Skip to main content

Revisiting the “Quiet Debut” of the Double Helix: A Bibliometric and Methodological note on the “Impact” of Scientific Publications

Abstract

The object of this paper is two-fold: first, to show that contrary to what seem to have become a widely accepted view among historians of biology, the famous 1953 first Nature paper of Watson and Crick on the structure of DNA was widely cited – as compared to the average paper of the time – on a continuous basis from the very year of its publication and over the period 1953–1970 and that the citations came from a wide array of scientific journals. A systematic analysis of the bibliometric data thus shows that Watson’s and Crick’s paper did in fact have immediate and long term impact if we define “impact” in terms of comparative citations with other papers of the time. In this precise sense it did not fall into “relative oblivion” in the scientific community. The second aim of this paper is to show, using the case of the reception of the Watson–Crick and Jacob–Monod papers as concrete examples, how large scale bibliometric data can be used in a sophisticated manner to provide information about the dynamic of the scientific field as a whole instead of limiting the analysis to a few major actors and generalizing the result to the whole community without further ado.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Ahmed, T, Johnson, B, Oppenheim, C, Peck, C. 2004. ‹Highly Cited Old Papers and the Reasons Why They Continue to be Cited. Part II. The 1953 Watson and Crick Article on the Structure of the DNA.’ Scientometrics 61: 147–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Borgatti, SP. 2002. NetDraw: Graph Visualization Software. Harvard:Analytic Technologies.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Borgatti, SP, Everett, MG, Freeman, LC. 2002. Ucinet for Windows: Software for Social Network Analysis. Harvard:Analytic Technologies.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bourdieu, P. 2004. Science of Science and Reflexivity. Chicago:Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Crane, Diana. 1972. Invisible Colleges: Diffusion and Knowledge in Scientific Communities. Chicago:Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. de Chadarevian, S. 2002. Designs for Life: Molecular Biology After World War II. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. de Chadarevian, S. 2006. ‹Mice and the Reactor: The ‹Genetics Experiments’ in the 1950s Britain.’ Journal of the History of Biology 39: 707–735.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Deichmann, Ute. 2004. ‹Early Responses to Avery’s et al. Paper on DNA AS Hereditary Material.’ Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 34(Part 2): 207–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Elkin, Lynne Osman. 2003. ‹Rosalind Franklin and the Double Helix.’ Physics Today 56(3): 42–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Freeman, L.C. 1978/1979. “Centrality in Social Networks. Conceptual Clarification,” Social Networks 1: 215–239.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Garfield, E. 1979. Citation Indexing its Theory and Application in Science, Technology and humanities. New York:Wiley, pp. 81–97.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Garfield, E, Pudovkin, AI, Istomin, VI. 2003. ‹Mapping the Output of Topical Searches in the Web of Knowledge and the Case of Watson-Crick.’ Information Technology and Libraries 22(4): 183–187.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Gingras, Y. 2007. “Mapping the Changing Centrality of Physicists (1900–1944).” Proceedings of the 11th Conference of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI). Madrid, Spain, pp. 314–320.

  14. Gingras, Y. 2008. ‹The Collective Construction of Scientific Memory: The Einstein-Poincaré Connection and its Discontents, 1905–2005.’ History of Science 46: 75–114.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Gmür, M. 2003. ‹Co-Citation Analysis and the Search for Invisible Colleges: A Methodological Evaluation.’ Scientometrics 57: 27–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. LaFollette, Marcel C. 1990. Making Science Our Own: Public Images of Science, 1910–1955. Chicago:Chicago University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Larivière, Vincent, Archambault, E, Gingras, Y. 2008. ‹Long-Term Variations in the Aging of Scientific Literature: From Exponential Growth to Steady-State Science (1900–2004).’ Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59: 288–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lawrence, Peter A. 2007. ‹The Mismeasurement of Science.’ Current Biology 17: R584–R585.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Line, MB. 1993. ‹Changes in the Use of Literature with Time: Obsolescence Revisited.’ Library Trends 41: 665–683.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Maddox, Brenda. 2002. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. London:Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  21. McCain, Katherine W. 2008. ‹Assessing An Author’s Influence Using Time Series Historiographic Mapping: The Oeuvre of Conrad Hal Waddington (1905–1975).’ Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59(4): 510–525.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Merton, Robert K. 1968. Social Theory and Social Structure, Enlarged edition. New York:Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Nelkin, Dorothy. 1994. Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology. New York:Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Olby, Robert. 2003. ‹Quiet Debut for the Double Helix.’ Nature 421: 402–405.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Small, HG. 1977. ‹Co-Citation Model of a Scientific Speciality—Longitudinal Study Of Collagen Research.’ Social Studies of Science 7: 139–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Small, H. 1978. ‹Cited Documents as Concept Symbols.’ Social Studies of Science 8: 327–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Snyder, H, Bonzi, S. 1998. ‹Patterns of Self-Citation Across Disciplines (1980–1989).’ Journal of Information Science 24(6): 431–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Strasser, Bruno J. 2003. ‹Who Cares About the Double Helix.’ Nature 422: 803–804.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Van Raan, AFJ. 2004. ‹Sleeping Beauties in Science.’ Scientometrics 59(3): 461–466.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Wallace, Matthew L, Gingras, Y, Duhon, R. 2009. ‹A New Approach for Detecting Scientific Specialties from Raw Co-Citation Networks.’ Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 60(2): 240–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Wasserman, S, Faust, K. 1994. Social Networks Analysis: Methods and Applications. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Winstanley, Monica. 1976. ‹Assimilation into the Literature of a Critical Advance in Molecular Biology.’ Social Studies of Science 6: 545–549.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Witkowski, Jan A. 1990. ‹“The Most-Cited Articles in the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology”, in Eugene Garfield.’ Essays of an Information Scientist 13: 255–265.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Zipf, George K. 1949. Human Behavior and the Principle of Least-Effort. New York:Addison-Wesley.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yves Gingras.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gingras, Y. Revisiting the “Quiet Debut” of the Double Helix: A Bibliometric and Methodological note on the “Impact” of Scientific Publications. J Hist Biol 43, 159–181 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-009-9183-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • DNA
  • J.D. Watson
  • Francis Crick
  • bibliometrics
  • co-citation mapping
  • citation analysis
  • scientific impact
  • Jacques Monod
  • François Jacob