Online journal articles mean lower citations

James Evans in Science’s abstract

Online journals promise to serve more information to more dispersed audiences and are more efficiently searched and recalled. But because they are used differently than print—scientists and scholars tend to search electronically and follow hyperlinks rather than browse or peruse—electronically available journals may portend an ironic change for science. Using a database of 34 million articles, their citations (1945 to 2005), and online availability (1998 to 2005), I show that as more journal issues came online, the articles referenced tended to be more recent, fewer journals and articles were cited, and more of those citations were to fewer journals and articles. The forced browsing of print archives may have stretched scientists and scholars to anchor findings deeply into past and present scholarship. Searching online is more efficient and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion, but this may accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon.

That last statement, with my bolding, is the one that I think is especially interesting. Do we reach consensus more quickly because we can quickly skim through work? Or have we always looked at past and present scholarship to found our opinions and not to change them?

I think it is quite likely that last.

I have been working on a topic that I have only recently overcome the emotional impact associated with it. As I have begun to look on the net for where my conversation might be placed, I tend to ignore those which go in a different direction. I think that was true when I first began studying the topic in print as well.

If they don’t match my direction, I leave them out. However, it is easier now to find those works which clearly lead into my topic. That may be why people do less citation.