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World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 42, Issue 9, pp 2745–2756 | Cite as

Altmetric Versus Bibliometric Perspective Regarding Publication Impact and Force

  • Arfon G. M. T. Powell
  • Victoria Bevan
  • Chris Brown
  • Wyn G. Lewis
Open Access
Original Scientific Report

Abstract

Background

Bibliometric and Altmetric analyses highlight key publications, which have been considered to be the most influential in their field. The hypothesis was that highly cited articles would correlate positively with levels of evidence and Altmetric scores (AS) and rank.

Methods

Surgery as a search term was entered into Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science database to identify all English-language full articles. The 100 most cited articles were analysed by topic, journal, author, year, institution, and AS.

Results

By bibliometric criteria, eligible articles numbered 286,122 and the median (range) citation number was 574 (446–5746). The most cited article (Dindo et al.) classified surgical complications by severity score (5746 citations). Annals of Surgery published most articles and received most citations (26,457). The country and year with most publications were the USA (n = 50) and 1999 (n = 11). By Altmetric criteria, the article with the highest AS was by Bigelow et al. (AS = 53, hypothermia’s role in cardiac surgery); Annals of Surgery published most articles, and the country and year with most publications were USA (n = 4) and 2007 (n = 3). Level-1-evidence articles numbered 13, but no correlation was found between evidence level and citation number (SCC 0.094, p = 0.352) or AS (SCC = 0.149, p = 0.244). Median AS was 0 (0–53), and in articles published after the year 2000, AS was associated with citation number (r = 0.461, p = 0.001) and citation rate index (r = 0.455, p = 0.002). AS was not associated with journal impact factor (r = 0.160, p = 0.118).

Conclusion

Bibliometric and Altmetric analyses provide important but different perspectives regarding article impact, which are unrelated to evidence level.

Introduction

Any reasonable observer might assume that the 100 most cited articles in surgery represent classic, landmark, or marquee communications. Certainly, the number of times articles are cited is used widely to measure the impact of journals and assess the quality of authors’ contributions. Yet it has been reported that among such best seller lists exist articles relating to topics that were “hot” or popular at one time and then faded. As time passes, even true classics are arguably cited less frequently, because their substance has been absorbed into the received wisdom of the literature—a phenomenon described as obliteration by incorporation.

A reference is the acknowledgment that one article gives to another; a citation is the acknowledgement that one article receives from another. Citation analysis is that area of bibliometrics that deals with the study of these relations. Citation analysis involves ranking and evaluating an article or journal based on the number of citations it receives. The establishment of a citation rank list identifies published work that has had the greatest intellectual influence. In addition to determining the most frequently cited articles, this analysis is also used to rank journals in terms of impact [1]. Many medical specialties have utilized citation rank analysis to identify the most influential papers in their field which include trauma and orthopaedic surgery [2], general surgery [3, 4], emergency general surgery [5], and oncology [6].

Citations take time to accumulate, and other, faster assessment means have emerged recently which has led to the development of alternative metrics, or “Altmetrics”. These extend the concept of citation beyond references in other scientific papers; by recording, for example, how often a paper is downloaded, or when the outcome of a clinical trial is used to develop guidelines for doctors, or if a piece of work is included in a course curriculum. To date, no study has undertaken to determine the most influential articles in the global field of surgery and to compare the relative value of citation number, with level of evidence or Altmetric score (AS). The aim of this study, therefore, was to determine the areas of translational surgical research that have been most influential in driving advances in the art and science of surgery, not only to identify what makes a surgical article citable, but also to develop what might arguably constitute an all-time surgical must-do reading list. The hypotheses were: firstly, higher citation number and rank would correlate positively with higher levels of evidence than lower citation number and rank; secondly, AS and rank would correlate with citation number and rank, after a certain critical publication date, given that organisations such as “twitter” have only been in existence since 2006.

