The small world of citations: How close are citing authors to those they cite?

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This paper examines the proximity of authors to those they cite using degrees of separation in a co-author network, essentially using collaboration networks to expand on the notion of self-citations. While the proportion of direct self-citations (including co-authors of both citing and cited papers) is relatively constant in time and across specialties in the natural sciences (10% of citations) and the social sciences (20%), the same cannot be said for citations to authors who are members of the co-author network. Differences between fields and trends over time lie not only in the degree of co-authorship which defines the large-scale topology of the collaboration network, but also in the referencing practices within a given discipline, computed by defining a propensity to cite at a given distance within the collaboration network. Overall, there is little tendency to cite those nearby in the collaboration network, excluding direct self-citations. By analyzing these social references, we characterize the social capital of local collaboration networks in terms of the knowledge production within scientific fields. These results have implications for the long-standing debate over biases common to most types of citation analysis, and for understanding citation practices across scientific disciplines over the past 50 years. In addition, our findings have important practical implications for the availability of ‘arm’s length’ expert reviewers of grant applications and manuscripts.

This content has been updated on March 28th, 2017 at 19 h 42 min.