May 26 2011 Published by under Science Communication

How often do you cite a paper for the overall, Gestalt thrust of the story? For the whole picture?

How frequently do you cite a paper for only a figure or two out of the whole thing? Or for a method?

What does this tell you about the notion that there is such a thing as a meaningful standard of a "complete story"?

12 responses so far

  • Dude, it's no one's fault but your own that you've chosen to pursue the kind of low-impact science that can't get published in high-quality journals. Blaming the existence of editorial standards of broad interest and major conceptual advance is for this is pathetic.

  • Namnezia says:

    I usually do #1 for the intro, while #2 most often happens in the methods, results and discussion sections. Not sure what you are getting at with #3.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    CPP, it certainly isn't my fault that you have no actual answer to my position on these topics other than to keep bleating the same old tired circular logic that high IF journals are the best because, um, they are the best. It is fascinating that you cannot stand to bring your obvious analytic faculties to bear on this matter in the way that you are able to do in so many other areas of discourse.

    It is also unfortunate that you cannot seem to connect this corrosive fiction about the way science actually advances to the prolongation of graduate and postdoctoral training and, yes, the ever increasing pressure for people to fake data in pursuit of higher impact publication.

    And not just unfortunate but even disturbing in one who otherwise seems genuinely interested in mentoring the next generation of scientists.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Regarding broad interest, it is always fascinating to me to recall that when I was about 13 or so we has Science in the house and I would read it pretty regularly. I understood far more of the content back then than I do of an issue of Science on my desk today. Yet my scientific background is much more extensive. So the notion of "broad interest" is a pretty damn selective one.

    What you really mean is a subset of my first query- the "broad interest" has nothing to do with a global significance and everything to do with packing a lot of disparate shit into a single alleged "paper". If someone actually categorized cites by what was being cited in the paper this would be readily apparent.

  • HennaHonu says:

    In my sub-field, relevant papers are rarely in Glamor Mags. I do cite papers for methods. It's hard to know about your "complete story" discussion, because it's hard for me to imagine an example in my field... I generally have about one citation for every 100 words in a paper. There are usually a few citations for a given idea in a stream of related ideas, where the papers' main thrust was a given statement. Let's say, "More genes related to x were found in species y than in species z (Doe et al., Jones et al), but x is more useful to y because of response to environmental condition w (Smith et al.)". Doe et al may have been the genome paper, whereas Jones et al actually looked at the genes of interest compared to other organisms. Smith et al may not have anything to do with genes, but with proteins. Each of these papers had a story to tell, but what is "complete" is ambiguous to me.

  • Namnezia says:

    In my subfield there are maybe 5 or 6 "foundational papers", and almost all of them are in high impact-factor journals. These are the ones that everyone cites in their introductions and have hundreds of citations. This is different than saying that all high IF papers are important, and that lower IF journals publish crap, which I obviously don't agree with.

  • drugmonkey says:

    and *why* are they "foundational", Namnezia? Is it because they met the cookie cutter type du jour for getting into a high IF mag at the time? or perhaps because those really were great findings of broad interest within an actual scientific field that has both roots and branches?

  • Dude, you are such a fucken crybaby.

  • Namnezia says:

    "and *why* are they "foundational", Namnezia? Is it because they met the cookie cutter type du jour for getting into a high IF mag at the time? or perhaps because those really were great findings of broad interest within an actual scientific field that has both roots and branches?"

    Easy there, Hobo Joe. They are foundational because they showed for the first time an interesting new phenomenon which was built upon previous findings but altered the way people think of the field. Or they established a new experimental system upon which several careers (including mine) have been built. In all cases, these studies have spawned multiple studies by many different labs. Furthermore these were all published within the last 15 years or so, so the standards and culture have not changed that much since then.

    If you would like, dude, I can email them to you and we can continue this discussion further.

  • HAHAHAHAH!!!!!!! DoucheMonkey's new name is Hobo Joe!

  • rknop says:

    In my field (astronomy), useful Nature papers are few and far between, and almost never is there something relevant in Science.

    However, going back to the original question, my first thought upon reading your questions was to chuckle and think, yeah, that's right. But, thinking about it more, I realized what I came back and saw that Namnezia had said: in the introduction, I would cite papers for the complete story. What's more, those papers were the more memorable ones, the ones that I would be more likely to cite in a broader range of papers, and the ones that would still be cited for historical reasons 10 years from now. In a sense, they are the more interesting papers.

    I would agree with what I inferred from your rhetorical questions: there is too much empahsis on "complete story" when it comes to putting together papers. Sometimes, getting the data out there or getting the findings out there is more important, and the need to make it look sexy in a narrative just gets in the way. However, when you really do have something that's a "big breakthrough", or when you really do have the best comprehensive review and summary of what's going on, it's extremely useful.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Rob, I don't disagree with your last point but my position is captured by your first point. The "foundational" papers do deserve the accolades, it is just that most attempts at "the complete story" fall short of the mark. Therefore the considerable costs of doing business this way do not justify the results.

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