I have just noticed something very weird, some months ago, I was looking in google scholar an article of Irving Langmuir called "The Vapor Pressure of Metallic Tungsten", it had 761 citations, some time passed and I searched the same article again and now it has 744 citations. I don't know if maybe I didn't see the correct number of citations the first time, but that make me question myself, is it even possible for a scientific article to lose cites? does that make sense?

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    My article on Google Scholar was cited, and it took Google Scholar about a week to notice it, so I had 1 citation. After a month or so, my citation count went to 0, I was worried and checked elsewhere and the citing article was still there and taken into account into other counters. That citation never came back in Google Scolar. I have lost all faith in the number of citations in Google Scholar since then (almost 2 years now.) Sep 6, 2020 at 19:46

3 Answers 3


Google Scholar's citation counts are based on the number of citations found by Google's web-crawler. They tend to fluctuate up and down a little. This is usually either because documents such as internal reports or theses disappear from their authors' websites, or because Google's algorithms identify certain documents as duplicates of one another and 'merges' them.

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    I lost my only citation in Google Scholar for none of the reasons you mention. I had a citation for about a month long and then it went away for no apparent reason. It's been 2 years now and it's still not back. No merging, no disappearance anywhere else, etc. Just went away for no apparent reason. Sep 6, 2020 at 19:48
  • @thermomagneticcondensedboson What sort of publication cited you, and how well established was the venue? Each citation system has different inclusion criteria for publications.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 7, 2020 at 0:32
  • @thermomagneticcondensedboson It's possible that the web server is (mis-?)configured in such a way that Google's crawler does not "see" the document any more, even though it is discoverable by a human, or that some change in Google Scholar's algorithm left it unwilling/unable to recognise your citation. Like any tool, Scholar has its strengths, weaknesses and quirks.
    – avid
    Sep 7, 2020 at 4:02
  • @jakebeal The article citing mine is published in AIP Advances. Sep 7, 2020 at 6:22
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    @thermomagneticcondensedboson Yeah, that certainly ought to be getting picked up. Sounds like you are indeed experiencing a curation failure.
    – jakebeal
    Sep 7, 2020 at 9:59

In addition to the inherent curation problems of web-crawling, determining duplicates, etc, it is quite possible for a document to truly lose citations.

For this to happen, a citing article would be withdrawn or amended such that the citation is removed. If the article is withdrawn for error, one might argue whether it ought to still count as a citation or not, since the article may leave some trace. In the case of, say, entirely fraudulent publications being used to pump citation counts, however, those citations would certainly be well and truly gone.

  • Withdrawn articles do not vanish, they stay accessible in the online repository of the publisher just as they do in the printed journal in your library.
    – Karl
    Sep 6, 2020 at 18:43
  • @Karl For a "normal" withdrawn article, yes. When a pattern of citation manipulation appears, however, the offending publications will sometimes be entirely suppressed from calculations. See, for example: retractionwatch.com/2020/07/28/…
    – jakebeal
    Sep 6, 2020 at 18:54
  • I don't know wether "normal" retracted articles count towards impact factors etc. But the article not only leaves a trace but stays fully accessible. What google does then is anyone's guess.
    – Karl
    Sep 6, 2020 at 19:10

To directly answer the question:

Is it possible for a scientific article to lose citations?

Not except in rare cases. For the most part, citation is a permanent thing. This also depends on how citations are counted: if an article is published but then updated to a new version (say on a preprint site) which removes a citation, does the previous version count as a citation or not? Citation databases like Google scholar have to make a decision about such matters, and whatever they choose, they try to apply it in some consistent matter. But it can be hard especially as article titles can change between revisions.

Because it is fully automated, Google scholar is likely to be less stable than the "real" citation count as measured by some objective criteria (making a decision as to whether, e.g. preprints or website pdfs are counted, whether updating or retracting a paper removes old citations, and so on). I would guess that the "real" citation count almost always never goes down.

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