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Given the jump–decay citation patterns discussed in the previous chapter, are we forced to conclude that the papers we publish will be relevant for only a few years? We find that while aggregate citations follow a clear pattern, the trajectories of individual citations are remarkably variable. Yet, by analyzing individual citation histories, we are able to isolate three parameters – immediacy, longevity, and fitness – that dictate a paper’s future impact. In fact, all citation histories are governed by a single formula, a fact which speaks the universality of the dynamics that at first seemed quite variant. We end by discussing how a paper’s ultimate impact can be predicted using one factor alone: its relative fitness. We show how papers with the same fitness will acquire the same number of citations in the long run, regardless of which journals they are published in.
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