Te Pūnaha Matatini researchers are collaborating across disciplines to develop novel tools that allow us to better understand trends underlying the citation of scientific papers and patents, a key indicator of their subsequent impact or importance.

PhD student Kyle Higham and his supervisors Ulrich Zuelicke (Uli) and Michele Governale from Victoria University of Wellington, and innovation economist Adam Jaffe from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, have been researching how patents and scientific articles accumulate citations. Mapping the observed dynamics to a well-known network model, they were able to improve on previous studies by controlling for ‘citation inflation’ – an effect caused by the ever-increasing rate at which patents or articles are produced by inventors and researchers.

“As a result, we were able to reliably extract crucial network-model parameters and obtained extremely good agreement between data and model predictions for citation distributions,” says Uli. “Our work has proved to be a useful basis for gaining a deeper understanding of citation dynamics and is being utilised by us and others in the field to design improved network-model descriptions.”

Study suggests current rate of innovation faster than ever

The “icing on the cake”, says Uli, is that their study considered citation dynamics within specialised technology sectors for patents and individual physics research fields for articles.

“We were able to identify faster-moving technologies and research fields based on their faster rate of obsolescence exhibited in the citation dynamics.”

“Interestingly, we also found evidence for obsolescence times to have become shorter for physics articles published in 2000 compared with older ones from 1990. This indicates a general trend for the research frontier to move faster now than in the past, which is an interesting finding whose social origin deserves further exploration.”

Research helps to inform science and innovation policies

Uli explains there are good reasons to study citation dynamics.

“Research on citation dynamics can provide tools with which to inform rational science and innovation policies. Such research also underpins the design of meaningful and robust informetric impact measures.”

“To us, citation data provide a fingerprint or reflection of knowledge generation as a social endeavour. Citations could be, or are being, mined to understand [for example] geographical and social patterns of knowledge diffusion through communities of inventors and academics, as well as historical trends and drivers for knowledge generation and consumption.”

Keen to learn more about this project?

If you’re interested in finding out more about this project, please refer to the team’s most recent study findings reported in Physical Review E and Journal of Informetrics.