Methods

A search of the Thomson Reuters Web of Science citation-indexing database and research platform was completed using the search term Surgery. The returned dataset was filtered to include only English-language and full articles and sorted by number of citations; a method initially developed by Paladugu et al. [3]. The 100 most cited articles were identified from the large number of manuscripts returned. The dataset was then further evaluated examining title, first and senior author, institution and department of the first author, topic, specialty, year of publication, and the country of origin. The 5-year impact factor (for the year 2015) of each journal publishing the articles was recorded. The quality of evidence contained within the articles was assessed according to the Sackett scoring system [7] and the Oxford Evidence Based Medicine scoring system [8]. Altmetric scores were obtained by downloading the “Altmetric it” function from the Altmetric.com website (https://www.altmetric.com/products/free-tools/bookmarklet/) and analysed by utilising the journal article page containing the doi reference number.

Results

The Web of Science search returned 286,122 full-length, English-language articles. Table 1 lists the 100 most cited articles [9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108]. The number of citations ranged from 5746 for Dindo et al. [9] to 446 for Kennedy et al. [108]. The median citation was 574 [interquartile range (IQR) 354.8–792.3], which was not normally distributed. The oldest article featured in the top 100 was by Bigelow et al. [69]. The most recent article was by Clavien et al. [13].
Table 1

The top 100 cited papers in surgery

Rank

Citations

First author

Rank

Citations

First author

1

5746

D Dindo

51

571

JD Cooper

2

1756

Y Fong

52

567

TP Grantcharov

3

1704

SAM Nashef

53

567

PF Sharkey

4

1575

RB Rutherford

54

560

HG Willert

5

1437

PA Clavien

55

560

K Maruyama

6

1242

NF Kassell

56

556

YM Fong

7

1220

RJ Heald

57

549

DA Luce

8

1168

L Norgren

58

541

O Dworak

9

1130

NE Seymour

59

538

WG Bigelow

10

1089

A Carpentier

60

535

TH Rockwood

11

1063

M Lacroix

61

527

KJ Jenkins

12

992

DN Krag

62

526

JR Steadman

13

926

JA Martin

63

524

TM Pawlick

14

853

F Rogues

64

517

R Reznick

15

833

SF Khuri

65

516

DL Morton

16

811

G Gugliemi

66

516

LL Creswell

17

800

R Earlam

67

511

WE Enker

18

784

LV Laitinen

68

510

J Marescaux

19

769

SA Curley

69

505

SS Burkhart

20

754

PR Schauer

70

504

H Kehlet

21

753

JM Porter

71

502

JC Cheville

22

751

RJ Heald

72

500

P Borgstein

23

740

R Adam

73

499

I Ciric

24

733

JR Siewert

74

491

AC Wittgrove

25

711

L Norgren

75

491

PM Black

26

697

LG Svensson

76

488

KCMJ Peeters

27

690

LM Galatz

77

488

D Rattner

28

687

JH Klinkenbijl

78

486

J Bernier

29

686

VW Fazio

79

486

LH Edmunds

30

679

B Eklof

80

484

K Slim

31

674

NV Christou

81

484

BW Lytle

32

668

ED Arrington

82

484

KC Conlon

33

665

AL Benabid

83

483

T Kajitani

34

659

G Knutsen

84

480

RMH Roumen

35

657

SM Strasberg

85

475

JH Balcom

36

646

F Vinuela

86

472

A Habr-Gama

37

645

SA Rosenberg

87

467

RM Rosenfeld

38

631

H Bismuth

88

466

JA Sosa

39

622

PA Clavien

89

465

JM Becker

40

620

B Brandstrup

90

461

C Gerber

41

618

O Ethgen

91

460

BE Bierbaum

42

614

MN Wente

92

458

CW le Roux

43

613

GP Buzby

93

458

DJ Gouma

44

605

PR Schauer

94

457

P Boileau

45

604

NF Kassell

95

452

CGS Huscher

46

600

H Kehlet

96

449

CK Zarins

47

595

J Butler

97

448

EH Oldfield

48

593

MS Chen

98

446

L Hangody

49

581

AP Furnary

99

446

M Minagawa

50

576

NT Nguyen

100

446

DW Kennedy

The 100 most cited articles were published in 30 journals with the number of articles per journal ranging from 1 to 32 (Table 2). Annals of Surgery not only published the most articles (n = 32), but also received the most citations (26,457). Annals of Surgery had the highest impact factor of 8.6, with a 5-year impact factor of 8.7.
Table 2

