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Productivity and impact of astronomical facilities: Three years of publications and citation rates


In calendar years 2001 to 2003, 20 journals of astronomy and astrophysics published 11 831 papers that reported or analyzed observations at wavelengths from meter radio to ultrahigh energy gamma rays. These were cited 161 556 times in the three calendar years following publication, according to the Science Citation Index/Web of Science, for an average of 13.66 citations per paper or 4.55 citations per paper per year. We examine these numbers as a function of subject matter, wavelength bands, journals, and individual telescopes used and explore a small subset of possible temporal trends, anomalies, and sources of uncertainty, including blockbuster journals, papers and facilities. Many of the results resemble qualitative expectations. There are hot topics (cosmology, exoplanets) and not so hot topics (binary stars, planetary nebulae). Papers reporting data from space are cited a bit more often, and ground-based radio papers a bit less often, than optical papers, while multi-wavelength ones do noticeably better than average. The total number of telescopes involved is surprisingly large, approximately 350 optical and infrared (mostly ground-based but including HST because of its long life), 144 radio facilities on about 100 sites (including WMAP and COBE and a few balloon-borne CMB experiments), and 105 space-based detectors (including satellites, interplanetary probes, things carried on rockets, balloons, the Shuttle, and so forth). The outstanding telescopes are generally both stable with time and predictable. HST and the VLA are responsible for the largest number of optical and radio papers respectively, but the most frequently cited optical papers come from SDSS (by a wide margin), Keck, and the AAT, while the JCMT, Parkes and (especially) CMB observatories lead the radio brigade. Among things that fly, leadership changes more quickly, as missions are launched, vigorously exploited, and turned off, sometimes achieving geostationary, suboceanic orbits. If you have a choice, large trumps small, but well-supported sites trump struggling ones by a comparable factor. And service to the community, in the form of catalogues and mission descriptions, is rewarded, at least in citation numbers, if not always in other ways. © 2008 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA.

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