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As fas as I see it, one way to known if certain scientific article is important or relevant, is to see how much cited it is .. For example, let's take Karl Schwarzschild

He's known better known for an article called:

Uber das Gravitationsfeld eines Massenpunktes nach der Einstein'schen Theorie

He published this article in 1916 and from this paper, concepts like Schwarzschild Black Hole, Schwarzschild Metric, Schwarzschild Radius, Schwarzschild Coordinates were originated

So, all of these topics are in wikipedia and one should expect this article to be highly cited, and it is, according to google scholar it has 1331 citations, so it is an important or relevant paper

Schwarzschild publised other topics, like this article:

On the deviations from the law of reciprocity for bromide of silver gelatine

In this article originated the concept of Schwarzschild's Law, one might think that that scientific concept is not as important as a Schwarzschild Black Hole, so, if you see how much cited it is, according to google scholar, it only has 62 citations

From here, we can do a conjecture, the more cited a research paper it is, the more relevant or important the scientific work it is, and if a Scientific Work is important, it is going to be possible to find that topic on places like wikipedia.

My problem comes with certain topics that sometimes I find, for example this one: Fubini–Study Metric. Since it has its own article on Wikipedia, one should expect that the paper where Eduard Study introduce this concept to be highly cited, but when you see where it was originated:

Kürzeste Wege im komplexen Gebiet

published in 1905, you only find that according to google scholar, it only has 14 citations ... For a topic with a wikipedia article almost as big as the one of Schwarzschild Radius, this doesn't make any sense to me ... What's going on? Google Scholar is not giving me the corerct number of citations? Does it really has only those citations?, Does the concept was not originated on that article (Wikipedia says it was)?

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    There is no relationship between Wikipedia content and Google Scholar citations. And there is no need for them to be related. – Anonymous Physicist May 4 at 8:11
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    Are you making the assumption that the relevance of an article is defined by being on wiki? – Solar Mike May 4 at 9:18
  • Well, kinda? I just tought that if a topic was popular, probably the paper too, and probably it would be on the wiki – DieDauphin May 4 at 9:58
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    There is also only a weak relationship between the number of google scholar citations and scientific relevance, especially for pre-internet publications. – henning -- reinstate Monica May 4 at 13:07
  • @SolarMike if so, here are some counterexamples: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Unusual_articles – henning -- reinstate Monica May 4 at 13:09
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Wikipedia is a volunteer encyclopedia. People write whatever they want to write about. Someone found Fubini–Study metric interesting enough to write a big article on it (you can look through the article's history to see who they are). This doesn't mean the subject is very notable, only that it meets Wikipedia's so-called "general notability guideline". Therefore there's no reason to expect that the scientific articles that initiated the Fubini-Study metric to have a lot of citations.

As an illustrative comparison: the relatively obscure Bowling Green State University has a much more comprehensive article than the more highly ranked, bigger, and richer University of Tokyo. This doesn't mean that Bowling Green State University is somehow more notable than the University of Tokyo; more likely it means that among Wikipedia editors there are more BGSU alumni than UTokyo alumni - which shouldn't be surprising, since these Wikipedia articles are written in English. Compare the same articles in Japanese.

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    English Wikipedia is written in English. Wikipedia exists in many languages. – mmeent May 4 at 9:41
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    To illustrate mmeent's point to this otherwise excellent answer: Bowling Green State University vs.University of Tokyo in the Japanese Wikipedia. – lighthouse keeper May 4 at 9:48
  • This answer is incomplete as it only deals with the Wikipedia side of the equation. See the answer by user123675 for the citations side. Having an article in Wikipedia is probably more significant than having many citations. Citations (or the lack thereof) can be accidental, but writing a Wikipedia article requires quite some work and motivation. – Sylvain Ribault May 5 at 6:51
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The size of a wikipedia article says nothing. A large article just means that there is a single or a few people on the internet who are interested enough in this topic to write it down. So even obscure topics can get a large article on wikipedia.

The number of citations is also very complex. There is often a bandwagon effect, where an article gets cited because it got cited a lot before. This way an important article could get eclipsed by a less important one. Science is done by humans, and humans are imperfect.

