Update, 18 August 2010: An attempt to replicate the result discussed here finds serious issues with the statistics.
Nature News is reporting some interesting results presented as a paper at a meeting of the International Society for the Psychology of Science & Technology last week: articles published in the journal Science with longer “Works Cited” sections are themselves more frequently cited.
A plot of the number of references listed in each article against the number of citations it eventually received reveal that almost half of the variation in citation rates among the Science papers can be attributed to the number of references that they include. And — contrary to what people might predict — the relationship is not driven by review articles, which could be expected, on average, to be heavier on references and to garner more citations than standard papers.
The same authors did a similar analysis of papers published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior over 30 years, and found similar results [PDF]. Here’s the relevant figure from that paper:
The lack of a “review effect” is surprising, but I don’t think this overall result is. Academia, as much as we might describe it as cutthroat, also runs on reciprocal altruism. Authors notice when their papers are cited, and are more likely to cite papers that build on or relate to their own work. I’d be interested to see the network of citation underlying the pattern Webster et al. have found—I suspect that there’s a lot of clustering around disciplines and sub-disciplines and sub-sub-sub-disciplines that contributes to all this mutual
Updated, 15 August 2010, 2126h: Fixed the link to the original Nature News article, which turns out not to be access-restricted.
Webster, G.D., Jonason, P.K., & Schember, T.O. (2009). Hot topics and popular papers in evolutionary psychology: Analyses of title words and citation counts in Evolution and Human Behavior, 1979-2008. Evolutionary Psychology, 7 (3), 348-348 Other: http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/ep07348362.pdf