PhD comics


It is a well-known fact that success in science is mainly measured with attention. Attention, like the input to scientific advancement, is a mode of getting paid. Researchers achieve full recognition in the scientific community only by earning the attention of other scientists and society. And the way scientific papers are accessed and cited by others stands as almost the unique tool to classify influential scientists and relevant works. However, is it a useful tool to help to understand how scientific community works? Is citation a compulsory part of scientific progress?

From a simple point of view, science is world-wide company in which the work of some investigators serves as input for other lines of research. Unlike other fields, the outputs of scientific investigation (in other words, the “discoveries”) are not sold on markets: they are published. Publication offers scientific progress to the general public under one condition: that the use and spread of this scientific progress is credited by citation. Gaining this attention is a prime motive for practicing science and this leads inevitably to a system where researchers, when competing for citation, get distracted from what they are devoted to doing (science).

Many governments and funding agencies use citation data to evaluate the quality of a researcher’s work. However, not everybody thinks citation analysis is the best way to judge the value of a scientific publication. This “citing system” has important weaknesses, for instance colleagues that reciprocally cite each other to build strong citation counts, people constantly citing themselves or authors citing an authority in the field without ever having examined his work themselves. On the other hand, other criteria, such as consistency, productiveness or correlation to facts could be considered as better measures of scientific value.

My point of view is that there are ways of accumulating citations that have very little to do with scientific quality. Scientists with the largest amounts of citation will not necessarily be the best scientists. The success of scientific investigation is poorly understood without a correct understanding of the mechanism that leads to this investigation. But, even though quality and citation will never meet with precision, nowadays citation represents a generally accepted measure of scientific value and, like it or not, scientists must work on it.

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