So if you want to know a field, you should know the highly cited articles or books, manuscripts, or whatever the usual form of publication is in that field is. But you should also keep an eye out for the "forgotten" literature. The problem is, that there is just too many articles to read them all. Fortunately, you are not alone. If all researchers in a field keep an eye out for these hidden gems, then there is a fair chance they will eventually be found.

To find out if "Kürzeste Wege im komplexen Gebiet" is such a hidden gem, you will just have to read it and make up your own mind if you consider this a worthwhile article.

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Citations are a poor metric for judging the quality or importance of a paper. The number of citations varies widely field by field: to stay with your example, papers in physics get a lot more citations than papers in math. It is impossible to compare.

This is especially true for old papers. For something settled as long ago as the Fubini–Study metric (more than a century!), people will prefer to cite modern accounts written in more accessible language. You wouldn't cite Leibniz or Newton when talking about differentiability, would you? I expect that their papers (if it even makes sense to talk about such things) to have abysmal citation metrics compared to modern standards. And yet nobody would even dare suggest that calculus is not important.

You also seem to be under the impression that the importance of a topic is the same as the importance of the paper where this topic was introduced. This is not the case. Maybe Study defined his metric as some kind of afterthought in his original paper and didn't really see the value in it, but 50 years later someone discovered something life-changing about it and now nobody can get enough Fubini–Study metric. In this situation, the original paper would barely get any citations, and the more recent paper would get tons.

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  • (+1) but 50 years later someone discovered something --- Indeed, if one looks through the google searches for this paper one will find it cited in several books (real books, not just journal volumes that show up in google-books), which I think is a much more significant indication of the paper's influence than how many citations it gets by other papers. – Dave L Renfro May 4 at 10:01
  • But then, it should't be called Fubini-Study Metric, it should be called Fubini-Study-This_Another_Person Metric .. or I don't know .. – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:03
  • and there is also old papers very cited too, like the example of Schwarzschild (written more than a century too!) – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:08
  • If something is called after someone you can be sure (s)he made an important contribution, but you can be equally sure (s)he did not invent it. See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stigler%27s_law_of_eponymy – Maarten Buis May 4 at 15:23
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I agree with the other answers that your general premise is flawed. But even if it wasn't there were some other errors you made.

First of all, you are comparing a math paper with a physics paper. While the two are somewhat adjacent, the publication culture in both is quite different. In particular mathematics tends towards few but longer papers. As a result there are inherently less citations. 14 is not great, but personally, I'd still consider that a well accepted maths paper, especially for its time.

This leads to the next point, if at all, citations are only a measure of how well an idea was received in the next few years after publication. As soon as an idea becomes "general knowledge" and possibly enters some of the text books, people stop citing the original paper. Sure you'll need to attribute ideas, but calling it Fubini-Study metric does exactly that. To illustrate this point, searching google scholar for "Fubini-Study metric" gets me 7040 results. People are using the concept, but they don't feel the need to cite the original paper, in the same way you wouldn't cite Euklid's elements whenever you use the Pythagorean theorem.

Finally, note that google scholar isn't especially good with correctly parsing references, especially if they aren't in a machine readable form, which is never the case for older papers. Springer for example lists 35 citations and I don't believe that either number is even close to correct.

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  • Well, there are older math papers really cited like this one: "Ueber die Theorie der algebraischen Formen" published in 1890 where Hilbert intruduces Hilbert's Basis Theorem. It has 800 citations and it is a math paper even older – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:31
  • either way, I think the answers they gave me are right, more or less, thanks – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:33
  • It would be so cool people citing Euklid's Elements when using Pythagorean Theorem .. I guess, the modern citations system, could be only valid for papers that are not older than 150 years, more or less .. – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:43
  • and also, I don't think it is entirely true that citations are only a measure of how well an idea was received in the next few years after publication. As counterexample, let's take John Michell paper from 1783 talking about black holes. Nobody in that time cited that paper, but nowadays, since black holes are popular, it has 391 citations, for an article written more than 200 years! – DieDauphin May 4 at 10:47
  • @DieDauphin $\forall \neg$ is not the same as $\neg \forall$. I never said that there aren't old papers which are extremely well cited even decades afterwards. But if they aren't, it doesn't tell you that they are unimportant. (Which is a general problem with using citations as a metric, but that is another story.) – mlk May 4 at 11:06

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