New article-level metric to measure the influence of scientific publications

By Adriana Bankston, Ph.D.

Evaluating the scientific quality of published work is not a trivial task. Traditional metrics for evaluating publications are often based on the perceived stature of the journal in which the work is published. The journal impact factor has long been the main standard for measuring scientific impact, although it is deeply flawed.

In “Relative Citation Ratio (RCR): A New Metric That Uses Citation Rates to Measure Influence at the Article Level,” the authors describe the RCR as a metric that measures the impact of a publication at the level of individual articles. The novelty of this method consists in measuring the influence of a publication based on its co-citation network—the other papers appearing in reference lists alongside the publication in question in subsequent citing papers. The authors propose co-citation networks as a way to normalize across fields the number of times a publication has been cited.

“Using journal impact factors to determine the importance of individual articles is not terribly useful,” said Chris Pickett, director of Rescuing Biomedical Research. “On the other hand, the Relative Citation Ratio is an important breakthrough that will allow the community to begin applying some reliable metrics to published articles.”

As with all metrics, the RCR has some weaknesses. For example, if one laboratory cited its own works several times, the RCR values for those authors could become artificially inflated. Additionally, due to the field-normalization method, the RCR may not accurately represent the value of cross-disciplinary publications. And, of course, the RCR is not a substitute for the opinions of experts in a given scientific field.

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Bankston headshotAdriana Bankston has a strong interest in advocating for biomedical scientists and improving the biomedical research enterprise as well as educational programming, outreach and science communication. Bankston received her Ph.D. from Emory University and is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Louisville and member of the National Postdoctoral Association’s Advocacy Committee. She can be reached via email ( or on Twitter (@AdrianaBankston).

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