Patterns of evolution of research strands in the hydrologic sciences

This paper examines issues of impact and innovation in groundwater research by using bibliometric data and citation analysis.The analysis is based on 3120 papers from the journal Water Resources Research with full contents and their citation data from the ISI Web of Science. The research is designed to develop a better understanding of the way citation numbers can be interpreted by scientists. Not surprisingly, the most highly cited papers appear to be pioneers in the field with papers departing significantly from what has come before and to be effective in creating similar, follow-on papers. Papers that are early contributions to a new research strand that is highly influential will be on average highly cited. However, the importance of a research strand as measured by citations seems to fall with time. The citation patterns of some classic papers show that the activity in the topical area and impact of follow-on papers gradually decline with time, which has similarities with Kuhns ideas of revolutionary and normal science. The results of this study reinforce the importance of being a pioneer in a research strand, strategically shifting research strands, adopting strategies that can facilitate really major research breakthroughs.

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