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A Bibliometric Framework for Identifying “Princes” Who Wake up the “Sleeping Beauty” in Challenge-type Scientific Discoveries

Abstract

Purpose

This paper develops and validates a bibliometric framework for identifying the “princes” (PR) who wake up the “sleeping beauty” (SB) in challenge-type scientific discoveries, so as to figure out the awakening mechanisms, and promote potentially valuable but not readily accepted innovative research. (A PR is a research study.)

Design/methodology/approach

We propose that PR candidates must meet the following four criteria: (1) be published near the time when the SB began to attract a lot of citations; (2) be highly cited papers themselves; (3) receive a substantial number of co-citations with the SB; and (4) within the challenge-type discoveries which contradict established theories, the “pulling effect” of the PR on the SB must be strong. We test the usefulness of the bibliometric framework through a case study of a key publication by the 2014 chemistry Nobel laureate Stefan W. Hell, who negated Ernst Abbe’s diffraction limit theory, one of the most prominent paradigms in the natural sciences.

Findings

The first-ranked candidate PR article identified by the bibliometric framework is in line with historical facts. An SB may need one or more PRs and even “retinues” to be “awakened.” Documents with potential awakening functionality tend to be published in prestigious multidisciplinary journals with higher impact and wider scope than the journals publishing SBs.

Research limitations

The above framework is only applicable to transformative innovations, and the conclusions are drawn from the analysis of one typical SB and her awakening process. Therefore the generality of our work might be limited.

Practical implications

Publications belonging to so-called transformative research, even when less frequently cited, should be given special attention as early as possible, because they may suddenly attract many citations after a period of sleep, as reflected in our case study.

Originality/value

The definition of PR(s) as the first paper(s) that cited the SB article (selfciting excluded) has its limitations. Instead, the SB-PR co-citations should be given priority in current environment of scholarly communication. Since the “premature” or “transformative” breakthroughs in the challenge-type SB documents are either beyond the current knowledge domain, or violate established paradigms, people’s psychological distance from the SB is larger than that from the PR, which explains why the annual citations of the PR are usually higher than those of the SB, especially prior to or during the SB’s citation boom period.

Open access