Tuesday, November 22, 2005

new classics?

In the current issue of one of the journals in my field, two authors reviewed the most frequently cited articles. Of the top 10 books, the average publication date was 1978 and the youngest book was 1993. Of the top 10 articles (journals, prof. papers), the average publication date was 1967 and the most recent was 1992.

I sent out the article to members of my current and former research group, because last year we'd spent a quarter of our brownbag on classics of the -ology literature. Gainfully employed RaftWoman just wrote back:
"It makes you wonder why there hasn't been much in the way of 'classic'
papers published in the last 20 years. We all have our favorite papers,
& there's certainly been some very good & notable papers in recent
years, but are we getting too specialized for future classics to emerge?

I think you could extend this topic (albeit w/ some modifications) to
include politicians. Will we ever get really good leaders like Kennedy &
Martin Luther King?"
While RaftWoman's take on the subject is thought provoking, my take is a bit different. For one thing, a paper has to have a certain shelf life before it can accumulate the number of citations needed to break into the top ranked paper. For another, I would guess that many truly outstanding (dare I say revolutionary) papers are not immediatelyaccepted by the scientific community. Only when their conclusions are borne out in other studies do they gain the acceptance of "that's just the way the world works." At that point, I would guess that the number of citations starts to climb dramatically as a paper gets cited as introductory material to newer studies. But all of that takes time. My guess is at least 10 years.

1 comment:

Astroprof said...

I think that you are on to something with the shelf life comment. There are SO many papers being published that no one can read them all. So, only a few people read a paper, and then cite it. Others read those papers, check out the citations, and so on. It takes many iterations before a large number of people have read the original paper, unless it is something truly earth-shattering.