Citation statistics in scientific categories

This is a follow-up on my 2014 blogpost titled “Average citations per article in different disciplines” which showed this figure:

These numbers are averages over many papers and many years. Some papers get thousands of citations and others get no citations. The distribution is very skewed.

Newer study

I came across a study titled “Citation analysis of scientific categories” [1]. This study is based on the WoS (Web of Science) 500 most cited articles from each of the 251 categories as of January 2016. The WoS citation index compiles data from 12000 journals.

Observations from [1]:

  • Multi-author papers receive more citations.
  • On average, citations increase with the square of the number of authors of the article.
  • Articles in astronomy/astrophysics, particle/nuclear physics can have several hundred and even more than three thousand authors (hyperauthorship). Literature, poetry, and history tend to have a single author. Excluding hyperauthorship, the average is less than 5 authors per paper.
  • Other factors that explain the number of citations: 1) category rank (see below for an explanation) 2) journal impact factor 3) support by funding agencies 4) age of the article.
  • Articles in mathematics, philosophy, history, religion are cited disproportionally less frequently compared to the articles in biology/medicine. This is consistent with the earlier study mentioned above.

Focusing on the most cited articles in each category

The figure below is a bit confusing for me. Authors could have explained it better.

They ranked the categories based on the number of articles assigned to that category by WoS. They called this rank R_cat. By this measure categories related to biology/medicine would be ranked 1,2,3…and categories related to philosophy, religion, history, literature would have R_cat greater than 100.

They also ranked the articles in each 500-article group by citation count and called this rank R. They further divide each 500-article group into 2 buckets.

  • Bucket1: R between 1 and 30
  • Bucket2: R between 31 and 500
  • Count1: number of citations received by the articles in Bucket1 in years 2010-2014
  • Count2: number of citations received by the articles in Bucket2 in years 2010-2014

In the figure below, let’s focus on the black line which shows Count2. The black line shows that the number of citations received by the most cited articles in a particular category decreases exponentially with the rank of that category.

[1] Gregory S.Patience, Christian A.Patience, BrunoBlais, Francois Bertranda, “Citation analysis of scientific categories”,

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