20 August 2007

Old citations

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 In such a field, the literature from even 10 years ago could be hopelessly outdated and no publication even remotely relevant may exist from, say, 50 years ago.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.

5 comments:

Christopher Taylor said...

I know what you mean - as a taxonomist, I would think of a publication from, say, 1975 as quite recent - were I a geneticist, that would be the far reaches of ancient history.

I'm a great fan of digging up ancient publications, which I suspect has made me the bane of inter-loan departments everywhere.

Kevin Z said...

My oldest five:

Hogg, J. (1860) On the distinctions of a plant and an animal, and on a fourth kingdom of nature. The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 12, 216-225, plate III.
Grube, A. E. (1861) Ein Ausflug nach Triest und Quarnero. Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Tierwelt dieses Gebietes. Berlin: Nicolaische Verl.
Grube, A. E. (1863) Beschreibung neuer oder wenig bekannter Anneliden. Archiv für Naturgeschichte, 29, 38-69, plates 34-36.
Müller, O. F. (1863) Translations: On the genus Lucernaria. Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, 2-3, 265-285.
Ehlers, E. (1864) Die Bostenwurmer (Annelida, Chaetopoda) nach systematischen und automatischen Untersuchungen dargestelt. Leipzig: Wilhem Engleman.

AYDIN ÖRSTAN said...

Glad to see I am not the only one who is digging up old German journals.

Christopher Taylor said...

I'll see your 1860, and raise you:

Colenso, W. 1845. Memoranda of an excursion, made in the Northern Island of New Zealand, in the summer of 1841-2; intended as a contribution towards the natural productions of the New Zealand groupe: with particular reference to their botany. Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science 2: 210-234, 241-308.

White, A. 1849. Descriptions of apparently new species of Aptera from New Zealand. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 17: 3-6 (reprinted 1850. Annals and Magazine of Natural History series 2, 5: 50-53).

Dana, J. D. 1851. Conspectus Crustaceorum quae in orbis terrarum circumnavigatione, Carolo Wilkes e classe Reipublicae Faederatae duce, lexit et descripsit. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 5: 267-272.

Candolle, A. de. 1855. Géographie Botanique Raisonnée: Ou exposition des faits principaux et des lois concernant la distribution géographique des plantes de l’époque actuelle. Librairie de Victor Masson: Paris.

Darwin, C. 1859. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, 1 ed. John Murray: London (1967. Atheneum: New York; 1968. Penguin Books: London). [I'm not sure if this one counts because I've only got a republished version.]

Agassiz, L. 1860. Prof. Agassiz on the origin of species. American Journal of Science and Arts, 2nd series 30: 142-154.

I also can't help noticing that English is far less universal as a language from that time. The Dana (1851) article is one of (I think) two references in Latin.

Merisi said...

Interesting to find K.& K. Vienna mentioned here (while most of the world thinks of Austria as a cute little Operetta-world *g*).