Archive for the ‘PLOS’ Category

Rich Citations: Open Data about the Network of Research

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Rich Citations: Open Data about the Network of Research by Adam Becker.

From the post:

Why are citations just binary links? There’s a huge difference between the article you cite once in the introduction alongside 15 others, and the data set that you cite eight times in the methods and results sections, and once more in the conclusions for good measure. Yet both appear in the list of references with a single chunk of undifferentiated plain text, and they’re indistinguishable in citation databases — databases that are nearly all behind paywalls. So literature searches are needlessly difficult, and maps of that literature are incomplete.

To address this problem, we need a better form of academic reference. We need citations that carry detailed information about the citing paper, the cited object, and the relationship between the two. And these citations need to be in a format that both humans and computers can read, available under an open license for anyone to use.

This is exactly what we’ve done here at PLOS. We’ve developed an enriched format for citations, called, appropriately enough, rich citations. Rich citations carry a host of information about the citing and cited entities (A and B, respectively), including:

  • Bibliographic information about A and B, including the full list of authors, titles, dates of publication, journal and publisher information, and unique identifiers (e.g. DOIs) for both;
  • The sections and locations in A where a citation to B appears;
  • The license under which B appears;
  • The CrossMark status of B (updated, retracted, etc);
  • How many times B is cited within A, and the context in which it is cited;
  • Whether A and B share any authors (self-citation);
  • Any additional works cited by A at the same location as B (i.e. citation groupings);
  • The data types of A and B (e.g. journal article, book, code, etc.).

As a demonstration of the power of this new citation format, we’ve built a new overlay for PLOS papers, which displays much more information about the references in our papers, and also makes it easier to navigate and search through them. Try it yourself here:
The suite of open-source tools we’ve built make it easy to extract and display rich citations for any PLOS paper. The rich citation API is available now for interested developers at

If you look at one of the test articles such as: Jealousy in Dogs, the potential of rich citations becomes immediately obvious.

Perhaps I was reading “… the relationship between the two…” a bit too much like an association between two topics. It’s great to know how many times a particular cite occurs in a paper, when it is a self-citation, etc. but is a long way from attaching properties to an association between two papers.

On the up side, however, PLOS is already has 10,000 papers with “smart cites” with more on the way.

A project to watch!