18 Jan 2015

The Impact of Print Media and Wikipedia on Citation Rates of Academic Articles

Guest post by Daniel Price. Daniel lives in Israel, has an MA in Library and Information Science from Bar Ilan University, and works as a librarian at Shalem College in Jerusalem.

There is a clear desirability to publish a paper that has a strong scholarly impact, both for personal satisfaction knowing that one’s research has been viewed and built upon, and for professional reasons, since the number of citations a paper can correlate to promotion and tenure - the ubiquitous “publish or perish” (Miller, Taylor and Bedeian, 2011), which has now become an international phenomena (De Meis, Leopoldo, et al, 2003; De Rond and Miller, 2005; Min, Abdullah and Mohamed, 2013; Osuna, Cruz-Castro and Sanz-Menéndez, 2010; Qiu, 2010; Rotich and Muskali, 2013), increased salary and external funding (Browman and Stergiou, 2008; Diamond, 1986; Gomez-Mejia and Balkin, 1992; Monastersky, 2005; Schoonbaert and Roelants, 1996) and even the chance of winning professional prizes such as a Nobel Prize (Pendlebury, 2013).

Understandably then many studies have been carried out to discover the characteristics of highly cited papers (Aksnes, 2003) and the factors that influence citation counts. It is widely accepted that it is not just the quality of the science that affect the citation rate, but bibliometric parameters of papers such as its length (Abt, 1998; Ball, 2008; Falagas et. al. 2013; Hamrick, Fricker and Brown, 2010), number of references (Corbyn, 2010; Kostoff, 2007; Vieira and Gomes, 2010; Webster et. al., 2009), number of authors (Aksnes, 2003; Borsuk et. al., 2009; Gazni and Didegah, 2011; Wuchty et al., 2007), length of titles (Habibzadeh and Yadollahie, 2010; Jacques and Sebire, 2010), colons in titles (Jamali and Nikzad, 2011; van Wesel, Wyatt & ten Haa, 2014; Rostami, Mohammadpoorasl, and Hajizadeh, 2014).

A variety of external considerations is also known to influence the citation rate of academic papers. Intuitively a paper that has been publicised in the popular print media will be cited more as its publicity makes researchers more aware of it; however it can be argued that quality newspapers only cite valuable articles that would garner a significant number of citations in any case. That the first assumption was true was proven thirteen years ago in 1991 by comparing how many more citations articles published in the New England Journal of Medicine received if they were quoted in the New York Times during a 12 week period in 1978 when copies of the paper were printed but not distributed due to a strike compared to the following year of 1979. The results showed that articles covered by the Times received 72.8% more citations during the first year after their publication but only those discussed when the paper was actually distributed. Articles covered by the Times during the strike period received no more citations that articles not referenced by the Times, thus proving that exposure in the Times is a cause of citation (“the publicity hypothesis”) and not a forecast of future trends (the “earmark hypothesis”) (Phillips, 1991).

Phillips’ findings articles that covered in the New York Times receive more citations was confirmed in another study conducted 11 years later which also found however that exposure in less “elite” daily newspapers (but not in evening broadcasts of mainstream USA television networks) during a twelve month period from mid-1997 to mid-1998 also correlated with higher citation rates of a wider range of scientific papers, thus showing that scientific communication is not just carried out through elite channels. Importantly though, the author notes that his study does not prove the “publicity hypothesis” as the articles that were publicised could have been more intrinsically important and were only cited for this reason, although it does cast doubt on the “earmark hypothesis” since many articles that were not mentioned were cited (Kiernan, 2003).

In the present day much scholarly communication takes place on Web 2.0 tools and in the emerging field of “altmetrics” (Konkiel, 2013; Priem, 2014; Thelwall, 2013), studies focus on parametrics including whether it has been cited and discussed on academic blogs (Shema, Bar-Ilan and Thelwall 2014), tweeted (Eysenbach, 2011), and uploaded to a social media platform such as Mendley (Li and Thelwall, 2012).

Research has also investigated whether articles cited on the decidedly non-elitist Wikipedia. A study conducted in the beginning of 2010 found that 0.54% of approximately nineteen million Wikipedia pages cited a PubMed journal article, which corresponds to about 0.08% of all Pubmed articles. The researchers showed that journal articles that were cited in Wikipedia were cited more and had higher F1000 scores than a random subset of non-cited articles, a phenomenon they explained according to their hypothesised that Wikipedia users would only cite important articles that present novel and ground-breaking research (Evans and Krauthammer, 2011).

A larger study carried out two and half years later came to the same conclusion that academic papers in the field of computer science which are cited on Wikipedia would be more likely to be cited because the Wikipedia entries are written by talented authors who are careful to cite reputable authors and trending research topics (Shuai, Jiang, Liu and Bollen, 2013).

These conclusions support the “earmark hypothesis” that Phillips rejected and Kiernan doubted. Wikipedians are credited with identifying high impact journal articles soon after they are published and recommending them to other users.

In order to preserve a careful dialectic of both sides of the publicity/earmark hypotheses though, the possibility should be entertained that the large number of Wikipedia users may include researchers who, flooded with an information overload of thousands of articles, are motivated to read and quote certain articles because they saw them quoted on Wikipedia. Future research could investigate the information behavior of a large number of researchers, specifically their use of Wikipedia.

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