navel-gazing at citation counts
i learned by way of crooked timber about a chronicle article detailing some wacky hijinks by journals to crank up their citation counts. here's a good one:
John M. Drake, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, sent a manuscript to the Journal of Applied Ecology and received this e-mail response from an editor: “I should like you to look at some recent issues of the Journal of Applied Ecology and add citations to any relevant papers you might find. This helps our authors by drawing attention to their work, and also adds internal integrity to the Journal’s themes.” Because the manuscript had not yet been accepted, the request borders on extortion, Mr. Drake says, even if it weren’t meant that way. Authors may feel that they have to comply in order to get their papers published.
yikes! i can't imagine an editor of a major sociology or criminology journal writing such a thing (yet). i got curious about these citation counters, so i cite-googled myself. i found that one can get details quickly on citations by institution, language, source, authors, year, and other characteristics. beware, though, as it can be a humbling experience. i looked up my brilliant advisor, of course: several of his articles have been cited as much as all my work combined. i also checked out a few other sociological role models and found that at least one of them is cited approximately 19 times as often as i am -- i'm currently trailing by 2,745 citations and the gap is increasing. that aside, i developed three not-very-interesting hypotheses based on cites to my stuff.
H1. there is an association between visiting an institution and being cited by authors from that institution. i think people invite visitors who already appeal to one or more people in the department, but there may be a "visit effect" as well. in fact, i would never have started a project with jeff manza if he hadn't given a talk in minnesota. one could test for this reasonably well using the time-series data available from ISI and faculty CVs listing visit dates. the purple bars represent places i've visited and the yellow bars places that i have not yet visited -- click on the charts to get a slightly more readable gif version. shockingly, people in minnesota seem to cite me more than people outside of the skeeter state. i mentioned how much i enjoy visiting places to give talks, but it might also increase the visibility of one's work in publications down the road.
H2. the journals that publish the work seem to cite the work later. well, duh! that's what the flap was all about in the chronicle. i didn't have the energy for an article-level analysis (to see whether an article published in social problems was cited in social problems). again, the purple bars represent journals in which at least one article appears (like the departments visited above) and the yellow bars represent journals that remain 100 percent uggen-free.
H3. people are sometimes cited outside their major areas of teaching and research. of course, most cites probably track researchers' stated "areas of interest," unless said researchers are incurable dilettantes (i'll plead nolo contendere on that one). still, it seems that everybody who has been publishing a few years seems to get cited in multiple areas. maybe there's more interdisciplinarity happening than we realize.this all leads to a few questions: (1) my department doesn't pay much (if any) attention to citation counts. do they matter for individual tenure decisions or merit pay elsewhere? should they? (2) to what extent will "paper download counts" and blog visitors or webpage "eyeballs" be used to assess the impact or interest in a sociologist's work? (3) how are individual sociologists and (especially(?)) criminologists likely to "game" the system to increase their cite counts? ["i'll cite your article if you cite mine" or "we at the university make it a practice to only cite to one another's work"]; and, (4) if citation counts do matter, is anyone willing to cite me 2,745 times so i can make a little headway on this sampson dude?