How to succeed in academia without really trying

at 02:25 PM ET, 05/25/2012

It’s a basic tenet of journalism: Readers pay more attention to the articles that come first, and they’re inclined to think they’re more important everything else. And it turns out that it’s no different when it comes to academic journals. Economist Victor Ginsburgh found that articles that appear first in an academic article are significantly more likely to be cited in other research — two-thirds of the time because they’re simply the first article in the journal, and only one-third of the time “because they are genuinely better quality.”

(Dennis R.J. Geppert - Associated Press)
Ginsburgh conducted his analysis by comparing citations between 1975 and 1997 from one journal, the European Economic Review, which had some issues that ordered papers by the author’s last name and others in which the editors used their judgment in ordering, along with the American Economic Review, which only used the latter. Overall, readers “seem to believe that the editors of journals are smart enough to pick the ‘best’ paper ready for the coming issue and choose it as a leading paper,” he concludes.

Ginsburgh believes that this could be problematic for younger, less prominent researchers, whose articles may be buried later in the issue because editors want to highlight renowned superstars. But he also points out that online versions of journals could play down this effect, as scientists are more likely to download individual papers than pursue the entire issue of a journal.

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