If you want your scientific papers to be read and cited, you have to give them good titles. Right? This statement seems utterly uncontroversial – after all, the entire function of a title is to inform and attract readers; and the title is the first piece of your paper a prospective reader will see. It’s not uncommon for someone to make a decision to read a paper (or, more likely, not to read it) based on just a few seconds spent skimming a title or a long list of titles. So good titles matter. Right?
It’s not hard to find strong opinions about what makes a title “good”. Continue reading
Image: Citation impact vs. originality, for 55 of my own publications. See text for explanation.
Warning: a bit cynical.
Last week I filled out a grad-school recommendation form for a terrific undergraduate student. Among other things, it asked me to rate her “originality”. That got me thinking.
We tell each other often that we admire scientists who are original thinkers. Originality is often an explicit criterion in manuscript assessment, in tenure assessment, even at science fairs. The related idea of “novelty” is a major criterion in many (if not most) grant applications. Herman Melville might almost have been speaking for scientists when he said “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation*”.
So we praise originality. But do we value it? I’m skeptical. Continue reading
Back in February, I asked “What’s your most overcited paper?. That left an obvious question hanging: what, instead, is your most undercited paper? I’m going to tell you about mine, and I hope you’ll tell me about yours in the Comments. You may be worried that this will be an exercise in which I whine that nobody appreciates my work, but in fact that’s not what I have in mind. Well, not exactly*. Continue reading
“Publish or perish”, we say, except that it probably isn’t enough just to be published: we want to be, and maybe need to be, highly cited. Tenure committees, granting agencies, and the like devour citation data, journals compete for citations to boost their impact factors, and we worry about detecting authors who self-cite to manipulate their citation stats. Now, all this may sound like a lead-in to a post decrying overemphasis on citation counting, but it isn’t. Actually, I think citation counting is worthwhile – so long as it isn’t fetishized*. After all, a paper with lots of citations probably made some people think, and with luck had some influence on the progress of science (a nice post on this from Pat Thomson is here).
Our emphasis on citation means that we are (I think) all very aware of the citation performance of our own papers. It’s easy to track via Web of Science or Google Scholar, and that’s how I made the figure above: citations vs. years post-publication for 65 of my own papers, taken from my Google Scholar profile. There’s a lot I could do with these data, but for some reason I’ve been thinking about which of my papers is the most overcited. (I hope it’s clear from the title that I want you to mention your own most overcited paper in the Comments.)
What could I mean by an “overcited” paper? Continue reading