About Us

We are members of the Andrew Gonzalez lab , in the Biology Department at McGill University.
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Citation strategy in desert landscape


Regarding publication, shall I cite as few papers as is necessary for evidence and support, or shall I cite as many as possible to establish undeniable citation links for eternity, however unworthy is my work or their works? One is certainly tempted to adopt the latter option, which probably has a part to do with the proliferation and the lengthening of papers cited and fueled continuous in vacuous circles, and demise of trees as the age of reason grows into the age of scientocracy. It seems that an average scientific paper from 50 years ago contains many fewer references than that of today – how much of the current euphoria of citation is really attributed to scientific growth and increased complexity?

One of the most significant biology paper to have come out in the past century was George Price’s 1970 article titled Selection and Covariance. It spans three text columns in Nature and contains no reference – a solitary, immovable monument in the annals of science. It has been cited over 500 times to date.

That was a rather recent example, and a freakish one to be sure. It seems that us ordinary mortals are resigned to building self-sustaining social networks in which we cite ourselves and each others, almost by acknowledged consensus. The professional pressure to publish is so great and so reasonable, it seems unlikely that Price’s publication strategy would prevail very often. For the rest of us, is there nothing new to say?

Of course we all have something to say, even useful things, but in the back of my mind I always ruminate a more romantic version of a scientist wandering alone in vast intellectual deserts punctuated with cacti of wisdom where, at last, heroes gather, only to disperse again according to some evolutionarily stable strategy.