The Value of Citations

I attended the European Scientometrics Summer School last Sept. 16-23 in Berlin.  For those not familiar with the field, scientometrics refer to the analysis of scientific publications through various statistical methods. As the amount of scientific output increase, scientometricians are needed to organize and make sense of all the data being generated. I found the talks very engaging, as they give a tour of the methods in the field and their various applicaitons. The organizers did a good job of providing a theoretical background of various concepts used in bibliometrics analysis while at the same time, balancing it by having computer laboratory sessions where we applied the concepts learned. I greatly appreciate how they wanted to ensure that we take various units like citations, impact factor, keyword usage, etc with grain of salt.

The discussion that caught my attention the most was on the merit of citations. I think, generally, people tend to take citations for granted. Many academics consider citations as the currency of science. It’s almost the measure of a scientist’s worth. The thing however is that citations are affected by so many factors that great care should be given in its analysis. It varies per field, per subfield and as noted many times before, has a bias towards English publications. I particularly enjoyed this list of 15 reasons to cite another person’s work[1] as presented by Sybille Hinze from DZHW Germany:

  • Paying homage to pioneers
  • Giving credit for related work (homage to peer)
  • Identifying methodology, equipment, etc.
  • Providing background reading
  • Correcting one’s own work
  • Correcting the work of others
  • Criticising previous work
  • Substantiating claims
  • Alerting to forthcoming work
  • Providing leads to poorly disseminated, poorly indexed, or uncited work
  • Authenticating data and classes of facts – physical constants, etc.
  • Identifying original publications in which an idea or concept was discussed
  • Identifying original publications or other work describing an eponymic concept or term
  • Disclaiming work or ideas of others (negative claim)
  • Disputing priority claims of others (negative homage)

[1] Weinstock, M. (1971). Citation Indexes. In: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. Vol. 5, p. 16-40, Marcel Dekker Inc., New York

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