With the current emphasis on publications metrics as a measure of a researcher’s credibility and career success, it is perhaps unsurprising that the thought of uncited research might fill prospective authors with dread. Previous studies on the issue did little to allay researchers’ concerns, with a 1990 article in Science reporting that over half of all published research remained uncited after 5 years. Now, a recent study by Nature reveals the number to be much lower, although significant variation exists between disciplines.
By examining articles from around 12,000 journals listed on Web of Science, the study’s authors estimated that approximately 10% of articles (4% of biomedical articles) went uncited. However, the true proportion of uncited articles is likely to be lower – articles cited but not listed on Web of Science (for example, non-English language articles) were not included in the study. Of course, lack of citation in itself does not tell the full picture. Some articles may be read and just not cited, although this is less likely in biomedical research where there is a reliance on cumulative knowledge garnered from previous studies. In other disciplines where there is less reliance on cumulative knowledge, such as the humanities, the rate of uncited articles is higher — 65% of humanities articles listed on Web of Science in 2006 were yet to be cited (although the platform may not capture all relevant journals in this field).
While the number of uncited articles is decreasing year-on-year, number of references cited per journal article is steadily increasing. On average, science articles cite over 40 references. This is likely to be a result of the increasing ease of finding articles on the internet, or perhaps due to the increase in open access articles.