Journals with the top 100 cited surgery articles

Journal title

5-year impact factor

Number of articles in the top 100

Number of citations

Annals of Surgery

8.7

32

26,457

Journal of Neurosurgery

3.5

8

6263

Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery

5.4

8

4351

Journal of Vascular Surgery

3.3

6

5321

British Journal of Surgery

5.8

4

3513

Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery

3.5

4

2671

Annals of Thoracic Surgery

3.3

4

2178

Journal of the American College of Surgeons

5.1

4

2133

Archives of Surgery

4.9

3

1736

American Journal of Surgery

2.6

3

1730

European Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery

2.7

2

2557

Surgery

3.7

2

1236

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research

3.5

2

1235

Arthroscopy—The Journal of Arthroscopic and Related Surgery

3.9

2

1031

Neurosurgery

3.3

2

990

Surgical Oncology

3.2

1

992

European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery

3.0

1

711

World Journal of Surgery

2.8

1

560

Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery

3.1

1

549

International Journal of Colorectal Disease

2.4

1

541

Diseases of the Colon and Rectum

3.8

1

535

American Journal of Surgical Pathology

5.1

1

502

Obesity Surgery

3.4

1

491

Surgical Endoscopy and Other Interventional Techniques

3.5

1

488

Head and Neck—Journal for the Sciences and Specialties of the Head and Neck

2.8

1

486

ANZ Journal of Surgery

1.3

1

484

Japanese Journal of Surgery

N/A

1

483

Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

2.1

1

467

Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery

2.3

1

446

N/A not available

The country and year with the most articles in the top 100 was the USA with 50 and 1999 (n = 11), followed by France with 8 and 2004 (n = 9). The institution with the most citations was the University of Zurich with 7644 across 3 articles (supplementary Table 1). The Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center and Washington University had the highest number of articles in the top 100 with 4 (supplementary Table 1). Seven authors had 2 first author articles in the top 100 with the highest citation index of 2312.

The commonest related specialty to feature in the top 100 was hepato-pancreatico-biliary surgery with 15 articles. This was followed by Trauma & Orthopaedic surgery (n = 13), and Cardiothoracic surgery (n = 11), respectively (supplementary Table 2). The specialties with the fewest articles in the top 100 were Ophthalmology, Plastic surgery, and Urology, with one each. The most common topic to feature in the top 100 was management of surgical disease with 53 articles, which included 14 (26%) randomised control trials (supplementary Table 3). The second commonest topic was the identification, classification and management of surgical complications with 16 articles.

Of the 14 randomised control trials, 8 related to the management of cancer, 2 related to the management of aneurysmal disease, 2 related to the use of laparoscopic bariatric procedures, 1 article related to the management of post-operative adhesions, and 1 compared autologous chondrocyte implantation with arthroscopic microfracture in patients with full-thickness traumatic defects of the knee. Of those articles related to cancer, colorectal cancer (n = 12) was the most prevalent followed by gastric cancer (n = 4). The median citation of the clinical trials was 504 (IQR 351.0–656.0) with a range of 687 to 446 compared with 588.0 (IQR 336.3–839.8) with a range of 5746 to 446, p = 0.031 for non clinical trials (supplementary figure 1).

