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The Myth of Delayed Recognition

Brad FitzpatrickMost 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 progr

Wolfgang Glänzel
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Brad Fitzpatrick

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 Science Citation Index. Delayed recognition papers were defined as those which, during a period of five years, were initially rarely cited but then became highly cited during the next 15 years.3 Highly cited was defined as at least 50 citations or 10 times the journal's 20-year cumulative impact factor.

The chance that a paper, uncited for...

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 http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/delayedrecognition.html

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