Science is a progressive, cumulative affair where what is current and valid today may be old and wrong tomorrow. The starting point for any type of scientific research is usually the work that has already been done by other scientists. As scientists we are expected to use credible data and information. The “References” or “Literature” sections that are at the ends of almost all scientific papers not only help us acknowledge our sources of information, but they also provide us with a venue where we pay respect to those past scientists who are supporting us on their shoulders.
In rapidly changing and mostly competitive fields of research, most of the cited papers in a recently published manuscript may be only a few years old. In such a field, the literature from even 10 years ago could be hopelessly outdated and no publication even remotely relevant may exist from, say, 50 years ago.
In contrast, some other areas of science, such as taxonomy, that are more revisionist in nature are more dependent on what was written in the past, especially if a specific subject area has long been neglected. My recent publications fall in the latter group.
Here are the 5 oldest papers cited in my papers about snails that I have published since 1999.
5. Sturany, R. 1894. Zur Molluskenfauna der europäischen Türkei. Annalen des K.K. Naturhistorischen Hofmuseums Wien 9:369-390.
4. Westerlund, C.A. 1893. Neue Binnenconchylien in der paläarktischen Region. Verhandlungen zoologisch-botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 42:(Abhandlungen)25-48.
3. Kobelt, W. 1880. Beiträge zur griechischen Fauna. Jb. dtsch. malak. Ges. 7:235-241.
2. Mousson, A. 1863. Coquilles terrestres et fluviatiles recueillis dans l'Orient par M. le Dr. Alex Schäfli. Vierteljahrsschrift Naturforschenden Gesellschaft, Zürich 8:275-320.
1. Anonymous. 1844. Map of Constantinople, Stambool. In: Maps of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, vol. 1. Chapman and Hall, London.
Interestingly, the oldest citation, and the only one in English, was not a scientific paper but a map. It is available at the David Rumsey Map Collection. I cited it in this paper.