Is scientific literature subject to a sell-by-date? A general methodology to analyze the durability of scientific documents

Research paper by Rodrigo Costas, Thed N. van Leeuwen, Anthony F. J. van Raan

Indexed on: 09 Jul '09Published on: 09 Jul '09Published in: Physics - Physics and Society


The study of the citation histories and ageing of documents are topics that have been addressed from several perspectives, especially in the analysis of documents with delayed recognition or sleeping beauties. However, there is no general methodology that can be extensively applied for different time periods and/or research fields. In this paper a new methodology for the general analysis of the ageing and durability of scientific papers is presented. This methodology classifies documents into three general types: Delayed documents, which receive the main part of their citations later than normal documents; Flash in the pans, which receive citations immediately after their publication but they are not cited in the long term; and Normal documents, documents with a typical distribution of citations over time. These three types of durability have been analyzed considering the whole population of documents in the Web of Science with at least 5 external citations (i.e. not considering self-citations). Several patterns related to the three types of durability have been found and the potential for further research of the developed methodology is discussed.