The importance of citations

Citations document the citing behaviour via scholarly publications. Citations are seen as tokens of recognition in the world of scientific writing: it is mostly accepted that a paper is being cited in order to make a point that is relevant to the subject at hand. It is also seen that citation has social uses, both self-serving and as a tool for persuasion. We all use citations, we all have our reasons for using them. Many of us are being evaluated based on our scientific articles and our citations!

Citations are the major data source in bibliographic data sources such as Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar, helping us to study scientific collaboration and the working of science. And as there usually are many citations of each journal article, when looking at many articles, there is a lot of citation data. This data can be presented as lists, graphs as well as with specific metrics.

Network analysis allows for looking at linkages between citations: who cites who. My team used the network approach to compare the scientific fields of relational capital and social capital. So when our Scopus search returned hundreds of articles, all with multiple citations, we created an initial citation network of more than 60,000 authors.

In addition to the interesting visualizations, we noticed something else: we academics are sloppy when we use citations! Very easily we forget the second initial of the author, might even forget a co-author; we do not check the correct spelling of the journal nor the spelling of the author. Hence, in citation datasets, Granovetter M. is listed as a different author from Granovetter, M.S.

With such large amounts of citation data, checking by hand becomes too much. Hence, my team had to create a computer program to do a lot of data cleaning so that Granovetter M. means the same as Granovetter, M.S. The resulting network had about 50,000 authors.

Is this an indicator of researcher sloppiness? Almost 20 percent of the citations are not correct? It could be. Anyways, I know that I will be checking and re-checking the citations that I use in the future. Because they are important.

3 thoughts on “The importance of citations

  1. A few friends of mine in BECS, Aalto are engaged in similar works (Arnab Chatterjee, Raj K. Pan) and have recently published some results in Scientific Reports related to this topic. Maybe you would like to collaborate with them!

  2. Thank you for your comment! And for pointing out that this is of interest for someone else, too. Will contact the people you mentioned soon!

  3. A cynical view is that we use the citations to show our own knowledge but would rather avoid giving the credict / benefit to the cited author through increased index. Did anyone miss-spell the citation to one’s own article?

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