B.F. Skinner's comparative auto- and allo-citation record

Stevan Harnad harnad at ECS.SOTON.AC.UK
Thu Jul 6 06:00:03 EDT 2006

On Wed, 5 Jul 2006, Morris, Edward K wrote:

> My student, Tracie Mann, and I are working on a paper on Skinner's
> referencing practices, for which he has been criticized (e.g., too high
> a self-citation rate, too low a rate of citing others). The criticisms,
> however, seem more "in the air" than in print. ... We have searched
> the scientometric literature to little avail...
> do you know of (a) published criticisms of Skinner's citation
> practices and (b) any relevant literature on citation practices? We
> would be beholdened for any information or insights.
> Edward K. Morris, Ph.D.
> Professor and Chairperson
> Department of Applied Behavioral Science
> University of Kansas

Dear Edward,

I know of no published criticism of Skinner's citation practices, and
am aware only of the well-known anecdote, perhaps an urban myth, that
Skinner himself had once said something to the effect that the only
one he reads (hence, presumably, cites) is himself.

It seems to me the only objective way to test this is to recover the
citations from the literature of his day, check both the citations of
and the citations by Skinner's work (both journal articles and books)
and to try to construct a comparable control group of authors in
Psychology at the time, to compare with. One could perhaps do this via
co-citations -- finding authors who are co-cited with Skinner and are
themselves cited at a comparable level (or, failing that, simply other
authors in the same or comparable areas of Psychology who are cited at
a comparable level).

If it turns out that comparably cited (hence comaparbly impactful and
influential) authors cite others significantly more and/or themselves
less, then there is something to the urban myth. If Skinner proves
unique in his stature at the time, however, having no reference
population to serve as a baseline, then -- unless we are prepared to
reach, in desperation, for comparisons in other fields so far-flung as to
cast doubt on comparability -- I am afraid the question may have to remain

My own teacher, Hebb, I know, read and cited very diversely, and
was a contemporary of Skinner's.

ISI's Web of Science probably does not stretch back far enough;
Google Scholar might possibly give an approximation. But perhaps
only APA's Psych Abstracts backfiles, *if* they kept the cited-reference
metadata, offer a hope of a quick answer. Otherwise I'm afraid it's
down to hand-sampling the literature!

Best wishes,


Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Chaire de recherche du Canada
Centre de neuroscience de la cognition (CNC)
Institut des sciences cognitives (ISC/CSI)
Université du Québec à Montréal
Montréal, Québec,  Canada  H3C 3P8
tel: 1-514-987-3000 2461#
fax: 1-514-987-8952
harnad at uqam.ca

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