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DBLP ( ) , an online computer science bibliography. Citation
counts and online availability were estimated using ResearchIndex . Their conclusion
was that online articles were likely to acquire more citations.
Robert King Merton is an American sociologist who has revolutionized sociol-
ogy and mass communication. He is a pioneer in the sociology and the history of
sciences. He drew our attention to the “Matthew Effect” in scientific communities
(Merton 1968 ). He adopted the term from St. Matthew's Gospel in the Bible: “For
unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but for him
that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” (Bible, Matthew 13:12,
25:29). “Matthew Effect” sums up the phenomenon that the rich get richer and the
poor get poorer. In the context of science, “the richness” refers to the reputation and
prominence of an established scientist; in contrast, “the poor” includes scientists
who have not reached this level. Established scientists tend to receive more than
their fair share of credits at the expense of those who are not famous. Here is how
Merton described the Matthew effect in scientific reward systems:
You usually notice the name that you're familiar with. Even if it's last, it will be the one that
sticks. In some cases, all the names are unfamiliar to you, and they're virtually anonymous.
But what you note is the acknowledgement at the end of the paper to the senior person for
his 'advice and encouragement.' So you will say: 'This came out of Greene's lab, or so and
so's lab.' You remember that, rather than the long list of authors.
Social and political forces may limit the recognition of a scientist. Merton
described the “41st chair” phenomenon in the French Academy, which can only
allow a maximum of 40 members. Many talented individuals were denied a
membership of the Academy simply because of this restriction.
Merton's other contribution to sociology of science is the concept of scientific
obliteration . He first described the idea in On the Shoulders of Giants (Merton
1965 ):
Natural enough, most of us tend to attribute a striking idea or formulation to the author who
first introduced us to it. But often, that author has simply adopted or revived a formulation
which he (and others versed in the same tradition) knows to have been created by another.
The transmitters may be so familiar with its origins that they mistakenly assume these to
be well known. Preferring not to insult their readers' knowledgeability, they do not cite the
original source or even refer to it. And so it turns out that the altogether innocent transmitter
becomes identified as the originator of the idea when his merit lies only in having kept it
alive, or in having brought it back to life after it had long lain dormant or perhaps in having
put it to new and instructive use.
Obliteration happens in a scientific reward system when researchers no longer
feel necessary to cite something everyone has already taken for granted. Take
Archimedes' constant   for example. Archimedes discovered the ratio between
the diameter and circumference of a circle:  . As Archimedes' constant becomes
increasingly familiar even to schoolchildren, scientists would cite Archimedes'
primordial paper less and less, until finally there is no need to cite it at all, which
means his original paper would have been obliterated. This is regarded as one of the
highest compliments the community of scientists can pay to a scientist because of a
contribution that was so basic, so vital, and so well known that every scientist can
simply take it for granted (Garfield 1975 ).
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