Citation Distributions in High Energy Physics

Andrea Scharnhorst Andrea.Scharnhorst at NIWI.KNAW.NL
Thu Nov 21 04:57:25 EST 2002

I found just this interpretation of "dead" papers the most problematic in 
the paper because of the negative image conveyed by the notion "dead".

The fact that most of the papers are not cited at all is well known as is
the fact that most scientists have a relatively low productivity compared 
with the few highly productive scientists. Can this fact be turned into a 
negative evaluation of the papers or scientists sitting on the one edge 
of a skew distribution?

Every scientist build his work on a tremendous part of other papers. 
They might be well-known or un-know or yet not known.
An empirical study in "successive citations" presented by Jan Vlachy 1986
(Jan Vlachy, Scientometrics analyses in physics - where we stand, Czech. J. Phys.
B 36 [1986] 1-13, see also Jan Vlachy, Scientometrics 7[1986]505-528)
showed 8 different types in time series of citations of physics papers:
- initially high recognized
-basic recognized
-late recognized, innovative
-late recognized, longevity
-gradually recognized
-repeatedly recognized
Having this in mind "dead" turns into "timely dead" or "partly dead" or "periodic dead"...

The role of the bulk of less known or un-known scientists was also discussed
in the debate around the Ortega hypothesis.
1993 Eugene Garfield wrote reviewing this debate
"I was driven to find a way to acknowledge these scientists
as well as other "mediocre" researchers, as J. Ortega 
y Gasset called them. They are not necessarily of Nobel
class, but their work provides the foundation for
other scientists' groundbreaking discoveries. Ortega y Gasset
suggested this hypothesis in his 1932 book The revolt of Masses, 
stating that science is built on the contributions
of thousands of creative individuals, not merely an 
elite group of highly visible persons."
(see (Essays of an Information Scientist: Of Nobel Class, Women in Science, 
Citation Classics and Other Essays, Vol:15, p.387, 1992-93 , 
Current Contents, #45, p.5-10, November 8, 1993) )
In the sociology of science further interpretations have been distributed around this fact.
1965 Robert K. Merton wrote a book "On the shoulders of Giants", and in
a current comment about this book Derek de Solla Price
wrote 1977 "'If I have seen farther, it is by standing 
on the shoulders of giants.' The origin of this aphorism, widely attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, ..."
(Essays of an Information Scientist, Vol:3, p.176-178, 1977-78     Current Contents, #28, p.5-8, July 11, 1977, see also )

Instead of speaking of two populations (the "dead" and the "alive") it would
be more interesting to follow the exchange processes between these two populations.
One might expect that papers change their status due to different citation classics.
What is the amount of papers which are traveling between these two populations?

What also strikes me was that the intersection point between the two
power laws is just at x=50 citations? Is there any explanation
that it is just this number?


Dr. Andrea Scharnhorst
Netherlands Institute for Scientific Information Services (NIWI)
Joan Muyskenweg 25

Postbus 95110
1090 HC Amsterdam 
The Netherlands
Tel: +20 4628 670

>>> suppe at PRINCETON.EDU 11/21/02 03:09AM >>>
There is a significant new paper filed earlier this month at the physics e-
print archive ( by S. Lehmann et al. dealing with the "Citation
distributions in high-energy physics" based on data from the SPIRES database.
They show that theory, experiment and phenomenology have nearly identical
distributions within high-energy physics. The data are qualitatively similar
to the ISI data for all of science shown by S. Redner (1998), but the
interpretations are perhaps more insightful.

{S. Redner. How popular is your paper? an emperical study of the citation
distribution. European Physics Journal B, 4:131-4, 1998.}

S. Lehmann et al. indicate that a single power-law distribution does not fit
the data but a double power-law distribution does, composed of one dominated
by no-longer cited papers and a second distribution dominated by still
actively cited papers.  Additionally they indicate that the most highly cited
papers receive fewer than expected citations because they reach canonical
status (a point that others have made).

The most quotable quote is "The picture which emerges is thus a small number
of interesting and significant papers swimming in a sea of "dead" papers."

       Title: Citation Distributions in High Energy Physics
       Authors: S. Lehmann, B. Lautrup, A. D. Jackson (The Niels Bohr
       Comments: 7 pages, 4 figures, 2 tables
       Subj-class: Physics and Society
pdf available at:

-- -- John Suppe,
Department of Geosciences
Guyot Hall
Princeton University
Princeton NJ 08544-1003
(609) 258-4119 office
(609) 258-1515 lab
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suppe at
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