Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Do ABCs Get More Citations Than XYZs?

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Do ABCs Get More Citations Than XYZs?

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

An established strand of literature in both psychology and behavioral economics suggests that there are primacy effects on choice, that is, options being first or early in a sequence are more likely to receive attention and to be chosen (Becker 1954; Berg et al. 1955; Carney and Banaji 2012; Coney 1977; Dean 1980; Mantonakis et al. 2009; Miller and Krosnick 1998; Waltman 2012). This sort of influence on attention has been noticed and heavily exploited in the realm of advertising. One example raised by Einav and Yariv (2006) is that the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Westside Yellow Pages reveal more than 450 listed businesses with names containing a redundant initial A, as in "A-Approved Chimney Services," "A Any Way Bail Bonds," "A Budget Move," and the like.

Given that a large amount of scientific research papers order their references alphabetically by first author's surnames (Harvard-style references) (1) and that many academic conferences also order the attendees in the same way, it is thus natural to ask whether and to what extent that papers with first authors whose surname initials are earlier in alphabet are more likely to be cited (i.e., alphabetical order effect/alphabetical bias, afterwards), and whether the order in reference lists contributes to the alphabetical bias. The importance of this question is emphasized by the fact that number of citations is generally treated as an objective measure of paper quality. Indexes or measures based on citations (e.g., the H-index) are used as important references to determine everything from hiring and tenure (Ellison 2013), to wages and earnings (Diamond 1986; Hilmer, Hilnter, and Ransom 2011), to scholarship (Hamermesh, Johnson, and Weisbrod 1982; Smart and Waldfogel 1996) as well as society membership and grant funding (Berger 2013; Garfield 1999). If the alphabetical bias really exists, the measures based on citations have to be reinterpreted because they are contaminated by factors other than paper quality. In addition, a phenomenon has been documented in previous economic literature that professors with earlier surname initials in the alphabet are more likely to achieve academic success (Einav and Yariv 2006; Praag and Praag 2008), and a number of studies attribute the phenomenon to the alphabetical order in authorship position because first authors win most credits (Waltman 2012). (2) But the order in reference lists is mostly ignored (Einav and Yariv 2006; Joseph, Laband, and Patil 2005). Establishing an alphabetical primacy effect in citations thus provides another potential explanation. Finally, answering the question also helps to deepen our understanding of individual behavior as there is little literature on how serial position affects choice after delay, especially in situations where people browse through lists without an explicit choice goal in mind. (3)

Partly due to the lack of reliable data set on publications, there is no previous literature directly answering the questions except for few relevant studies. Einav and Yariv (2006) collected data from professors in Top 30 economics departments in the United States and mentioned the effects of alphabetical order in reference lists on academic success, but they did not provide empirical evidence for it. Berger (2013) collected field data from a journal in Psychology, which showed that articles listed in earlier position in a journal are cited more frequently. But he did not consider effect of the alphabetical order.

Using a unique paper sample of about 850,000 U.S. scientific articles in the Thomson-Reuters Web of Science (WoS) database, this study aims to shed light on the questions above. In this study, estimates show that the papers with first authors whose surname initials appear earlier in the alphabet get more citations, controlling for authors' likely ethnicities, number of references, number of addresses, and journal-year fixed effects. The estimates show that shifting surname initial from the bottom of the alphabet to the top is associated with a 0. …

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