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Discontinuities in Citation Relations among Journals: 

Self-organized Criticality as a Model of Scientific Revolutions and Change


Using three-year moving averages of the complete Journal Citation Reports 1994-2016 of the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index (combined), we analyze links between citing and cited journals in terms of (1) whether discontinuities among the networks of consecutive years have occurred; (2) are these discontinuities relatively isolated or networked? (3) Can these discontinuities be used as indicators of novelty, change, and innovation in the sciences? We examine each of the N2 links among the N journals across the years. We find power-laws for the top 10,000 instances of change, which we suggest interpreting in terms of “self-organized criticality”: co-evolutions of avalanches in aggregated citation relations and meta-stable states in the knowledge base can be expected to drive the sciences towards the edges of chaos. The flux of journal-journal citations in new manuscripts may generate an avalanche in the meta-stable networks, but one can expect the effects to remain local (for example, within a specialty). The avalanches can be of any size; they reorient the relevant citation environments by inducing a rewrite of history in the affected partitions.


Loet Leydesdorff,*[1] Caroline S. Wagner,[2] and Lutz Bornmann[3]

[1] *corresponding author; Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam

PO Box 15793, 1001 NG Amsterdam, The Netherlands; [log in to unmask]

[2] John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 43210; [log in to unmask]

[3] Division for Science and Innovation Studies, Administrative Headquarters of the Max Planck Society, Hofgartenstr. 8, 80539 Munich, Germany; [log in to unmask]

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