Open citations to open science

Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Dakota S. Murray, and Vincent Larivière

Two years ago, an advocacy group called the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) began the ambitious agenda of making citations open to the world. They worked arduously with a subset of receptive publishers—subscription-based and open-access, commercial and non for profit—to change the status of references contained in Crossref from closed to open. By the official launch of the initiative in April 2017, they were able to report impressive progress: whereas freely available references were available for only 1% of indexed publications before I4OC, that number stood at 40%. The initiative continued to gather steam, creating partnerships with major publishers, funders, and professional societies, and the percentage of open references continued to grow, representing more than half of all cited references in Crossref by January 2018.

The International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics showed its support by publishing an open letter and urging members of field to demonstrate their support by signing it. Over the course of the last four months, the open letter was signed by 324 individuals from 46 countries. The most highly represented countries include the USA, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, the UK, and China. The geographic distribution of our signatories is, in many ways, what one would expect given the demographics of our community. However, this distribution also signals two important pieces of evidence for the open citation movement.


Many of the signatories are affiliated with institutions with access to high quality citation indexes through a library subscription. This could be read as a technical limitation: that even those with access do not find that access sufficient to conduct large-scale bibliometric analysis. However, there are also several signatories who have access to large-scale databases for research purposes. This suggests an ideological position: adopting the proposition that citations should be open to all, regardless of resources.

The list of signatories also tells a story about access. The map of signatories could easily be overlaid with several other data that demonstrate the concentration of scientific resources and infrastructure across the world. The countries that are missing are those that have been historically underrepresented in elite indexes. It is hoped that opening citations may also serve as a mechanism to open the scientific world. Openness is foundational for rigorous science. We hope that by opening citations, we not only increase access to scientific knowledge, but also increase participation. As we noted in our open letter: ‘This is a matter of scientific integrity, scientific progress, and equity—we must ensure that all members of the scientometric community are able to participate in and validate the research in the field'. We therefore urge scientists to join our open letter and continue to advocate for open citation data.

About the author

Cassidy R. Sugimoto

Cassidy Sugimoto is Professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington. She researches within the domain of scholarly communication and scientometrics, examining the formal and informal ways in which knowledge producers consume and disseminate scholarship. She has edited and co-edited four books and has published numerous journal articles on this topic. Her work has been presented at numerous conferences and has received research funding from the US National Science Foundation, Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the Sloan Foundation, among other agencies. Cassidy is actively involved in teaching and service and has been rewarded in these areas with an Indiana University Trustees Teaching award (2014) and a national service award from the Association for Information Science and Technology (2009). She served as the President of the faculty at Indiana University in 2015-2016 and is currently serving as President of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics. Cassidy has an undergraduate degree in music performance, an M.S. in library science, and a Ph.D. in information and library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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