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'Do ABCs Get More Citations Than XYZs?'

July 31, 2014

Want to up your citation stats? Try changing your name – but make sure it starts with an “A,” “B,” or “C.” That’s what a new paper in Economic Inquiry suggests (an abstract is available here). The study, by Wei Huang, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Harvard University, says that researchers whose last names begin with A, B, or C who are listed first as authors in articles in a variety of science journals receive, on average, one to two more citations than their peers whose names start with X, Y, or Z.

The effect is most evident when reference lists are long. The effect is not evident in self-citations. Researchers whose names begin with the letters D-W fall somewhere in the middle in numbers of citations. Huang calls the effect modest but “salient” and attributes it in part to the fact that authors are listed alphabetically in many reference lists. Huang says the findings raise questions about the validity of citation indexes, in that quantity may not be as reliable an indicator of quality as many believe it is.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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