Scientific Collaboration Results in Higher Citation Rates of Published Articles

William D. Figg, Pharm.D.; Lara Dunn, B.S.; David J. Liewehr, M.S.; Seth M. Steinberg, Ph.D.; Paul W. Thurman, M.B.A.; J. Carl Barrett, Ph.D.; Julian Birkinshaw, Ph.D.


Pharmacotherapy. 2006;26(6):759-767. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Study Objective: The primary objective was to analyze the relationship between the citation rate of an article and the extent of collaboration. The secondary objective was to analyze the relationship between the number of authors/article and the number of institutions/article for the period of study.
Methods: We counted the number of original research articles published in six leading journals— Cell, Science, Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Journal of the American Medical Association—for the years 1975, 1985, and 1995. For each article, we determined the number of authors and the number of separate institutions. We also determined the number of times each article that was published in 1995 was cited in future scientific articles from the Science Citation Index database.
Results: Science, Cell, Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Journal of the American Medical Association had 2014, 868, 3856, 643, 785, and 465 total articles published/3-year study period, respectively. There was a median of 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 3 institutions/article, respectively. All of the final models had a significant linear author component for which all of the parameter estimates were positive, yet variable. Thus, the number of times an article was cited correlated significantly with the number of authors and the number of institutions.
Conclusion: A correlation exists between the number of authors and the number of times an article is cited in other articles. Investigators who are open to collaborations and those who seem to adequately manage those collaborations produce a superior product that results in a higher impact.


Collaboration is believed to be a highly exploited tool for enhancing efficiency and productivity in scientific research. Collaborations are prevalent among independent investigators or groups within an institution, as well as among multiple institutions. Collaboration is a means to spread expenses over different individuals and institutions, enhance intellectual synergy, and allow resources to be shared.[1,2] Despite the increasing emphasis placed on collaboration in scientific research, little is known about the extent of collaboration that occurs and whether or not a relationship exists between the degree of collaboration and the impact of a research study. Has collaboration increased over the past decades? Is there a difference in the degree of collaboration in basic scientific research versus clinical research? Does the degree of collaboration influence the quality of the research findings?

As the pressure to publish in prestigious journals increases, whether collaboration enhances the quality of the research needs to be determined. Although collaboration works to expedite productivity, reduce spending, and give collaborators a competitive edge against outside researchers, some value may still exist in independent or limited research collaboration. When establishing the optimal amount of collaboration, it must be acknowledged that competition is also a driving force behind efficiency and productivity. Research groups and institutions establish an optimal balance by maintaining independent studies, yet often cooperate for their self-interests.[3]

Research groups work independently not only to provide healthy levels of competition, but also to increase individual or group recognition.[4] As the number of partnerships increase, credit given to the first author remains constant, whereas less and less credit is given to further contributing authors. Evaluation of these scientists depends on the number of articles published, position in the list of authors, and the journal's impact factor.[5] For this reason, candidates for tenure or promotion may be less inclined to cooperate with others in their research.[6,7]

Despite the accepted benefits of collaboration, authorship inflation challenges the clear relationship between the degree of collaboration and the citation rate of a research publication. Many studies have found a trend toward more authors/article, and the amount contributed by nonfirst authors varied greatly.[8,9,10,11,12,13] As a result, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has recommended that each author should have made a substantial contribution to conceive and design the work, analyze and interpret data, and draft the article or revise it critically for important intellectual content.[14] Unfortunately, individuals without significant contributions are often added to the author list on articles.

The purpose of this study was to understand collaboration in biomedical research. We hypothesized that scientists who work collaboratively produce a product that has a higher scientific impact. We anticipated that the degree of collaboration is increasing over time and that clinical researchers are more likely to collaborate than are basic science researchers. To examine this hypothesis, the number of authors/article in six leading scientific journals and the number of institutions involved in each article were determined. The impact of an article is measured by the number of times an article is cited in future articles. The number of times cited, as an indicator, is open to criticism; however, there is no other clear way to determine the scientific impact.


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