- Roy E. Plotnick, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago.

In the old days, before the advent of the internet and the personal computer, you kept up on the scientific literature by going to the library and examining the stacks of new journals that had just arrived. If you wanted to pursue an area of research and write your own paper, you searched the library stacks, guided by the list of references in the back of published papers and the huge published volumes, such as the Bibliography and Index of Geology, that catalogued the papers on the subject. You may also find out, perhaps guided by more senior scientists, that there were certain critical papers in your area that you needed to read. 

All this, of course, has changed. You can receive emails from journals announcing newly published, or about to be published papers. The development of massive online reference databases, such as Web of Science, GeoRef, and Google Scholar have made searching for papers on a topic lightning fast, with the ability to immediately download the publication and enter it into a personal bibliographic database. And most usefully, the databases have links to both the papers in the paper’s reference list and those that, in turn, cite the publication in question, with each papers number of citations being tabulated. To a first approximation, one can assume that the more citations a paper has, the more important it is to read.