June 25, 2011

R and citations

We’re hosting the international useR! conference at Warwick this summer, and I thought it might be interesting to try to get some data on how the use of R is growing. I decided to look at scholarly citations to R, mainly because I know where to find the relevant information.

I have access to the ISI Web of Knowledge, as well as to Google Scholar. The data below comes from the ISI Web of Knowledge database, which counts (mainly?) citations found in academic journals.

Background: How R is cited
Since version 0.90.0 of R, which was released in November 1999, the distributed software has included a FAQ document containing (among many other things) information on how to cite R. Initially (in 1999) the instruction given in the FAQ was to cite When R version 1.8.1 was released in November 2003 the advice on citing R changed: people using R in published work were asked to cite

The “2003” part of the citation advice has changed with each passing year; for example when R 1.9.1 was released (in June 2004) it was updated to “2004”.

ISI Web of Knowledge: Getting the data
Finding the citation counts by searching the ISI database directly does not work, because:
  1. the ISI database does not index Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics as far back as 1996; and
  2. the “R Core Development Team” citations are (rightly) not counted as citations to journal articles, so they also are not directly indexed.

So here is what I did: I looked up published papers in the ISI index which I knew would cite R correctly. [This was easy; for example my friend Achim Zeileis has published many papers of this kind, so a lot of the results were delivered through a search for his name as an author.] For each such paper, the citation of interest would appear in its references. I then asked the Web of Knowledge search engine for all other papers which cited the same source, with the resulting counts tabulated by year of publication.

It seems that the ISI database aims to associate a unique identifier with each cited item, including items that are not themselves indexed as journal articles in the database. This is what made the approach described above possible.

There’s a hitch, though! It seems that, for some cited items, more than one identifier gets used. Thus it is hard to be sure that the counts below include all of the citations to R: indeed, as I mention further below, I am pretty sure that my search will have missed some citations to R, where the identifier assigned by ISI was not their “normal” one. (This probably seems a bit cryptic, but should become clearer from the table below.)

Citation counts
As extracted from the ISI Web of Knowledge on 25 June 2011:

ISI identifier 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Total
IHAKA R
J COMPUTATIONAL GRAP 5 : 299 1996
5 15 18 43 131 290 472 528 435 419 449 378 396 3579
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2003






39 123 91 57 39 25 14 388
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2004






16 235 421 327 289 187 126 1601
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2005







42 397 531 511 445 366 2292
*R DEV COR TEAM
LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2005







5 39 75 41 25 10 195
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2006








55 438 849 656 461 2459
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2007









92 714 962 733 2501
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2008










208 1402 1906 3516
*R DEV COR TEAM
LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2008










7 21 44 72
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2009











172 1363 1535
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP : 2010












205 205
*R DEV COR TEAM
R LANG ENV STAT COMP :






1 12 14 25 36 81 93 262
Total 5 15 18 43 131 290 528 945 1452 1964 3143 4354 5717 18605

For the “R Development Core Team (year)” citations, the peak appears about 2 years after the year concerned. This presumably reflects journal review and backlog times.

There are almost certainly some ISI identifiers missing from the above table (and, as a result, almost certainly some citations not yet counted by me). For example, the number of citations found above to R Development Core Team (2009) is lower than might be expected given the general rate of growth that is evident in the table: there is probably at least one other identifier by which such citations are labelled in the ISI database (I just haven’t found it/them yet!). If anyone reading this can help with finding the “missing” identifiers and associated citation counts, I would be grateful.

The graph below shows the citations found within each year since 1998.

© David Firth, June 2011

To cite this entry:
Firth, D (2011). R and citations. Weblog entry, University of Warwick, UK; at URL http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/davidfirth/entry/r_and_citations/.

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The graph shows the citations found within each year since 1998.

[Click on the graph to view it at a larger size.]

Citations to Ihaka and Gentleman (1996) and to R Core Development Team (any year) are distinguished in the graph, and the total count of the two kinds of citation is also shown.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Adriano

    Getting citation counts is most difficult because the keyword “R” is terribly ambiguous for most bibliographic search algorithms. Even using the phrase “in R” is not very effective. If the abstract or the body of the text contained a unique identifier that would so helpful (e.g. the hashtag #rstats which is fairly widespread at Twitter).

    A wonderful source for citations is Mendeley which is crowd sourced (like scrobbled tunes in last.fm). I just started the “rstats group” http://www.mendeley.com/groups/1215411/rstats-for-r-computing/ —please check it out and join. You are invited to share your favorite references which will further academic research in various fields.

    When an article contains R code it obviously helps to replicate the results, and it will probably lead the reader to experiment and advance to next level. Hopefully an unique identifier (like #rcoded) will help in this regard as well.

    28 Jun 2011, 01:45


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Everything that I write or show here will be correct to the best of my knowledge. But I do sometimes make mistakes, and any reader needs to be aware of this. I give no guarantee that the data and/or analyses presented here are correct, nor any guarantee of fitness for any purpose whatsoever. This means that if you want to use what’s here for a purpose that really matters to you, you should check the figures for yourself first! If you do not accept this disclaimer you absolutely must not use anything that is written in this blog.

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Most recent comments

  • Getting citation counts is most difficult because the keyword "R" is terribly ambiguous for most bib… by Adriano on this entry
  • Thanks, that seems a good idea. Kathryn is too busy at present with more important work (her GCSE ex… by David Firth on this entry
  • Next time Kathryn would like some work, it might be interesting also to construct the graph using on… by Bernard Silverman on this entry

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