| Peter Klein |
Quick, what do the following articles have in common?
- Maslow, Abraham. 1943. “A theory of human motivation.” Psychological Review 50(4): 370-376.
- Forrester, Jay W. 1958. “Industrial dynamics: a major breakthrough for decision makers.” Harvard Business Review 36(4): 37-66.
- Fisher, Irving. 1933. “The debt-deflation theory of great depressions.”
Econometrica 1(4): 337-357.
- Fornell, Claes, and David F. Larker. 1981. “Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error.” Journal of Marketing Research 18(1): 39-50.
- Wechsler, Herbert. 1959. “Toward neutral principles of constitutional law.” Harvard Law Review 73(1): 1-35.
- Ellsberg, Daniel. 1961. “Risk, ambiguity, and the savage axioms.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 75(4): 643-669.
All are designated as “sleeping beauties,” papers that lie dormant for years after publication, then suddenly become highly influential. The term was coined by Anthony van Raan, but sleeping beauties were thought to be rare. A new paper in PNAS by Qing Ke, Emilio Ferrara, Filippo Radicchi, and Alessandro Flammini finds, by contrast, that sleeping beauties are fairly common. Formally, “The beauty coefficient value B for a given paper is based on the comparison between its citation history and a reference line that is determined only by its publication year, the maximum number of citations
received in a year (within a multiyear observation period), and the year when such maximum is achieved.” The authors take a large sample of papers from the American Physical Society and Web of Science and identify, describe, and analyze some prominent sleeping beauties. They focus mostly on the physical science, but include a few social science datasets in an online appendix, finding several papers including those above. (Most of the sleeping beauties in their social science sample are either experimental psychology papers or statistical or methodological papers that are not really about core social science theory or application.) I assume the social science papers also come from Web of Science, which may not include journals like Economica (hence no Coase 1937), and hence the list above is not totally intuitive.
Anyway, this should provoke some interesting discussion about the diffusion of knowledge. The presence of sleeping beauties could simply mean that some discoveries are difficult to understand and take a while to be appreciated, but could also reflect bandwagon effects, faddish citation practices, and other phenomena that cast doubt on the whig theory of science.