Two letters challenging the function and value of citation analysis arrived in my office recently, and I believe they merit a response for all of The Scientist's readers to ponder. Monitoring the scientific literature and developing statistics on the extent to which articles are referenced by subsequent authors have been consuming interests of mine for more than 30 years. I have consistently maintained that it is both intellectually worthwhile and professionally beneficial for scientists to understand the limitations as well as the virtues of the field of scientometrics.
One of the letters echoes a surprisingly widespread notion that citation analysis encourages mediocrity, or "consensus science." The writer asks: "If success is measured by citation analysis, won't scientists shy away from original and venturesome fields that don't produce strong citation records?" That is, will scientists abandon an exciting, potentially ground-breaking project or area of study that, when reported on, is unlikely...
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