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Mathematics - Science Policy

A Reverse Engineering Approach to the Suppression of Citation Biases Reveals Universal Properties of Citation Distributions
Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012
Author: Filippo Radicchi et al.

by Filippo Radicchi, Claudio Castellano

The large amount of information contained in bibliographic databases has recently boosted the use of citations, and other indicators based on citation numbers, as tools for the quantitative assessment of scientific research. Citations counts are often interpreted as proxies for the scientific influence of papers, journals, scholars, and institutions. However, a rigorous and scientifically grounded methodology for a correct use of citation counts is still missing. In particular, cross-disciplinary comparisons in terms of raw citation counts systematically favors scientific disciplines with higher citation and publication rates. Here we perform an exhaustive study of the citation patterns of millions of papers, and derive a simple transformation of citation counts able to suppress the disproportionate citation counts among scientific domains. We find that the transformation is well described by a power-law function, and that the parameter values of the transformation are typical features of each scientific discipline. Universal properties of citation patterns descend therefore from the fact that citation distributions for papers in a specific field are all part of the same family of univariate distributions.