, Volume 99, Issue 3, pp 839–844 | Cite as

Tracing the origin of a scientific legend by reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS): the legend of the Darwin finches

  • Werner MarxEmail author
  • Lutz Bornmann


In a previews paper we introduced the quantitative method named reference publication year spectroscopy (RPYS). With this method one can determine the historical roots of research fields and quantify their impact on current research. RPYS is based on the analysis of the frequency with which references are cited in the publications of a specific research field in terms of the publication years of these cited references. In this study, we illustrate that RPYS can also be used to reveal the origin of scientific legends. We selected “Darwin finches” as an example for illustration. Charles Darwin, the originator of evolutionary theory, was given credit for finches he did not see and for observations and insights about the finches he never made. We have shown that a book published in 1947 is the most-highly cited early reference cited within the relevant literature. This book had already been revealed as the origin of the term “Darwin finches” by Sulloway through careful historical analysis.


Citation analysis Reference publication year spectroscopy Scientific legends 


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Solid State ResearchStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Division for Science and Innovation StudiesAdministrative Headquarters of the Max Planck SocietyMunichGermany

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