Evidence levels of the included articles were initially scored using the Sackett scoring method [7]. Three were level 1 evidence, 12 were level 2 evidence, 18 were level 3 evidence, 25 were level 4 evidence, 28 were level 5 evidence, and 14 were not scored as they were guidelines or consensus statements. There was no relationship between the quality of evidence and the median number of citations received (p = 0.674, supplementary figure 2). The median number of citations received for each evidence level was: level 1 studies 488.00 (range 486.00–516.00), level 2 584.50 (IQR 449.00–766.25), level 3 604.50 (IQR 458.00–879.25), level 4 556.00 (IQR 446.00–798.00) and level 5 554.50 (IQR 446–919.50) (supplementary figure 2). A possible limitation of the Sackett scoring system is that a well-designed prognostic study is still a cohort study that is considered low-level evidence. Therefore, the studies were also scored using the Oxford Evidence Based Medicine scoring system [8]. Studies were grouped as either therapeutic/aetiology (n = 69) or prognostic (n = 25). With regard to therapeutic/aetiology studies, there was no difference in the median number of citations received for each evidence level. The median for level 1 (n = 10) was 546.00, level 2 (n = 8) was 559.00, level 3 (n = 1) was 587.00, level 4 (n = 40) was 587.50, and level 5 (n = 10) was 668.00 (p = 0.444) (Fig. 1). For prognostic studies, there was a difference in the median number of citations received for each evidence level. The median for level 1 (n = 3) was 853.00, level 2 (n = 12) was 525.00, level 3 (n = 2) was 498.00, level 4 (n = 4) was 655.50, and level 5 (n = 4) was 549.50 (p = 0.393) (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

The relationship between evidence level and number of citations in manuscripts stratified by study type. *Therapeutic/aetiology studies p = 0.444 Kruskal–Wallis test. Prognostic studies p = 0.393 Kruskal–Wallis test

To test for a correlation between citations and evidence levels, the number of citations variable was grouped into deciles to meet the assumptions of the Spearman’s correlation coefficient (SCC) test. There was no significant correlation between number of citations and the Oxford evidence level (SCC 0.094, p = 0.352). When therapeutic/aetiology studies were analysed, there was a weak statistical association between low evidence level and higher citation number (SCC 0.233, p = 0.054); however, this was not evident for prognostic studies (RCC − 0.012, p = 0.955).

A possible limitation of this type of study is that historical articles may accrue a larger number of citations despite lacking the impact of newer articles. To control for this, the number of citations were divided by the number of years since publication to give a citation rate index (CRI) (Table 3) [9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 19, 33, 50]. The CRI for the top 10 articles ranged from 442.00 for Dindo et al. [9] to 61.40 for Wente et al. [50]. The USA had the most articles in the top 10 CRI with 4, followed by Sweden and Switzerland with 2 each. Management of complications (n = 3) and consensus statements on the management of peripheral vascular disease (n = 3) were the commonest topics in the top 10 CRI. The citation rate analysis for clinical trials ranged from 53.91 to 18.43 compared with 442.00 to 8.03 for all 100 articles studied.
Table 3

Top 10 articles with the highest citation rate

Rank

Citation rate

First author

Senior author

Title

Institution

Country

1

442.00

D. Dindo

PA. Clavien

Classification of surgical complications—A new proposal with evaluation in a cohort of 6336 patients and results of a survey

University of Zurich

Switzerland

2

179.63

PA. Clavien

M. Makuuchi

The Clavien-Dindo Classification of Surgical Complications Five-Year Experience

University of Zurich

Switzerland

3

116.80

L. Norgren

CD. Liapis

Inter-society consensus for the management of peripheral arterial disease (TASC II)

Orebro University

Sweden

4

97.56

Y. Fong

LH. Blumgart

Clinical score for predicting recurrence after hepatic resection for metastatic colorectal cancer—Analysis of 1001 consecutive cases

Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center

USA

5

94.67

SAM. Nashef

R. Salamon

European system for cardiac operative risk evaluation (EuroSCORE)

Papworth Hospital

England

6

78.75

RB. Rutherford

DN. Jones

Recommended standards for reports dealing with lower extremity ischemia: Revised version

University of Colorado

USA

7

75.33

NE. Seymour

RM. Satava

Virtual reality training improves operating room performance—Results of a randomized, double-blinded study

