Selected Papers

Do "bad" citations have "good" effects?

Honglin Bao and Misha Teplistkiy (Michigan). 

Early Preprint (Conditionally Accepted at Nature Communications); Twitter thread

TL; DR: We construct a counterfactual world with substantive citing only (e.g., learning from references), and we compare counterfactual vs. realistic worlds (with rhetorical citing -- citing without being inspired) to show that, although discouraged, rhetorical citing benefits academic community health and makes novel ideas more easily diffuse. The explanation for the effect is that the quality of creative products, like papers, is hard to discern and people thus use heuristics to judge them. In a world with substantive citing only, citations and attention would be concentrated among the highest-status papers, and that concentration would increase via the feedback loop of "the-rich-getting-richer". However, rhetorical citing weakens the social-reinforcement loop by redistributing focus from the few elite-quality papers to those "middle-quality" ones that are rhetorically useful in persuading readers (like supporting the citers' own claims). Mid-quality pieces benefit more because low-quality works lack persuasiveness.