Outdone by Mis-prints

In 1972, Prof. Sir. David R. Cox F.R.S. and statistical deity published one of the all-time great papers1, where he introduced a neat idea into survival analysis which is now called the Cox Proportional Hazards model. Because survival analyses are so important (think medical trials and epidemiology, folks), and because the idea was so good, it has been cited over 21 000 times. In fact, its is do popular that, as Stephen Senn pointed out2, it has amassed a good number of mis-citations too.


I had read Senn’s book, a couple of years ago, and wondered whether that meant the paper could have its own the Hirsch index, h[3] (i.e. the number of papers the scientist has published that have at least h citations each). So, a tedious afternoon was spent trawling through Web of Science, not helped by Cox having published another well mis-cited paper at the same time.
Anyway, the result of all this endeavour was to discover that the mis-citations of the Cox PH paper on their own (i.e. ignoring the correct citation)had gained themselves an h of 12: a level that Hirsch had concluded “…might be a typical value for advancement to tenure…”.
My own h index at the moment is a meagre 9. Which means my contribution to science is being exceeded by a set of misprints. Harrumph.

1 Cox, D.R. (1972) Regression models and life-tables. J. Roy. Statist. Soc. B 34: 187-220.

2 Senn, S. (2003) Dicing with Death p136. CUP, Cambridge, U.K.

3 Hirsch, J.E. (2005) An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output . Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 102: 16569-16572.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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7 Responses to Outdone by Mis-prints

  1. Heather Etchevers says:

    Those of us who have attained tenure without being so widely cited can just count themselves lucky. Happily, tenure does not just depend on one’s publication footprint, and not all contributions can or should be measured with this sort of yardstick.
    My personal yardstick is, how many and which people will show up at my retirement party to tell me that I have made a difference in how they conduct science?

  2. Massimo Pinto says:

    That is a brand-new metrics, Heather!
    Time machine required. Or, may be, it would take a machine that could project us in a hypothetical future in which one does get tenure, and see how it goes. A sort of futuroscope. Interesting.

  3. Bob O'Hara says:

    Heather – I like your idea. But some people might want to discriminate between those who would follow their lead, and those who would go in the opposite direction.

  4. Heather Etchevers says:

    That’s rather like trying to discriminate in your citations between those who took your lead as a precedent and those who think you had it ass-backwards. All publicity is good publicity as long as you get cited.
    We have a technology-oriented Futuroscope (as perhaps you know, Massimo?) but I will have to ask them about this new function for testing how fulfilling life would be with vs. without tenure.

  5. Ian Mulvany says:

    Hi Bob,
    Do you mean that all of the varieties of mis-citation to the Cox paper had at least 12 variants with 12 citations?
    - Ian

  6. Bob O'Hara says:

    Yep.

  7. Bob O'Hara says:

    Yep.