Yale University School of Medicine

USA

8

71.10

L. Norgren

CD. Liapis

Inter-society consensus for the management of peripheral arterial disease (TASC II)

Orebro University

Sweden

9

66.44

M. Lacroix

R. Sawaya

A multivariate analysis of 416 patients with glioblastoma multiforme: prognosis, extent of resection, and survival

The University of Texas

USA

10

61.40

MN. Wente

MW. Buechler

Delayed gastric emptying (DGE) after pancreatic surgery: a suggested definition by the International Study Group of Pancreatic Surgery (ISGPS)

University of Heidelberg

Germany

Altmetric scores ranged from 0 to 53 (median 0) with 40 articles scoring ≥ 1.0. The article with the highest AS was by Bigelow et al. [69] (Table 4). The USA had the most articles in the top 10 AS with 4, followed by Canada and Sweden with 2 each. Clinical guidelines (n = 3) were the commonest topic in the top 10 AS, followed by characterisation and management of complications (n = 2). Articles published from the year 2000 onwards had a significantly higher AS (p = 0.018) with a median of 1.0 (IQR 0.0–9.0), compared with a median of 0.0 (0.0–1.0) in articles published before 2000 (Fig. 2). AS correlated with citation rate index (r = 0.266, p = 0.008), but not with total number of citations (r = 0.179, p = 0.079). In articles published after 2000, AS was associated with number of citations (r = 0.461, p = 0.001), and citation rate index (r = 0.455, p = 0.002). This correlation was not evident in articles published before 2000 for number of citations (r = 0.085, p = 0.548) or for citation rate index (r = 0.075, p = 0.595, Fig. 3). Twenty-three articles appeared in both the top 40 for citations and AS. AS was not associated with evidence level when grouped as therapeutic/aetiology studies (SCC = 0.149, p = 0.244), prognostic studies (SCC − 0.277, p = 0.197), or journal impact factor (r = 0.160, p = 0.118).
Table 4

Top 10 articles with the highest Altmetric score

Rank

Altmetric score

First author

Senior author

Title

Institution

Country

1

53.0

WG, Bigelow

WF, Greenwood

Hypothermia—Its possible role in cardiac surgery—An investigation of factors governing survival in dogs at low body temperatures

University of Toronto

Canada

2

30.0

NV, Christou

LD, MacLean

Surgery decreases long-term mortality, morbidity, and health care use in morbidly obese patients.

McGill University

Canada

3

25.0

B, Brandstrup

F, Pott

Effects of intravenous fluid restriction on postoperative complications: comparison of two perioperative fluid regimens: a randomized assessor-blinded multicenter trial

H:S Bispebjerg University Hospital

Denmark

4

22.0

RM, Rosenfeld

DL, Witsell

Clinical practice guideline: adult sinusitis

SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Long Island College Hospital

USA

5

22.0

L, Norgren

FGR, Fowkes

Inter-society consensus for the management of peripheral arterial disease (TASC II)

Orebro University

Sweden

6

22.0

L, Norgren

CD, Liapis

Inter-society consensus for the management of peripheral arterial disease (TASC II)

Orebro University

Sweden

7

17.0

PA, Clavien

M, Makuuchi

The Clavien-Dindo Classification of Surgical Complications Five-Year Experience

University Hospital of Zurich

Switzerland

8

16.0

NE, Seymour

RM, Satva

Virtual reality training improves operating room performance—Results of a randomized, double-blinded study

Yale University School of Medicine

USA

9

14.0

EH, Oldfield

NJ, Patronas

Pathophysiology of syringomyelia associated with Chiari I malformation of the cerebellar tonsils—Implications for diagnosis and treatment

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

USA

10

12.0

SF, Khuri

JF, Stemple

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ NSQIP: the first national, validated, outcome-based, risk-adjusted, and peer-controlled program for the measurement and enhancement of the quality of surgical care. National VA Surgical Quality Improvement Program

