The quality of a scientific paper are not ZERO if citation is zero. Perhaps we need to define two parameters, quality and significance of scientific communication. Quality; a well done research in the best traditions and methods available. Significance; the outreach of the paper to bring effect into others work and others understanding toward the subject matter.
While there will always be a downside to both parameters, citation reflects the significance (and quality as much as it correlated to significance) of a paper.
I checked back my papers list, more than 300, a good sample to do any kind of study of citation, quality and significance, given they span a decade, a good amount of time when all anthropic constraints have been questioned deeply enough, eg I am not involved in anything directly for more than 5 years. [and so are tons of other people who would be candidates of this study, they have changed their affiliations and so on]
The citation varies from zero to 455. From 2005 to 2014. (so naturally excludes the pre-2005 papers of mine, perhaps)
A paper which has zero citations, that is, a paper which has not found mentions in any body else’s work (around the world) is still a paper with very high quality, with very high quality scientists involved (like Simon Eidelman and Karim Trabelsi eg) .. Just that we are dealing with a highly arbitrary and large system. Where nobody has the ability to think which paper he must first chose to cite given there are 10s of 1000s. So citation suffers. In consequence quality is intact but significance suffers. But some day they might pick up. If not in a decade you might give it 30 years at-least. Thats how science works. “Ibn Sahl” got a citation after 1000 years. Who are you? (take with a pinch of salt if its bland, No I am fine)
Now check one with 12. A paper is lucky if its got 12 citations. 12 different instances of the work getting due or undue attention. Which is why they are willing to give you a tenure if you have 12 citations. [if somehow 12 papers get that distinction] But by this principle they are potentially rejecting some of the luminous scientists like Karim Trabelsi. (I am not in touch, I guess he must be having some grand positions somewhere by now) [He is from France and not from Bangla Desh as Prafulla Behera thought. ]
Now think something getting 455 citations.
(my highest cited paper, when I say my I mean my collaboration’s paper which I have cared enough to claim my contributions registered for)
Only if 455 papers of your are that highly significant you will have a citation h-index of 455. Thats perhaps never achieved by anyone in the world. (and if it does it will be controversial, given Einstein’s if were alive would throw their Nobel prize money into a gambling spree in Las Vegas and join the glamour industry, leaving science for ever)
But Einstein could have easily got 100. (by theoretical work, which gets more prominence because there are less number of people in each paper’s work, getting more quality attention perhaps, but its a prejudice, a field is altered also because Higgs is discovered, and not just because Higgs was predicted or hypothesized).
So citation is like a scientists publicity by other’s work, more or less in a randomized manner. SO much so, that we are willing to believe; its quite believable regarding a scientist’s merit. Its like a sponsored celebrity statistics. (again its kind of a bias, which we do not study well enough before many have gotten their tenures and many have lost their tenure and peace of mind)
But when you take Galileo, Einstein or Feynman their publicity did not come from citation. See we can exclude Galileo in that he was 4 or 5 100 years old. But we can include him in that he is called modern science’s daddy because many in the present generations have studied (and in consequence cited) his work. So its not benefiting him directly but his namesake.
But with Albert and Feynman, both of whom were colorful regardless to this discussion (isn’t citation also a result of personal stigmas or lack thereof?) they were concurrent to our generation. So their citation while not a formal method in the sense of today’s metrics they were easily cited due to the impact of media in their days.
The TV and newspaper and the word of mouth, and the science community’s communication they were all, the citation methods.
Today’s methods have changed into electronic archives and direct citations into others papers but not all citation methods of the past are available to be studied for how they impact or impacted scientist’s work when they were alive and long thereafter.
A thorough comparison must take into account that these are as of now shaky parameters and perhaps will be so for ever.
[Ed Witten scores way above Hawking and Lev D. Landau in significance of research communication. This article of mine points out significance is different from quality although quality does correlate with significance. Significance is how you impact others while quality is whats the content. They can form axes where one could be zero while the other could be minimal. So a highly cited article might be very low quality]
[My personal citations do come under top 15 in Particle Physics and top 25 in Physics, while the percentile is 91% and 95% respectively. This is a glitch. This discrepancy perhaps comes from the fact that the sample is not complete while just the percentile is somehow coming from a more complete sample. Mine would not show in the list but you can take the h-ind 64 and compare where it sits. Perhaps the h-ind list by the sites showing top physicists/scholars is jut incomplete, so a percentile might be a better clue. Because the sites show only 1 person at a given score but obviously they would be more degenerate]
Here is my h-index. 60, my citations more than 12 K and my i10-ind 174.
[my inspirehep citation are a bit more in each included parameter, a more reliable counting than google, because google can often be manipulated, like using self-citing docs]
What does h-ind mean? H-ind of 10 would mean at-least 10 papers have been cited 10 times or more time than that and no less. 60 means 60 papers have been cited with 60 citations or more. [maxm for me; 1 paper close to 455 times]
What wiki says (apart from criticism of h-ind)
1. “for physicists, a value for h of about 12 might be typical for advancement to tenure (associate professor) at major research universities. A value of about 18 could mean a full professorship, 15–20 could mean a fellowship in the American Physical Society, and 45 or higher could mean membership in the United States National Academy of Sciences.”
I have 60.
2. a physicist had to receive 2.073 K citations to be among the most cited 1% of physicists in the world.
Mine now 12.22 K.
my ans to wiki criticism (HEP expt) There is nothing by default in a big collaboration to produce a LARGE average citation when a large number of papers are produced, without such studies being cited in large number by other collaborations.
So whats the criticism for experimental HEP h-index? If we produce 1000 papers we can’t self cite them all, because there are lets say 50 types of studies with each type having totally different measurement.
Another collaboration can cite our papers only if there is something interesting or necessarily related. Then there are very few collaborations in the world, in HEP, especially in the sub-fields.
So given that one can have a large h-index or citations in exptl HEP simply means; a large amount of work, produced because large number of people. A large number of citations can’t simply be produced without outputting relevant work. SO and a big so, h-index of experimental HEPists are not easy bucks. They are simply large if you work for close to a decade. [An experimental HEPist works like 26 hours a day, metaphorically, some of us are not married for that reason. ]
in other words its actually a disadvantage to be in a large collaboration and maintain high h-index because producing 1000 papers if the citations do not go up (a natural process) you are actually screwing them to be very small h-index.