Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Matthew Effect Strikes Again

The new Bornmann, de Moya Anegón and Leydesdorff paper, published in PLOS ONE, shows that highly cited papers tend to reference other highly cited papers more often. That is true especially for the life science and health science disciplines. Ms. Corbyn from Nature News saved me the need to summarize the paper by writing an excellent article about it.

Based on their findings, Bornmann et al. suggested to concentrate funding on already highly-cited researchers and research groups ("A concentration of resources on these elite structures seems to be practical especially for the life sciences and health sciences"). This is already happening, to some extent, but if the authors' offer is to be accepted, I suspect highly-cited authors will forever remain at the top, simply because they will get most of the funding.

Now, citations don't exist in a social vacuum; despite the tendency to see them as "objective" representations of papers which have influenced other scholarly works, they are affected by factors like the paper's publishing journal, personal connections, coverage of the paper in the mass media, and more. Bornmann et al.'s recommendation might cause funding agencies to end up giving their money to the most popular, connected researchers, who are already well-established in their discipline.

Bornmann, L., de Moya Anegón, F., & Leydesdorff, L. (2010). Do Scientific Advancements Lean on the Shoulders of Giants? A Bibliometric Investigation of the Ortega Hypothesis PLOS ONE, 5 (10) : 10.1371/journal.pone.0013327

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