Any publicity is better than none: newspaper coverage increases citations, in the UK more than in Italy
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A citation advantage for research covered by the mass media is a plausible, but poorly studied phenomenon. Two previous studies, both conducted in the United States, found a positive correlation between media reporting and citations. Only one of these studies was able to conclude that the correlation was caused by a real “publicity effect” rather than by the media highlighting papers that are intrinsically destined to have greater scientific impact (called the ‘earmark’ hypothesis). This study assessed the relative importance of the publicity effect outside the US, by comparing studies published in 2008 and 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that had been featured in newspapers in Italy and the United Kingdom. Newspapers in the two countries covered a similar range of topics, and tended to over-represent local (national) research. Compared to studies not appearing in any of the newspapers considered, those featured in British newspapers had around 63 % more citations, whilst in Italian newspapers 16 %. The proportion of citations from Italian authors, however, was significantly increased by newspapers, particularly by those in Italian. The equivalent effect on citations from the UK was smaller and only marginally significant. Studies accompanied by a press release did not receive, overall, significantly more citations. In sum, results suggest that the publicity effect is strongest for English-speaking media, whilst non-English reporting has mostly a local influence. These effects might represent a confounding factor in citation-based research assessment and might contribute to the many biases known to affect the scientific literature.