Brockton/West Roxbury VA Medical Center

USA

Fig. 2

The distribution of Altmetric scores in articles published pre- and post-2000. *Kruskal–Wallis test p = 0.018

Fig. 3

The relationship between Altmetric score, number of citations, citation rate index stratified by pre- and post-2000 publication

Discussion

Periodical journals have been the principal means of disseminating scientific research since the seventeenth century, with the oldest still in existence, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, appearing first in 1665. Over the intervening three and a half centuries, journals have established conventions for publication; insisting on independent (and usually anonymous) peer review of submissions, intended to preserve the integrity of the scientific process, but have come under increasing recent scrutiny. This bibliometric and Altmetric analysis is the first of its kind to identify the authors and themes that have had the greatest impact within the global arena of surgery. Several different pathological conditions and surgical interventions were included within this diverse field, as demonstrated by the top 100 articles relating to some six different anatomical and physiological systems and subject areas. A surprising finding was that no correlation was found between citation number and level of evidence, as defined by objective evidence based medicine references, which may seem counterintuitive, yet likely represents the challenge of linking impact with citation and research quality. Altmetric scores represent the latest emerging development and, in a decade or less, have clearly had significant impact because AS was significantly associated with both citation number and citation rate.

Citation rates were higher for recently published articles, which imply that these will become more influential clinically within the next 5–10 years. Influential articles are more likely to be cited by the scientific community, and these citations form the basis of the impact factor; which quantifies the average citations of the articles published within the journal during a specific period. Journals with a higher impact factor are recognised as being of a higher quality and more likely to contain influential articles. The majority of articles were published in journals with an impact factor of less than 5.7. Annals of Surgery published the most articles ranked within the upper 100 (n = 32) and has historically been the surgical journal ranked highest with an impact factor of 8.7. Journals with high-impact factors (54.42–29.35), NEJM, Lancet, JAMA, and Nature Genetics, were not represented in this analysis, yet the citations accrued by the articles identified were similar to those reported in other bibliometric analyses; colorectal cancer (7850–989) [109], gastric cancer (2893–299) [4], and oesophageal cancer (1833–293) [110]. A possible explanation relates to the novelty of the results, which may be classified relating to the scientific community in general, or confined to the field studied. Findings already reported in other arenas may then be re-established in the arena of surgery, and such articles are unlikely to be published in high-impact scientific journals, yet within the context of this study, remain likely to be considered influential.

There are a number of potential limitations inherent within this study related to several types of bias, which may confound the results. Disproportionate multiple citations may result from institutional bias, self-citation, powerful person, or language bias. Geographically, the high rate of publications from the USA has been reported previously [4, 5], arguably reflecting a preference by USA institutions to cite research performed locally. This effect may have been amplified by limiting the search to English-language articles. Moreover, older articles have a greater citation potential simply because of the length of time they have been in the public domain, rather than representing a true measure of impact. In an attempt to control for this, the number of citations was divided by the number of years since publication: a citation rate index. Despite these measures, the lead-time for publication of citing articles may still result in under representation of more recent articles. The inclusion of only first and senior authors and the institution of the first author is also a possible limitation of the study, as it is possible that several first authors may have co-authored other articles, and are therefore under represented. The search terms used also represent an inherent weakness associated with interrogating bibliographic repositories, in that no combination of search terms is perfect. To identifying all papers relevant to surgery would arguably require an almost infinite number of search terms, which is not pragmatic. While the relative limitation of the search term ‘surgery’ is acknowledged, it is unlikely that this methodology has had a material effect on the ability of the study to address the a priori hypotheses. In contrast, the study has strengths. The many-landmark, randomized trials of surgical procedures, published in scientific and general medical journals, were included by the search methodology, which included the search term surgery, and encompassed non-surgical journals such as Nature, Science, NEJM, and the Lancet. The use of the search term surgery, more so than procedure or intervention, ensures that the results retain relevance to the field of surgery.

