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Quantifying Long-Term Scientific Impact

Science  04 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6154, pp. 127-132
DOI: 10.1126/science.1237825

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Citation Grabbers

Is there quantifiable regularity and predictability in citation patterns? It is clear that papers that have been cited frequently tend to accumulate more citations. It is also clear that, with time, even the most novel paper loses its currency. Some papers, however, seem to have an inherent “fitness” that can be interpreted as a community's response to the research. Wang et al. (p. 127; see the Perspective by Evans) developed a mechanistic model to predict citation history. The model links a paper's ultimate impact, represented by the total number of citations the paper will ever receive, to a single measurable parameter inferred from its early citation history. The model was used to identify factors that influence a journal's impact factor.

Abstract

The lack of predictability of citation-based measures frequently used to gauge impact, from impact factors to short-term citations, raises a fundamental question: Is there long-term predictability in citation patterns? Here, we derive a mechanistic model for the citation dynamics of individual papers, allowing us to collapse the citation histories of papers from different journals and disciplines into a single curve, indicating that all papers tend to follow the same universal temporal pattern. The observed patterns not only help us uncover basic mechanisms that govern scientific impact but also offer reliable measures of influence that may have potential policy implications.

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