Citation Indexes - Why are they important in the Sciences?
The scientific method utilizes what is commonly referred to as the ‘building block’ method of research in which scientists gradually build their knowledge about a discipline, step by step over time.
Past research knowledge is used as a basis for current research. In the future, both the current and past research studies are used as stepping stones to formulate new research, the results of which ‘build’ the next step or block of knowledge.
A Citation Index is an important, specialized type of database (e.g. Web of Science) because it typically contains many years of research and connects relevant research by allowing users to move backwards and forwards along a timeline, providing scientific knowledge from both the past as well as from the future. Doing so provides users with a more complete overview of research on a particular field of study.
For example, a research paper listed in Web of Science by the author A. Smith in 2003 will contain the articles cited and discussed by Smith (bibliography containing past research), but the citation index will then list all the research articles which have been published after 2003 which cite Smith’s work (bibliography of future research). Essentially, this means that citation index searching provides users with the ability to find new, unknown information based on older, known information.
A second, important function of citation indexes is that they help to validate a researcher’s work. If a piece of research published in 2003 has been cited many times by other researchers since its initial publication, the implication is that the findings or content has some continuing importance and validity in the scientific literature.