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Suppose two papers were published by fledgling researchers, perhaps PhD students, who are yet unknown in their field. One is Asian, has a surname which is long and difficult to pronounce, and perhaps also comes from a relatively unknown university. The other has an English name, and comes from a well-known university. But otherwise, the two papers are similar in content and on par in terms of quality.

Ideally, there should not be any preference with regards to citing either of the two papers. That means, in the long run, the expected citation counts of the two papers should be about the same. However, I am interested to know whether this is the case in reality. From my limited experience, I seem to have seen papers that referenced only other papers whose authors are European. Has there been any study that suggests whether the name and/or affiliation of an author affect the visibility and hence the citation count of his/her paper? I am aware that the answer might be different for different fields.


To ask the question in another way, is our perception of a paper influenced by the authors' names and/or affiliations? Do we not tend to infer the quality of a paper by these factors?

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Are you assuming that they are published comparably, such as in the same journal? –  Dave Clarke Jun 4 at 20:48
    
@DaveClarke, not necessarily the same journal, but let's say they are equally accessible. –  adipro Jun 4 at 21:19
    
You are at risk of conflating two different potential biases: linguistic similarity based on name pronunciation (e.g. English vs. Thai), and geographic/racial proximity (e.g. European vs. Asian). Put another way, are you worried about the English colluding with the French and Germans, or with the Americans and Australians? In the same vein, do you notice e.g. Chinese papers citing Japanese authors a lot, or just other Chinese authors? –  Chris White Jun 5 at 1:08
    
@ChrisWhite, I am interested mainly in whether one's perception of a paper is influenced in any way by the author's name. I guess a Chinese would have even greater difficulty pronouncing Thai names than an English would. Do they then avoid even having a look at the paper because of the author's Thai name? –  adipro Jun 5 at 5:59
    
What papers have you seen that should have referenced non-European authors but did not? Please be specific. –  Tom Dworzanski Jun 5 at 6:14

3 Answers 3

The short answer (from the view of an economist) is: Probably not. At least not in the way you suggest.

However, for most (i.e., not the most influential papers/journals) papers most of the citations (especially for PhD students) are "generated" by feedback from conferences, referees, supervisors, ... . Therefore, someone from Europe is more likely to encounter someone who knows the European paper and therefore only cites the paper from Europe. In addition, researchers from well-known universities have more visibility and are more likely to know the topic of papers from PhD students at their department.

So, even if there is is no discrimination with regards to the name and the affiliation we could observe the effect you described.

I do not know of any study covering your question, and I do not think there is a way to do such a study.


To ask the question in another way, is our perception of a paper influenced by the authors' names and/or affiliations? Do we not tend to infer the quality of a paper by these factors?

I guess that depends on the person. I (and most people I know) are heavily influenced by the journal it is published in, not at all by the authors' name (to clarify: We are influenced by the fact if we know the person or not, but not by how the origin of the name / how the name looks like.) and maybe a little bit by the affiliation of the author if it is a top 5 or top 10 institution in the specific field of research.

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So, if there are two papers with similar content and quality and both are published in journals of similar quality, are you saying that most people are slightly more interested in the paper whose authors are from a top institution? –  adipro Jun 5 at 15:14
    
I would not phrase it like that. I think if there is someone who can not decide if he should read the paper or not, then a good institution might make the difference between reading and not reading the paper. However, that is probably a very hypothetical case as the visibility effect (discribed in the first part of my answer) is probably much stronger and there are never two papers that are really that similar. –  The Almighty Bob Jun 5 at 16:27
    
You said, "... researchers from well-known universities have more visibility ...." –  adipro Jun 5 at 20:39
    
@adipro Yes, but visibility and interest are not necessary the same. –  The Almighty Bob Jun 6 at 2:34

Has there been any study that suggests whether the name and/or affiliation of an author affect the visibility and hence the citation count of his/her paper? I am aware that the answer might be different for different fields.

I have no study at the ready, but I have often wondered the same and can provide some speculations.

You bring up the following factors that might play into whether a work may be higher cited:

  • Status of the researcher
  • Name
  • Status of university

For computer science, the first point is usually not all that important, as the vast majority of papers have both PhD students and professor(s) as authors. I also don't believe that the status of the university very much plays into the decision whether a paper will be cited. At least for me, I never even remember which institution(s) an interesting paper comes from, unless I know the authors personally. I just don't consider that particularly relevant information. Interestingly, I remember universities more for papers from asian authors (see also next paragraph), as "National University of XY" is much better discriminator for me than most asian names. However, it's not that better universities stick more in my mind than smaller ones. To be honest, I can hardly judge the quality of asian universities outside of Singapore (where I stayed for a research visit once) anyway, except for absolute top institutions.

Now, whether the "memorability" of the name is relevant is an interesting question. For me it is certainly easier to remember US / european names than asian or indian ones. Critically speaking, I also have the strong impression that I cite more European or US authors than asian ones. However, I am 100% convinced that this also works the other way. Whenever I browse over papers by asian authors, they also seem to cite almost exclusively other asian authors, presumably for similar reasons. Whether this all evens out in the end I don't know, but I also don't really know whether there is anything that can really be done about it.

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I think Asian names vary a lot, because they are latinized from various non-latin scripts, in contrast to European names. Chinese and Korean surnames are mostly one syllable. So they should be easy to remember for anyone. Thai, Indian, and Indonesian names are probably more difficult, except for those from the same country. –  adipro Jun 5 at 20:20

For multi author papers coming from well know labs I would be surprised if the surname of the junior author had much impact on citations since the popularity of the paper is going to be driven by the PI. For single author papers or unknown labs there could be a noticeable effect, but again I doubt it. I think most people search for literature based on key words wether it is an electronic search or a skimming of table of contents. If the authors or university Is know that clearly will increase the chance of citation. For unknown authors and universities, there is enough bias in this world, both justified and unjustified, that my guess is that there would be a correlation between citations and names.

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+1: "For multi author papers coming from well know labs I would be surprised if the surname of the junior author had much impact on citations since the popularity of the paper is going to be driven by the PI." –  posdef Jun 5 at 7:25
    
Yes, that is understood. Probably a relevant situation would be a beginner researcher who might not know enough people in his area, and did a search on Google Scholar based on a keyword of interest. Would the authors' names affect his/her preference on which papers he/she picked to read among those that come up? I think I tend to do this myself. So I am wondering if there is a study on this matter. –  adipro Jun 5 at 13:51

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