Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A proposal for measuring paper impact

It's really hard to know a priori which papers are important. Some are obvious, like Yamanaka's iPSC work, but most of the time, it's hard to tell. "Journal quality" provides some proxy, as do citations, but both are fairly imperfect–the latter is perhaps somewhat more useful than the first, but both are subject to the scientific fads of the time.

To avoid the fad issue, what if we all had to vote on our favorite papers that are 5-10 years old, 10-20 years old and 20+ years old? Perhaps that would allow us to determine what papers were really important for shaping science? Of course, getting people to vote would be hard, but as a crude proxy, what if we just measured the number of citations after 5 years or 10 years? I feel like when I cite papers that are more than 10 years old, it's usually because it really was important in shaping the field. I'm certain this data exists in citation databases like Google Scholar and crappy old Web of Science–I'm wondering if anyone's already done this sort of analysis...

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