The Lost Papers

Yet another intriguing fact: in a 2005 report on Impact Factors by its originator, former Thomson ISI Chairman Eugene Garfield (the second link my last post, PDF available here:, nearly half of all peer-reviewed papers in the 7,000+ journals they analyze are never cited. Ever. Let me say that again: according to the creator of the Impact Factor, ~50% of all papers get zero citations in their lifetime. This a staggeringly high percentage to me; when you write up a study, you might as well flip a coin on whether it will become a “lost paper” without any impact on the field (as measured by citations to it). This total includes editorials, prefaces, and news articles, which typically have low citation rates, but such items are not a large part of the total paper count (~38 million from 1900 to 2005).

Reminds me of the classic youth vampire movie, the Lost Boys.


Fortunately, this is not the case for JGR-Space Physics. Here is my unscientific but quantitative justification for this assertion.

I created a Citation Report for JGR-Space Physics papers published in the year 2000. ISI Web of Science found 501 papers (which seems about right), with a total of 14,744 citations to these papers, achieving an average of 29.4 citations per paper. Of these papers, 481 received at least 1 citation. That is, for JGR-Space Physics 13+ years after publication, only 4% of the papers had zero citations.

We can go back even farther: I did it again for the year 1980. A total of 347 papers were found, having 12,973 total citations for an average of 37.4 citations per paper. Of these, 337 had at least 1 citation; the number of lost papers was only 10 (3%).

Let’s focus in on recent articles. Specifically, what about the papers included in the two-year and five-year Impact Factor calculations? I can’t do this exactly, but because we are only a couple of months in to 2014, I think the numbers won’t be too far off. Looking at the JGR-Space papers published in year 2008 (~5 years ago), ISI found 508 papers with 8781 total citations, yielding an average of 14.9 citations per paper. Guess what? Only 17 papers had zero citations; the percentage of papers with zero citations is already down to 3% after only 5 years past publication.

One final look at lost paper statistics: consider the year 2011, one of those included in the latest Two-Year Impact Factor. ISI found 724 papers, which already have 4480 citations for an average of 6.2 per paper. Of these, 674 already have at least 1 citation, leaving only 50 papers with no citation (yet). So, the percentage of JGR-Space Physics papers with no citations in their first two years is only 7%.

I find these numbers very encouraging. No, I find them absolutely amazing.  Apparently, JGR-Space Physics is not like other journals; nearly all (over 90%) of its papers are cited relatively soon after publication (within 2 years), and this shrinks to just a few percent over the next few years. The unfortunate finding is that the number of lost papers is greater than zero; there are some papers in JGR-Space that are never cited in their lifetime. However, in comparison with what Garfield published about all journals, we are exceptionally good at publishing studies that will be cited later and that therefore contribute to the further advancement of knowledge in the field.

JGR-Space Physics authors…you’re awesome!


4 thoughts on “The Lost Papers

  1. Pingback: Impact Factor Just For JGR-Space Physics | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  2. Pingback: Comparing the Impact of Journals | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  3. Pingback: DORA and the JIF | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

  4. Pingback: More Year-End Stats for 2018 | Notes from the JGR-Space Physics Editor-in-Chief

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