Study: 82% of Academic Papers from the Humanities Are Never Referenced

AP Photo/MSU/Megan Bean
AP Photo/MSU/Megan Bean

An overwhelming 82 percent of research papers produced by academics in the humanities are never cited, according to a recent study.

According to Inside Higher Ed, citations are the primary measure of a paper’s “scholarly impact.” The humanities, which include anthropology, archaeology, history, law and politics, literature, and the arts, has faced an overwhelmingly low citation rate in recent years. Recent studies have suggested that over 80 percent of humanities paper are never cited.

The social sciences, which includes fields such as economics, political science, human geography, demography, psychology, and sociology, are also facing low citation rates. Only 32 percent of social science articles are cited.

Citation counts are our primary measure of a paper’s scholarly impact, and yet citation counts on average are distressingly low. By one count, 12 percent of medicine articles were never cited, nor were 27 percent of natural science papers, 32 percent in the social sciences and 82 percent in the humanities. Another study found that 59 percent of articles in the top science and social-science journals were not cited in the period from 2002 to 2006.

Andrew Hoffman, a professor at the University of Michigan who penned the article for Insider Higher Ed, argues that the lack of citations in academia serves as a sign that academia should measure the impact of research by other measures, perhaps the reach of such work on social media.

Some have criticized academics for being excessively verbose. The example of research below by Anne Beate Reinertsen, a professor at Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education, reveals just how inaccessible academic writing can be to those from whom it could most benefit.

Hoffman is not without his criticisms of the state of the scholarly research within the struggling fields, however. He includes an argument made by Benard Forscher in 1963, who argued: “academic scholarship had become fixated on generating lots of pieces of knowledge — bricks — and was far less concerned with putting them together into a cohesive whole.”

He finishes with a quote from the Mayo Clinic that he believes should guide academics in their pursuit of producing research that is relevant and impactful to the world: “As clinician educators our job is not to create knowledge obscura, trapped in ivory towers and only accessible to the enlightened; the knowledge we create and manage needs to impact our communities.”

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about economics and higher education for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at


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