Most scientists can name an example of an important discovery that had little initial impact on contemporary research. Mendel's work is a classic example.12 The phenomenon of delayed recognition is sometimes invoked in disputes about the validity of citation analysis in evaluating scientists. However, as bibliometricians know, actual examples of delayed recognition are rare.
To identify such papers and to shed some light on their role in scientific communication, we analyzed programmatically the citation histories of the 450,000 research and review articles indexed in the 1980 edition of the
The chance that a paper, uncited for three to five years after publication, will ever be cited is quite low, even in slowly aging fields such as mathematics. The citation impact of papers not cited initially usually remains low even 15 to 20 years later. Clearly, the potential number of delayed recognition papers is extremely small. Among initially poorly cited papers, only 60 were found that could be considered highly cited during the subsequent 15 years. Thus, a statistically marginal share of 1.3 par 10,000 paper published in 1980 were "neglected" at first, and then, belatedly, received relatively high citational recognition.
But what are these papers about? As expected, most (43%) are life sciences papers, 22% are in physics and 12% each are in chemistry, engineering, and mathematics. Four examples from different science fields are listed below.
1. T. Ogino, M. Aoki, "Mechanism of yellow luminescence in GaN,"
2. K.M. Fabian, "The intra-prostatic partial catheter (urological spiral),"
3. J. Feder, "Random sequential adsorption,"
4. G. Buchsbaum, "A spatial processor model for object color-perception,"
Like many myths about the flaws of citation analysis, the claims about delayed recognition are extremely difficult to demonstrate. Each of us has specific examples but, as the data demonstrate, they are indeed the exception to the rule. Nearly all significant research is cited within the first three to five of publication.3
Wolfgang Glänzel is senior research fellow, Steunpunt O&O Statistieken, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. Eugene Garfield is president and founding editor of
Other examples of delayed recognition, including Inhibin, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and the Genetics of Color Blindness, which were identified by citation analysis, can be found at