Patterns in “the most cited works in sociology, 2012 edition”

According to Neal at Scatterplot, here are the most cited sociological books and articles of 2012:


This is an interesting list. Three of the patterns in the data:

So, one in 33 articles cites Distinction. The majority at the top of the list are books along with a pair each from AJS, ASR and the Annual Review, along with one article from Social Forces. The authors and titles are truncated by Web of Science, so don’t blame me. Remember that the lists only counts citations in this group of sociology journals, so being famous in other worlds doesn’t get you on the list.

Fun fact: 2/3 of things that were cited last year were only cited once, and 95% of things cited were cited less than five times. And, unless one of your articles was cited nine or more times in one of these journals last year, you can consider yourself, like me, one of the 99%.

One thing that struck me was how old everything  on this top list was. The median publication year in the top 100 was 1992. Of the top 100, only one piece was published in the last five years.

A few other things stuck out to me from this list:

1. The list involves a number of big name sociologists. I assume they became big names because of the quality of their work, such as in the pieces cited here, but how much could it be that the works are cited more because they came from big names? There is some interesting work that could be done here with individual pieces to look at patterns of citations and how works become well-known.

2. There are several more methodological pieces on the list. The Raudenbush and Bryk 2002 book involves hierarchical linear modeling, a technique that uses multiple equations to nest individual cases within larger groups (like students within schools in the sociology of education). The Strauss and Glaser 1967 book is about the basics of grounded theory, a technique that has been adopted across a variety of qualitative studies. The Steensland et al. 2000 piece is about developing the measure RELTRAD which more effectively categorizes Americans into religious traditions. These methodological works have wide applications and were influential across a variety of subfields.

3. Could we interpret a list like this as one that tell us the “classic works” of sociology today? Could we hand a list like this to undergraduate majors or graduate students and tell them that this is what they need to know to understand the broader field? One way to check on this would be to compare the top cited works year to year to see how much the list changes and how consistently important these works are. Presumably, new works will be added to the list over time but this may not happen quickly.

Journal editors push authors to add citations to improve impact factors?

A new study in Science suggests that some journal editors push authors to include citations in their soon-t0-be published studies to boost the reputation of their journals:

A system of “impact factors”, tied to references listed in studies, pervades the scholarly enterprise, notes survey author Allen Wilhite and Eric Fong of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who reports the survey of 6,672 researchers in economics, sociology, psychology, and business research in the current Science journal. The survey covered journal editor behavior from 832 publications.

Overall, about 20% of survey respondents say that a journal editor had coerced extra citations to their own journal from them. Broadly, journals with higher impact factors attract more prestige, advertising and power in hiring and firing decisions in scholarly circles, the authors note, giving journal editors an incentive to extort added citations to their publications in the studies they consider for publication. “(T)he message is clear: Add citations or risk rejection,” write the authors.

In particular, younger professors with few co-authors who need publications to keep their jobs reported the most pressure. Business journal editors coerced the most often, followed by economics, and then psychology and other social sciences. As well, “journals published by commercial, for-profit companies show significantly greater use of coercive tactics than journals from university presses. Academic societies also coerce more than university presses.”

Less than 7% of the respondents thought researchers would resist this coercion, so desperate for publication are professors. “Although this behavior is less common in economics, psychology, and sociology, these disciplines are not immune—every discipline reported multiple instances of coercion. And there are published references to coercion in fields beyond the social sciences,” concludes the survey report…

While I’m glad to see that sociology seems to be toward the bottom of this list, this is still a problem. In some ways, this is not surprising as many in academia feel the pressure to make their work stand out.

However, I think you could ask broader questions about the system of citations. Here are a few other ideas:

1. Do researchers feel pressure to add citations to articles simply to reach a “magic number” or to have enough so that it looks like they have “properly” scoped out the topic?

2. How much have citations increased with the widespread use of online databases that make it much easier to find articles?

2a. Since I assume this has increased the number of citations, does this lead to “better research”?

3. When choosing what articles to cite, how much are researchers influenced by how many other people have cited the article (supposedly a measure of its value) and the impact factors of the journal the article is in?

ASA pushing for better sociology Wikipedia entries

This news came out earlier this week in the American Sociological Association’s Footnotes: the ASA is hoping sociologists and sociology students will help improve Wikipedia pages pertaining to sociology.

In an essay on the association’s online newsletter (scheduled to be included in the next edition of its print newsletter), Wright this week announced the Sociology in Wikipedia Initiative: a formal call to sociologists to help improve and expand Wikipedia entries that might benefit from their expertise and consider assigning their students to do the same.

“Wikipedia has become an important global public good,” Wright writes in the essay. “Since it is a reference source for sociologically relevant ideas and knowledge that is widely used by both the general public and students, it is important that the quality of sociology entries be as high as possible. This will only happen if sociologists themselves contribute to this public good.”

Not only might Wikipedia benefit from contributions by students steeped in academic research methods, but the exercise might help students learn how to read the crowd-sourced encyclopedia in the proper context, said Wright.

“What better way to get students to understand that it’s actual people like them who have written this stuff, than for them to write this stuff?” he said.

Is this “public sociology” at work? I don’t mind this call as it would help ensure that Wikipedia has accurate and in-depth sociology information rather than just a bare bones outline. Actually, I’ve thought the sociology Wikipedia entries weren’t that bad already, particularly compared to other disciplines. For example, the statistics pages on Wikipedia are technically correct but it is very difficult for a layperson to understand what is going on.

But how many sociology faculty will spend much time with this since there aren’t many professional incentives? Even publishing in online journals as opposed to more traditional print journals is not well-regarded so what’s the point of helping improve Wikipedia entries? This may seem like a move toward embracing technology and toward a younger generation of sociologists but the discipline has a long way to go.

At least a few leaders of major academic groups are admitting that they use Wikipedia as a source. Not too long, admitting this would not have been good for one’s status. How far away are we from Wikipedia being an acceptable source?

Blacklisting the Bluebook

The Yale Law Journal recently published Judge Richard Posner‘s hilariously scathing review of The Bluebook (the standard manual for legal citation forms) in which Posner compares the growth of the book from 26 to 511 pages over nineteen editions as a type of cancer:

The analogy of cancer to The Bluebook’s growth comes quickly to mind, as does the distinction between the multiplication of cancer cells in the organ in which they first appear and their eventual metastasis to other organs. For the growth of The Bluebook has stimulated the creation of supplemental citation and style guides at a number of law reviews….[L]egal citation form has become the subject of a vast academic literature. There is even a 180-page book called Understanding and Mastering The Bluebook.

After suggesting that the publishers of the Bluebook may just be out to make money by multiplying editions, Posner suggests a more interesting reason for The Bluebook’s growth:

The growth in the size and complexity of The Bluebook may also reflect the reflex desire of every profession to convince the laity of the inscrutable rigor of its methods….But unlike the genuinely professional methods used by the modern medical profession to diagnose and treat disease, the core method of the lawyer and the judge is “legal reasoning,” and it lacks scientific rigor; indeed, at its best, it is uncomfortably close to careful reading, to rhetoric, and to common sense. An unconscious awareness of the limitations of legal “science” drives the search for rigor into unlikely places, such as the form of citations, and has given the profession a 511-page book that it does not need.

The only thing I would like to add is that The Bluebook also serves a purpose within the obsessive-compulsive profession itself:  The Bluebook’s endless forms allow us to think that we are getting something difficult done.  In reality, of course, we are just manipulating mindless bits of text on a computer screen (and avoiding the truly difficult bits involving reading, rhetoric, and common sense, as Judge Posner puts it).

Hat tip:  Above the Law.