Volume 86, Number 6, June 2009
Article Number 68001
Number of page(s) 6
Section Interdisciplinary Physics and Related Areas of Science and Technology
Published online 25 June 2009
EPL, 86 (2009) 68001
DOI: 10.1209/0295-5075/86/68001

The first-mover advantage in scientific publication

M. E. J. Newman

Department of Physics, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA and Santa Fe Institute - 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA

received 1 May 2009; accepted in final form 28 May 2009; published June 2009
published online 25 June 2009

Mathematical models of the scientific citation process predict a strong “first-mover” effect under which the first papers in a field will, essentially regardless of content, receive citations at a rate enormously higher than papers published later. Moreover papers are expected to retain this advantage in perpetuity —they should receive more citations indefinitely, no matter how many other papers are published after them. We test this conjecture against data from a selection of fields and in several cases find a first-mover effect of a magnitude similar to that predicted by the theory. Were we wearing our cynical hat today, we might say that the scientist who wants to become famous is better off —by a wide margin— writing a modest paper in next year's hottest field than an outstanding paper in this year's. On the other hand, there are some later-published papers, albeit only a small fraction, that buck the trend and attract significantly more citations than theory predicts. We suggest that papers of this kind, though they often receive relatively few citations overall, are probably worthy of our attention.

89.75.Hc - Networks and genealogical trees.
05.40.-a - Fluctuation phenomena, random processes, noise, and Brownian motion.
89.75.Da - Systems obeying scaling laws.

© EPLA 2009