Monday, September 15, 2008

Timing of submissions

I have learned an interesting fact from Paul Ginsparg's talk at Bee's Science in the 21st Century conference: around the middle of his presentation he showed a histogram of at what time of the day people submit their preprints to the astro-ph archive. This histogram showed an extremely pronounced peak right after the deadline. After. I had suspected that preprints would pile up before the deadline because people still want to make it into tomorrow's listing because they fear to be scooped. But this is not the case. People want to be on the top of the listing!

My immediate reaction was that the number of nutters amongst astrophysicists is higher than expected. But the next news was at least as shocking: It seems to work! The papers submitted just after the deadline accumulate 90 citations on the average compared to 45 for generic astro-ph papers.

There seem to be two possible explanations of this fact (which is still there for other archives but not quite as pronounced): It could just work and the reader's attention span is so short (you might want to blame Sesame Street with its 1'30" spots for it) that they get distracted before they reach the end of the listing of new papers (this is the only place where submission time matters according to Ginsparg). Alternatively, people who care to submit right after the deadline also care about their citation count a lot and use all means to get it up.

Some further investigation seems to show that the second effect is much stronger than the first. Somebody from the audience suggested to study the correlation with self citations and small citation circles with submission time.

What I would want to look at would be if those are also the people that have a large percentage of their citations from revised versions of preprints (i.e. are those the people who care to write these emails begging for citations --- I have to admit I was one of them today)?

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