Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The proof of the Truth is in the citation index…

A lost letter I came across in the historical archives dated November 30th 1871

Dear Gregor,

One of the hallmarks of science is that it is fruitful. A good scientific paper will usually lead to much work along the same lines, work that confirms and extends the results, and work that produces more new ideas inspired by the paper. Although citation counts are not completely reliable metrics for evaluating scientific papers, they do give some general information about what papers are considered important.

Pea factorization advocates like to point to lists of “peer-reviewed publications” advocating their position. Upon closer examination, their lists are misleading, packed with publications that are either not in scientific journals, or that appeared in venues of questionable quality, or papers whose relationship to pea factorization is tangential at best. Today, however, I’d like to look at a different issue: the fruitfulness pea factorization work. Let’s take a particular Pea factor publication, one that was trumpeted by a religious nutcase as a “breakthrough”, and see how much further scientific work it inspired.

The paper I have in mind is your paper Experiments on Plant Hybridization, which was published, amid some controversy, in the relatively obscure journal Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn in 1865.

What I want to do here is look at every scientific publication that has cited your paper to determine whether your work can fairly said to be “fruitful”. I used the ISI Web of Science Database to do a “cited reference” search on your article. This database, which used to be called Science Citation Index, is generally acknowledged to be one of the most comprehensive available. The search I did included Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Even such a search will miss some papers, of course, but it will still give a general idea of how much the scientific community has been inspired by your work.

I found exactly 0 citations to your paper in this database. Of these, counting generously, exactly 0 are scientific research papers that cite you approvingly!

I hope that you will see how foolish it is for religious nutcases to pretend to be involved in real science and that you will content yourself with simply growing peas and singing hymns in your monastery.

Yours scoffingly,