Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Yesterday I wrote about a citation-related topic, and you know how hard it is for me to stop talking about citations once I get started [FSP 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011].

I will write about citations again today because I was reminded of an incident from my postdoctoral days. I had finished a draft of the first paper related to my postdoctoral research and had given it to my supervisor to read. He was rather notorious for taking a long time to read manuscripts and then not having many comments. Another postdoc had warned me not to expect to see the manuscript again for weeks (if I was lucky) and then to be underwhelmed by the input.

So I was shocked when, later that same day, my office phone rang and my postdoc supervisor said "I just read the draft and I need to see you RIGHT AWAY. There is a SERIOUS OMISSION in the paper."

Another postdoc was visiting me in my office just then. He said "This can't be good." We shook hands, and he wished me luck in my new career, whatever it might be, and said it had been nice knowing me.

With a staggering amount of trepidation, I went down the hall to see my supervisor, whom everyone called "The Big Guy". The Big Guy had the print-out of the manuscript on his desk, and he was shuffling through the pages. When he saw me, he said

"HERE! LOOK HERE! On page 7, there is a problem. You should cite my 1984 paper."

He handed me the page in question, which had the place for the missing citation noted. I just stood there, waiting for what came next. But all he said was:

"That's all. Submit it after you add the citation."

So I lived to tell the tale. And I added the citation. And I asked my postdoc-friend: "Will we be like that someday?"

Our assumption was that since we were not like that (in our 20's), it must be something that happens to you later in your career.

So now the question is: Am I like that?

I am probably not the best one to answer that question, but I would say that I developed a strong interest in seeing my work cited (appropriately and accurately, of course), BUT I don't think that it has become a singular obsession that supersedes my interest in the Science in a paper. I'd like to keep it that way, but who knows.. I'm only at mid-career and there's plenty of time for me to become a raging citation-monger.

Does anyone think there is a generational aspect to citation-obsession? It is perhaps most important for early-career people to have good citation numbers, but does that mean they are actually the ones who tend to be more obsessed, or is it we more senior people who tend to be fascinated with our citation metrics? I fear that the real answer is "All of the above".


Anonymous said...

In my field we have people we're pretty sure use an automated script to look for keywords in papers and email the authors to ask for citations.

The most citation-obsessed people I know are all older and respected. But they're not considered by most of the community to be at the very top of the field, and think they should be (in at least one case, correctly, in my judgment).

As a younger person, I tend to err on the side of not wanting to offend or annoy people, and don't bug them about citing me.

Anonymous said...

I think early career people might be more obsessed, but perhaps less likely to be as vocal about it.

Anonymous said...

It is more likely an individual personality trait, and you either have it early or you don't, and if you don't, you don't develop it. Or at least I think that is true of most people.

GMP said...

Dunno... Citation metrics, flawed as they may be, are here to stay in a number of fields. Ignore them at your own peril. The h-index is looked at for every award and promotion, as are the citation counts for individual papers.

I have been known to email people, who I think should have cited me but didn't, the relevant papers; the emails say I saw their work and thought they would find the attached papers of interest. I also contact ISI when I catch mis-citations of my papers. I don't think I am (too) nutty, but I do care that my work is cited appropriately and that the citations are actually counted. Senior established academics may or may not care, but for junior ones the citation metrics undoubtedly matter in many fields.

EliRabett said...

What else of us remains?

David Gaba said...

Citation analysis aside, citation to one's work is the "coin of the realm" in science. If your very relevant papers are not cited by others it is as if your hard-done work had never occurred. OK, sometimes there are a plethora of papers on a topic, and you wrote but one, but that's not the issue. At issue is when there are few papers (including yours) and they don't cite yours or others; when they publish something as new and don't cite your seminal paper (10 years ago -- so not so new); etc. When an author published a paper that essentially replicated a seminal study we published 8 years previously and didn't reference our key paper I queried them, and they said "you're so well known we didn't think we needed to cite you"! That is ridiculous. It distorts the scientific record and gives an inappropriate perception of the novelty of the work. People make mistakes, but systematic non-citation of relevant work is dishonest.