Friday, 25 June 2010

Citation and confidence - Bioinformatics as an example

How do you know an article is a good article?

We know that peer review is flawed and that it can let through bad articles while blocking actually good work. So how can we be confident about a piece of research? The more an article is cited, the more this article has become important to the community. This can either be citations by those who disagree but most often with those who agree with the work. So highly cited papers even if they are shown in the future to be flawed, have become a significant part of the literature.

As a little experiment I took the articles from 2001 in Bioinformatics of which there are about 819 including editorials and comments and lookd at the number of times they have been cited using Google Scholar. Only about 300 articles have ever been cited. So 500 have never been cited. Of those articles that have been cited the most cited has over 6500 citations and there are 10 articles with more than 500 citations.

This means that in the eight and a half years since the end of 2001 less than 40% of articles have been cited. This agrees with the results reported in Ziman - Reliable Knowledge for 1973 (p 130), where less than 50% of articles were cited within the first year after they were published. This is slightly surprising with the advent of the internet and the increase in open source publication which makes access to the literature wider, but this also reflects the massive growth of the literature in the last 40 years.

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