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Self-citing bloggers: my research is the coolest thing ever (let me tell you all about it!)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Every enthusiastic scientist knows that once you reach a certain level of specialization, there are very few people in your immediate surroundings that actually understand what you say. Eyes of family and friends get a bit glassy when you tell them about the SIR2 homologs, and nobody wants to look at your C. elegans’ baby pictures.  Luckily, this day and age there’s no need to wait until the next conference to talk about your research, because you can blog all about it.

Last post we talked about self-citation in scientific literature. This time, we’re going to talk about self-citation in science blogs, because I’ve done some research about the subject and want to share. I apologize in advance for repeating things known to those who’ve read my previous posts.

Does blog self-citing promote your interests?

Could be. Melissa Terras, who has a blog and over 2,000 Twitter followers noticed that each time she blogged and tweeted about one of her past referee articles (they are freely available in her university repository) the download numbers went up. She decided to try and blog about three articles from the same project, but not blog about a forth. The result: the promoted articles received at least 11 times more downloads than the un-promoted one. However, Terras has a strong Web presence, so this might not work for any blogger.

Now for my research:

The Sample

In our previous research we (Judit Bar-Ilan, Mike Thelwall and I) chose non-commercial blogs with 1-2 authors, which had at least 20 posts in RB.  This time, we went by RB categories. We chose four RB categories:  Ecology/Conservation, Computer Science/Engineering, Mathematics and Philosophy. Since the Mathematics category was the smallest, we studied it all (until April 30, 2012), but the other categories were sampled between January 1, 2010 and April 30, 2012. Only bloggers who used their real name and posts which were signed by them became part of the study, for obvious reasons. Figure 1 is an example for a self-citing post. In ResearchBlogging.Org posts can belong to several categories, so sometimes one post, like the one in the figure, was counted several times in the study.

Fig. 1: A self-citing post belonging to several RB categories

Fig. 1: A self-citing post belonging to several RB categories

The Results

The table shows the number of overall bloggers and self-citers and their percentage in each category. Computer Science/Engineering has the biggest number and the highest percentage of self-citers. The Mathematics category has the lowest number and percentage of self-citers. Only the difference between Computer Science/Engineering and Mathematics was statistically significant (p < 0.05). We had 45 self-citers in absolute numbers.

TableBloggers and self-citers in the four categories

Category Bloggers Self-citers
Ecology/Conservation 132 17(13%)
Computer Science/Engineering 93 19(20%)
Philosophy 64 11(17%)
Mathematics 89 8(9%)



Most (80%) of the self-citers have a PhD. In peer-reviewed self-citing, more productive and/or older scientists tend to self-cite more, simply because they have more to cite. This seems to apply for blogs as well. The scientist who has been doing research for a decade would have more to cite than the first-year graduate student. 82% of the self-citers were affiliated with a university or a research institute, in comparison with 59% in the previous research. Though I couldn’t get exact data (because some people wrote “researcher” or “lecturer” instead of their actual academic rank) I got the impression most self-citers were postdocs. That’s quite a change from last time, where 32% were PhDs, and 27% graduate students.

Woman, cite thyself

When it comes to science blogging, women are still a minority. Our previous research found that only 22% of the blogs were authored or co-authored by women. But the the results were even lower for self-citing. Out of the 45 self-citers, only six were women. Women cited statistically significantly less than men in Ecology and Computer Science. Even when women have science blogs (or write in a group blog) they talk less about their own research and so promote themselves less than men do.

Why do bloggers self-cite?

We know that scientists cite themselves because of a mixture of an honest need to build upon their previous research and the need to self-advertise themselves and their other articles. However, a blogger can blog forever without self-citing. So why do bloggers self-cite?

We still haven’t done a full-scale content analysis (though we might, now that our peer-reviewer recommended it) but here are some nice quotes from the sample:

I am a coauthor on a new paper in PLoS Computational Biology I thought I would promote here.” Jonathan Eisen, Tree of Life

What did my work show? Deep-sea nematodes have a complex evolutionary history…” Holly Bik, Deep Sea New

Yay! First paper of my postdoc is out in the August 2011 issue of Global Change Biology! Woohoo! So, what have I been doing for the past few years of my life? In brief summary: Kelp. Food webs. Climate change. A potent combination.” Jeremy Yoder, I’m a chordata! urochordata!

The element of self-promotion definitely exists, but mostly it’s “My research is awesome; let me tell you all about it!”  Blogs are an excellent way for scientists to share their work with the public without hyping press releases and without their work having anything to do with chocolate or aliens (though it might!).

And yes, I know I self-cited myself in a blog post about self-citing of bloggers in blog posts, thank you very much.

Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J., & Thelwall, M. (2012). Self- Citation of Bloggers in the Science Blogosphere To be presented at COSCI12, Dusseldorf, August 1-5.

Shema H, Bar-Ilan J, & Thelwall M (2012). Research blogs and the discussion of scholarly information. PloS one, 7 (5) PMID: 22606239




Hadas Shema About the Author: Hadas Shema is an information specialist at the Israeli Inter-University Center for E-Learning (Hebrew acronym: MEITAL). She has a B.Sc. in the Life Sciences and an MA and a PhD in Library & Information Science from Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Hadas tweets at @Hadas_Shema.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. singing flea 12:22 am 07/29/2012

    I know a little bit about self citing myself. There is a couple of bloggers here that keep referring to a non-academic science called ‘What’s Up With That’.

    The blog writers insist it is the most read science blog on the internet, and every someone links to them on another science site their readership goes up in spite of the fact that they have no real science on the site.

    So, yes, in practice self citing does increase traffic. Even a blog that insists the earth is flat can muster up enough followers to sell T-shirts.

    Link to this
  2. 2. bouckau 12:23 am 07/29/2012

    I would also guess that many bloggers end up self-citing because most blog about what’s in their field. It makes sense for someone to write about their paper because they are familiar with the science behind it and are enthusiastic. I know as an undergrad blogger many of the articles I read and blog about come directly from papers I’ve written for class, and I’ve even succumbed to the urge to post some of those papers on my blog because I feel they are the best presentation I can make on a particular topic.
    I suppose a blog consisting of solely self-citations couldn’t use this defense as easily, but if you are reviewing another paper and your own research is relevant, posting about your viewpoint in relation to your own work makes your post interesting and provides credibility for readers.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Hadas Shema in reply to Hadas Shema 4:31 am 07/29/2012

    You have to remember we only checked four categories – it could be the results are different for the rest (e. g. I self-cite, just not in those categories). And as you can see, I’m all in favor of citing your own research, as long as there’s a good reason. It can provide fascinating insights about the process of science.

    Link to this
  4. 4. jimmywat 6:45 am 07/29/2012

    Sci Am cites other magazines all the time, espcially Nature, even such blatent rags as Popular whatever. Many news articles are just rehashes of other articles and shows. Scientific American says it only prints “Science that Matters”. The NYTimes says it only prints “the news that’s fit to print. They are all self promoters. This seems somewhat self serving.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Bora Zivkovic 11:27 pm 07/29/2012

    There was an interesting study recently (see for a good summary) showing that science bloggers tend to link to a much broader spectrum of sources (papers, documents, governmental sites, other blogs, etc.) than either political bloggers (mainly linking to mainstream media articles), or mainstream media (mostly linking, if at all, to their internal pages). In that context, SciAm is actually doing much better than other mainstream media, by routinely linking to outside sources.

    Anyway, this post is not about linking habits of mainstream media, but about linking habits of science bloggers and how much of that is “self-citation” not in a sense of linking back to old posts (all good bloggers do that), but linking to their own research.

    Link to this

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