Another role that academic journals have come to play, and not part of their original job-description of disseminating scientific results, is as a marker of a researcher’s prowess, and thus a surrogate determinant of academic career potential. Publication in a blue-chip title such as Nature or Science, without question represents a feather in the cap of any clinician, and therefore unlikely to be overlooked by any academically focused appointment committee. An article’s true quality is better revealed by the number of times it is cited elsewhere (ideally not self-citation), but citations take time to accumulate, and other, faster assessment means would be welcome, which has inevitably led to the development of alternative metrics in this regard, now termed “altimetry”. These extend the concept of citation beyond references in other scientific papers; by recording, for example, how often a paper is downloaded, or when the outcome of a clinical trial is used to develop guidelines for doctors, or if a piece of work is included in a course curriculum. Altmetric.com, based in London, was one of the first companies to work in this area, and since 2011, it has tracked mentions of published papers in sources ranging from social media and Wikipedia, to policy documents published by government departments. A rival firm, Plum Analytics, in Philadelphia, tracks mentions, downloads, clicks and the like, of everything from preprints (papers that have been made publicly available, but are not yet formally published), and sets of raw data, to non-commercial computer programs which investigators have written to assist their own endeavours. Using Altmetrics should therefore indicate the importance of a wider range of research-related activities than citations provide, and moreover, do so faster. Plum Analytics was bought by Elsevier in 2017, one of the world’s largest scientific publishers; suggesting that Altmetrics may also prove profitable, as well as useful.

Findings of medical research have long been considered to be disseminated too slowly, but that is about to change. In January 2017 the Gates Foundation introduced a policy, that research it supports (it is the world’s biggest source of charitable money for scientific endeavours, to the tune of some $4bn a year) must, when published, be available to all, and followed this by announcing that it will foot the cost of placing such research in one repository of freely available articles, meaning that Gates-sponsored research cannot be invoiced. Such a manoeuvre would carry the caveat that recipients of Gates’ financial support can no longer offer their output to journals such as Nature, or the New England Journal of Medicine, since accessing the content of these publications has associated cost. Their prestige is based on their ability to pick and publish only the best. If some work is out of bounds to these journals, no matter how good, that will risk diminishing their quality, and arguably those journals’ businesses could suffer and even crumble. Moreover, by actively directing the beneficiaries of its patronage towards the repository in question, set up last year by the Wellcome Trust (after Gates, the world’s second-largest medical research charity), the foundation is pointing to a specific type of alternative, and a future scientific publication arena that, if not completely journal-free, is likely journal-light.

Conclusion

This list of the top-cited articles in surgery has worth for a number of reasons. It identifies seminal contributions, facilitates the understanding and development of contemporary surgical history; and offers clues regarding what makes an article a likely top-cited classic. To produce such a work, the author or research group must come up with a clinical or nonclinical innovation, observation, or discovery that has a potential long-standing effect on surgical clinical practice. Based on the findings of this study, to be rewarded by citation number, such a scholarly contribution should be published in a high-impact journal, is more likely to be amplified and resonate loudly if it originates from an Anglo-Saxon academic institute, and in view of the dissonance regarding level of evidence, needs to be noticed by surgeons active on social media, implying a deal of good fortune is required. Recent studies have identified Twitter as the most commonly used smartphone application by surgeons, but the rates of engagement are variable between medical specialties; for example colorectal surgeons’ engagement levels lag behind other disciplines. In 2014, only 31% of UK consultant colorectal surgeons were found to have Twitter profiles, compared with higher engagement rates within other surgical sub-specialties such as urology (33%), plastic surgery (22%) and vascular surgery (5%) [111]. To make any best seller list has now become that much more challenging.

Supplementary material

268_2018_4579_MOESM1_ESM.docx (134 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 133 kb)

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© The Author(s) 2018

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arfon G. M. T. Powell
    • 1
  • Victoria Bevan
    • 2
  • Chris Brown
    • 2
  • Wyn G. Lewis
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Cancer and GeneticsUniversity Hospital of Wales, Cardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  2. 2.Wales Deanery School of SurgeryCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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