at the University of Granada who as a PhD student “spent a summer scraping Google Scholar’s database,” said in an interview published by Nature, “Google Scholar is one of the most used academic search engines in the world” and “Google Scholar contains valuable information that is not available from any other database, but it is impractical to rely on it for large-scale analyses” (Else 2018).

The basic issues with Google Scholar highlighted by Halevi, Moed, and Bar-Ilan (2017):

  • Google Scholar is constantly expanding and includes publishers content as well as content not available in controlled databases.
  • Google Scholar provides citations counts that are broader than those covered by controlled databases.
  • Google Scholar should be used with controlled databases especially when clinical information retrieval is required.
  • Google Scholar is challenging when advanced searching is required.
  • Google Scholar does not support data downloads and therefore is difficult to use as a sole bibliometric source.
  • Google Scholar lacks quality control and clear indexing guidelines.


Else, Holly. “How I scraped data from Google Scholar: A researcher explains how — and why — he spent a whole summer harvesting information from the platform, which is notoriously hard to mine.” News Q&A. Nature (11 April 2018).

Halevi, Gali, Moed, Henk, and Bar-Ilan, Judit. “Suitability of Google Scholar as a source of scientific information and as a source of data for scientific evaluation—Review of the Literature.” Journal of Informetrics 11.3: 823-834 (2017).

Nicholas, David, et al. Early Career Researchers: The Harbingers of Change? Final Report. CIBER Research, Nov. 2018.

Nicholas, David, and Tatiana Polezhajeva. The scholarly communication attitudes and behaviour of Early Career Researchers (the new wave of researchers): An international survey. Presentation, 7th NEICON International Conference, Sept. 2019.

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