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Quantifying Long-term Scientific Impact

Dashun Wang, Chaoming Song, Albert-László Barabási

posted on 07 October 2013

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An ability to accurately assess the long-term impact of a scientific discovery has implications from science policy to individual reward. Yet, the documented lack of predictability of citation based measures frequently used to gauge impact, from impact factors to short-term citations, raises a fundamental question: is there long-term predictability in citation patterns? Here we derive a mechanistic model for the citation dynamics of individual papers, allowing us to collapse the citation histories of papers from different journals and disciplines into a single curve, indicating that all papers follow the same universal temporal pattern. The observed patterns not only help us uncover the basic mechanisms that govern scientific impact, but also offer reliable measures of influence with potential policy implications.