In his seminal work “Networks of Scientific Papers,” Derek J. de Solla Price argues the citation networks provide a broad picture which “tells us something about the papers themselves as well as something about the practice of citation.”
This sentiment is echoed in later works.
Franc Mali, Luka Kronegger, Patrick Doreian, and Anuska Ferligoj, for example, write: “Understanding science as a social system implies considering science as fundamentally relational, and as a community-based social activity.”
In their work on Citation Networks, Filippo Radicchi, Santo Fortunato, and Alessandro Vespignani further argue, “citation networks in the last several years have become one of the prototypical examples of complex network evolution.”
What is particularly interesting is that citation networks are complex systems. As L.A.N. Amarala and J.M. Ottino define it:
“A complex system is a system with a large number of elements, building blocks or agents, capable of interacting with each other and with their environment. The interaction between elements may occur only with immediate neighbors or with distant ones; the agents can be all iden- tical or different; they may move in space or occupy fixed positions, and can be in one of two states or of multiple states. The common characteristic of all complex systems is that they display organization without any external organizing principle being applied. The whole is much more that the sum of its parts.”
Citation networks certainly meet this definition.
Another interesting element of citation networks is that aging often – but not always – has adverse effects. As deSolla Price finds in his study of a relatively well bounded citation network, “half the references are to a research front of recent papers and the other half are to papers scatter uniformly through the literature.”
Intuitively, this makes sense – research seeks to push forward a frontier of knowledge and thus most citations are to relatively new research developments.
However, despite this trend, there are still the very successful papers – the classics – which scholars return to and cite time and time again.