Forgotten Knowledge: Examining the Citational Amnesia in NLP


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Citing papers is the primary method through which modern scientific writing discusses and builds on past work. Collectively, citing a diverse set of papers (in time and area of study) is an indicator of how widely the community is reading. Yet, there is little work looking at broad temporal patterns of citation. This work systematically and empirically examines: How far back in time do we tend to go to cite papers? How has that changed over time, and what factors correlate with this citational attention/amnesia? We chose NLP as our domain of interest and analyzed approximately 71.5K papers to show and quantify several key trends in citation. Notably, around 62% of cited papers are from the immediate five years prior to publication, whereas only about 17% are more than ten years old. Furthermore, we show that the median age and age diversity of cited papers were steadily increasing from 1990 to 2014, but since then, the trend has reversed, and current NLP papers have an all-time low temporal citation diversity. Finally, we show that unlike the 1990s, the highly cited papers in the last decade were also papers with the least citation diversity, likely contributing to the intense (and arguably harmful) recency focus. Code, data, and a demo are available on the project homepage.
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