Author Archive

March 30, 2011

The more citations, the better the paper? A closer look at our data

by Anka Lindemann

citation neededBeing cited is probably the best compliment a scientist can get: someone regarded you work to be so significant, that he or she decided to mention it in their own paper, and maybe even used is as the base for their own research. Consequently, the quality of a paper is very often measured by counting how many times the research was mentioned in other publications.

But at the same time, a comparable small number of citations should not necessarily be seen as a proof for the validity of a paper. If you take one of the papers that Beki analysed, (A contractile nuclear actin network drives chromosome congression in oocytes), the overall number of citations is realtively small (just 66 from 2005 to 2011).

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March 18, 2011

Journals, Wordle and the dirty data problem

by Anka Lindemann

Do you know these ideas that first seem to be terrific and then soon prove the opposite? Today I had one of those. After I have seen the Wordle graphs that Deb used for her analysis of the citing authors of the Rice Genome Project paper, I thought “Hey, let’s see what this looks like for all the journals that we found the citations in!”

So I grabbed the spreadsheet in which we had combined all the individual analyses, copied the journal name of all citations into Wordle and clicked “Create”. On first glance, the result looked beautiful, and even showed something unexpected: The biggest journal name in the graph, and therefore the one with the highest number of citations in it, was indeed Nature – the journal that all our original papers were published in.

Wordle graph for the journals of all citations, dirty dataBut with a closer look at the graph, I noticed something weird: The graph displayed the journal named Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences of the United States of America in a medium sized font, and, slightly bigger, PNAS, which is the abbreviation for the former. (If you click on the picture, you can see it in a bigger version. The two PNAS-versions are circled in yellow.)

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March 17, 2011

Critical reflection of our methodology

by Anka Lindemann

magnifying glass in front of book

Since we are now finished with generating and analysing the data, it is time for a critical reflection of our methodology. Every time researchers take their instrument of measurement and start with the data generation, they will stumble over shortcomings of their methodology and have to take those into account while performing the analysis. In this post, I will always try not only to point out the weaknesses of our methodology that we discovered, but also how we coped with it in the analysis.

So, here we go.

First of all, how Abi described in her blog post about the methodology, we wanted to randomly pick the papers to make sure our selection was unbiased  The initial thought was, that a random choice of papers would provide us with a solid sample, that we could also use to take as a representative section of the basic population (i.e. all papers published in Nature in 2005).

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March 15, 2011

Philica – an alternative to peer review?

by Anka Lindemann

One of the main critics against peer review is the huge amount of time between the actual research and it’s date of publications. Since some review processes can take several months, there is a growing chance that meanwhile someone else publishes a similar research, and therefore makes you own research less relevant. But there are approaches to get rid of this problem.

Philica logoOne is the alternative review system from the open access journal Philica. Philica is an online publication accepting papers on every subject. The publication was developed by the British psychologists Dr Ian Walker and Dr Nigel Holt, who were unhappy with the way traditional journals publish new papers, especially with the copyright restrictions that limit the scientific discourse.

Therefore, one of the main aspects of Philica is open access: Everyone can read all published articles without needing to pay for them. But unlike other open access journals, where scientists have to pay for the publication of their papers, the submission of papers to Philica is free. This is only possible by setting aside the expensive traditional peer review process that usually regulates which papers are being published and which not.

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March 7, 2011

Serum retinol binding protein 4, citation bias and more

by Anka Lindemann

The second paper I analysed (in teamwork with Louise and Beki) was “Serum retinol binding protein 4 contributes to insulin resistance in obesity and type 2 diabetes” by Qin Yang, Timothy E. Graham, Nimesh Mody, Frederic Preitner, Odile D. Peroni, Janice M. Zabolotny, Ko Kotani, Loredana Quadro and Barbara B. Kahn.

screenshot diabetes paperAt the time the paper was published, most of the authors were working in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, in the Department of Medicine of Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. Loredana Quadro was the only author from another institution, she worked at the Institute of Cancer Research in the Department of Medicine, at the Columbia University, New York. The paper was published on 21 July 2005.

Distribution of citations:

For this paper, we found 487 citations, 454 in Web of Knowledge and 100 in PubMed. Most of the citations in PubMed could also be found in Web of Knowledge, so in fact PubMed only added 33 citations.

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March 4, 2011

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigns after being heavily criticised of plagiarism in this doctoral thesis

by Anka Lindemann

Cover of the doctoral thesis of zu Guttenberg

The bone of contention: The cover of the doctoral thesis of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.


There was finally to much criticism: On Tuesday 1 March, the now former German defence minister declared in a short statement to the press that he would give up his ministerial post. In the statement, he said that through the growing pressure on him he finally “reached the boundaries of his strength”.

Over the weekend, the criticism of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg had reached a new dimension. Not only did previous loyal party fellows and coalition partners start to openly criticise the behaviour of zu Guttenberg, but also the scientific community.

In an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated by several Ph.D. students from different German universities, over 50.000 other Ph.D students, postdocs and non-scientific supporters summoned Merkel to stop treating the “Causa Guttenberg” as a peccadillo by her most popular minister. An English version of the open letter can be found on the blog of German professor Debora Weber-Wulff, who also runs the website Portal Plagiat which regularly examinees plagiarism detection software. 

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