Citations and certainty: a new interpretation of citation counts

  • Henry SmallEmail author
  • Kevin W. Boyack
  • Richard Klavans


We report that the rate of hedging in citing sentences for biomedical papers is inversely related to the citations received by the papers as measured by the number of citances in citing papers. Hedging is often regarded as an expression of uncertainty in rhetorical studies of scientific text. Citing sentences, or citances, are retrieved from the PubMed Central database for papers having 10 or more citances, and the percentage of citances containing hedging words is plotted against the number of citances for the papers, which is closely related to the citation count. Hedging rates are computed separately for method and non-method papers, the latter being more frequently hedged. Rates of hedging are found to be higher for papers with fewer citances, suggesting that the certainty of scientific results is directly related to citation frequency. Similarly, early citations made soon after publication are more hedged than later citations. The implications of this finding for the interpretation of citation counts are discussed, and the directions for future research.


Citations Citances Hedging Uncertainty Biomedicine 



We thank Mike Patek for parsing of the PubMed Central full text data into data structures suitable for analysis.


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Henry Small
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kevin W. Boyack
    • 2
  • Richard Klavans
    • 3
  1. 1.SciTech Strategies, Inc.Bala CynwydUSA
  2. 2.SciTech Strategies, Inc.AlbuquerqueUSA
  3. 3.SciTech Strategies, Inc.WayneUSA

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