Revisiting the ‘‘Quiet Debut’’ of the Double Helix: A Bibliometric and Methodological note on the ‘‘Impact’’ of Scientific Publications

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The object of this paper is two-fold: first, to show that contrary to what seem to have become a widely accepted view among historians of biology, the famous 1953 first Nature paper of Watson and Crick on the structure of DNA was widely cited – as compared to the average paper of the time – on a continuous basis from the very year of its publication and over the period 1953–1970 and that the citations came from a wide array of scientific journals. A systematic analysis of the bibliometric data thus shows that Watson’s and Crick’s paper did in fact have immediate and long term impact if we define “impact” in terms of comparative citations with other papers of the time. In this precise sense it did not fall into “relative oblivion” in the scientific community. The second aim of this paper is to show, using the case of the reception of the Watson–Crick and Jacob–Monod papers as concrete examples, how large scale bibliometric data can be used in a sophisticated manner to provide information about the dynamic of the scientific field as a whole instead of limiting the analysis to a few major actors and generalizing the result to the whole community without further ado.

This content has been updated on June 2nd, 2017 at 14 h 08 min.