Why Scientific Citations Matter

40 citations for Pfeiffer & ButzWhen I first began publishing in the sciences, most peer-reviewed academic papers – based on months, years, even decades of hard work – were read by an average of seven people.

Seven.

Thanks to open-access journals on the worldwide web, that number is rising. But not that much: a quick overview glance of study citations in a broad range of scientific fields during 2000-2011 showed an average of 2-20 readers per paper, with figures declining as the studies’ publication dates aged.

These numbers are a big deal, because publications are the currency of science. It’s how we gain knowledge, how theories are strengthened or contested, and how science advances. The sharing of ideas and the crediting of colleagues is core to building a functional scientific community: otherwise we waste resources, re-inventing the same dang wheels over and over again.

If we don’t know about one another’s work, how can we improve our own? And if we don’t appropriately cite each other, how can we honor everyone’s intellectual property and contributions to our collective advancement?

A few years back I placed my publications on Research Gate, a free networking site for scientists. Since that time, my publications have been viewed or downloaded over seven hundred times.

700!!

But even more important, my work is being more widely cited. This is very exciting…and validating. It helps scientists feel like our work matters, and reminds us that we are not alone. When another human being reads our work and refers to our writings within their own work…which is then published and cited by others, golly gee wilikers, Batman, does it get any better than that?