Universality of citation distributions: toward an objective measure of scientific impact

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 11;105(45):17268-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0806977105. Epub 2008 Oct 31.


We study the distributions of citations received by a single publication within several disciplines, spanning broad areas of science. We show that the probability that an article is cited c times has large variations between different disciplines, but all distributions are rescaled on a universal curve when the relative indicator c(f) = c/c(0) is considered, where c(0) is the average number of citations per article for the discipline. In addition we show that the same universal behavior occurs when citation distributions of articles published in the same field, but in different years, are compared. These findings provide a strong validation of c(f) as an unbiased indicator for citation performance across disciplines and years. Based on this indicator, we introduce a generalization of the h index suitable for comparing scientists working in different fields.

MeSH terms

  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Journal Impact Factor*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Selection Bias