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Detecting seminal research contributions to the development and use of the global positioning system by reference publication year spectroscopy


The global positioning system (GPS) represents one of the most compelling success stories of technology transfer from defense laboratories and academia to the private sector. In this short report, we applied a quantitative analysis to identify landmark research contributions to GPS. This technique, reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS), yielded key insights into early works that allowed for both the development and widespread use of GPS. In addition, using this approach to identify individual contributions of scientific excellence offers an opportunity to credit not only the research investigators, but also their corresponding affiliations and funding sources. Indeed, the findings from our analysis suggest that RPYS might serve as a powerful tool to substantiate the contribution of funding agencies, universities and institutes to research fields. We stress, however, that this method should not stand-alone for such purposes, but should be wedded with the knowledge and experience of subject matter experts.

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Effort sponsored in whole or in part by the Air Force Research Laboratory, USAF, under Partnership Intermediary No. FA9550-13-3-0001. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for Governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation thereon. The authors thank Luke Sebby and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback.

Conflict of interests

JAC works for the non-profit Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation (VT-ARC), which supports the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). TWH consults for VT-ARC and is the former Chief Scientist of AFOSR. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

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Correspondence to Jordan A. Comins.

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Comins, J.A., Hussey, T.W. Detecting seminal research contributions to the development and use of the global positioning system by reference publication year spectroscopy. Scientometrics 104, 575–580 (2015).

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  • Scientometrics
  • Reference publication year spectroscopy
  • Global positioning system
  • Science policy
  • Funding agencies