My Three Thousand Citations: What Does it Mean?

My Google Scholar count is rapidly approaching three thousand, a milestone that marks an appropriate moment to consider what the results say about my academic career and to draw implications for my colleagues. At the outset, I’ll say that I interpret citation counts as a measure of the degree of interest other scholars have in a particular work, rather than an intrinsic measure of the quality of the work. I’ll organize the discussion under a few themes, each headlined by an aphorism.

  1. “You could say that Camille Paglia teaches at the university that Camille Paglia teaches at.” – Harvey Mansfield

The body of my research that has received the most attention is my research on public sector innovation (psi), which I began in the early Nineties and which culminated with my book The Persistence of Innovation in Government two years ago. What interests me is that my top 5 publications, all about psi, are in a range of formats: an article in a top-tier journal (Loose Cannons and Rule Breakers, in Public Administration Review, 292 cites), a book (Innovating with Integrity, 228 cites), two articles solicited by lower-tier journals (Leadership and Innovation in the Public Sector in Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 241 cites, and Encouraging Innovation in the Public Sector in Journal of Intellectual Capital, 206 cites), and a report targeted at practitioners (The Challenge of Innovating in Government, published by IBM, 189 cites). As something of a contrast, another article about psi in a top tier journal (What Border? Public Management Innovation in the US and Canada in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management) had only 88 citations.

What this all means is that I have established myself as one of the go-to researchers in public sector innovation, and my citations do not depend on the quality of the journal, as measured by the current standard, the citation indexes in the Thomson-Reuters Journal Citation Reports. The Journal of Intellectual Capital is a hybrid that Thomson-Reuters has never ranked and the Leadership and Organizational Development Journal is at the bottom of the rankings in Management. So what? Scholars have cited both these articles frequently, and continue to do so.

Hence my quote from the distinguished political scientist Harvey Mansfield, whom I heard introduce Camille Paglia at a Forum presentation at the Harvard Kennedy School two decades ago. A scholar who has developed a strong personal brand does not depend on the brand of the university s(he) teaches at for credibility. Similarly, a scholar who has developed a strong personal brand does not depend on the rating of the journals s(he) publishes in for proof of the quality of his or her work.

The fact that ratings for both individual scholars and for journals depend on the same criterion – citations – has important implications. If editors of journals rated as top-tier want to maintain their ratings, they will try to ensure they publish a goodly number of articles by scholars with strong personal brands who are likely to be widely cited. Similarly, scholars with strong personal brands have leverage in submitting their articles to top-tier journals and even more leverage in submitting them to lower-tier journals.

One of my 5 top-cited publications is a book. I know books have lost cachet among colleagues in Management, though not in Political Science. I wrote Innovating with Integrity as a book because I wanted to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the innovation process as well as discuss its unique characteristics in a variety of policy areas. To attempt to break this into 6 to 10 articles would have destroyed its coherence. In addition, the book format provided an important economy of scale in terms of time spent in the reviewing process. After completing the book, it was relatively easy to publish articles that built on its major arguments or applied its approach to new data sets. A military metaphor is relevant here. The book is the aircraft carrier, the articles and report the flotilla of destroyers and corvettes accompanying it.

Thomson-Reuters provides one year and five year citation indexes. These are defined as the average number of citations for articles published in a given journal one year and up to five years following their publication. My top five publications were published between 1998 and 2002, and still continue to be cited. In social science, research makes an impact over a longer time frame than in the physical sciences, which seems to be the Thomson-Reuters model.

  1. “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.”

There is a standing joke in US journalism circles that these three words constitute the most boring headline conceivable. I spent much of my career writing about Canadian topics, and alas their citation counts seem to exemplify the joke, as follows: Political Management in Canada, a book co-authored with former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney, 30 cites; Digital State at the Leading Edge, a book primarily about public sector information technology in Canada, 29 cites; The Language of the Skies, a history of the bilingual air traffic control conflict in the Seventies, 25 cites; If you Build It …, a history of the development of Ontario’s electronic toll road, highway 407, 18 cites; an article about Canadian crown corporations in World War Two, 12 cites; and an article about Western Canadian homesteading, 9 cites.

I don’t know the reason for these paltry numbers. Maybe it’s the small size of the Canadian academic community. Maybe my articles were seen as too quantitative and of limited general interest. Whatever the reason, I find this deeply disappointing, in a way heart-breaking. I continue to believe that I’ve made important contributions to understanding some aspects of our national experience. But I stopped writing about Canada a decade ago.

  1. “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”

This remark, attributed to Thomas Watson, is considered the epitome of inaccurate technological forecasting. I’m guilty of an inaccurate technological forecast myself. In “Electronic Road Pricing: An Idea whose Time may Never Come,” I studied Hong Kong’s experiment in electronic road in the mid-Eighties and concluded that “overcoming the political implementation problems is much more difficult [than implementing the technology]. If they cannot be overcome, then electronic road pricing may forever sit unused on the economist’s shelf.” In retrospect, I overstated my pessimistic case, as Ontario’s highway 407, London’s pricing scheme, and various other road pricing schemes, have shown. Nonetheless, the article has accumulated 133 cites. Go figure. Looking through the cites, which occur in the academic literature about road tolls, the best explanation I can offer is that there has been lively discussion about their feasibility and an authoritative case study about Hong Kong forms an important part of the historical record.

  1. “Write about what you love. Maybe the citations will follow.”

This is a variation on the title of Marsha Sinetar’s 1989 book Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, which has become both an aphorism and a debatable proposition. As readers of this blog will know, my current, but also long-standing, intellectual love is the study of narrative. Here the results are mixed. “Making Narrative Count,” my 2011 paper in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, the top-ranked public administration journal, has had 30 citations. This seems paltry, but is 6 times higher than JPART’s five year impact factor, which is 5. That the highest five year impact factor in public administration is only 5 seems very disappointing to me, but that’s grist for another blog post. My book Governing Fables: Learning from Public Sector Narratives, has had 21 citations, which troubles me, especially because it garnered great reviews. In any event, I love watching procedural movies about the public sector and reading novels, biographies, and histories, so I will continue to do what I love and write about it.

I’ve had the satisfaction of seeing my work on public sector innovation achieve recognition by being frequently cited, and maybe my work on narrative will constitute a successful fourth – I’m no longer sure of the count – act.

5 comments

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