Do Scientific Advancements Lean on the Shoulders of Giants? A Bibliometric Investigation of the Ortega Hypothesis
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Bornmann, L.; Moya Anegón, F.; Leydesdorff, L. Do Scientific Advancements Lean on the Shoulders of Giants? A Bibliometric Investigation of the Ortega Hypothesis. Plos One, 5(10): e13327 (2010). [http://hdl.handle.net/10481/30969]
[Background] In contrast to Newton's well-known aphorism that he had been able “to see further only by standing on the shoulders of giants,” one attributes to the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset the hypothesis saying that top-level research cannot be successful without a mass of medium researchers on which the top rests comparable to an iceberg. [Methodology/Principal Findings] The Ortega hypothesis predicts that highly-cited papers and medium-cited (or lowly-cited) papers would equally refer to papers with a medium impact. The Newton hypothesis would be supported if the top-level research more frequently cites previously highly-cited work than that medium-level research cites highly-cited work. Our analysis is based on (i) all articles and proceedings papers which were published in 2003 in the life sciences, health sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences, and (ii) all articles and proceeding papers which were cited within these publications. The results show that highly-cited work in all scientific fields more frequently cites previously highly-cited papers than that medium-cited work cites highly-cited work. [Conclusions/Significance] We demonstrate that papers contributing to the scientific progress in a field lean to a larger extent on previously important contributions than papers contributing little. These findings support the Newton hypothesis and call into question the Ortega hypothesis (given our usage of citation counts as a proxy for impact).