Presentation order can be a powerful determinant of choice in a list-based environment
New research paper by Ina Ganguli, affiliated researcher at SITE and assistant professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, published by National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) sheds light on how order in the list of economics papers in a weekly email newsletter can affect the viewing and citation rate of scientific research papers.
A recent research paper by Ina Ganguli, affiliated researcher at SITE and assistant professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Daniel R. Feenberg research associate at NBER, Patrick Gaule, assistant professor at CERGE-EI and Jonathan Gruber, Ford professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examines the phenomena of consumer choice within an ordered list, in particular primacy bias towards customers choice of the first option and recency bias towards customers last option.
The team of researchers examine this phenomenon in a particularly interesting context: consumer response to the ordering of economics papers in an email announcement issued by the NBER. The NBER is one of the most prominent non-academic institutional affiliations for economists. The NBER serves as a home for grant making, and runs dozens of conferences each year across the spectrum of economics. Each Monday morning Eastern Standard Time (EST) the NBER issues a "New This Week" (NTW) email that lists all of the working papers that have been issued in the past week. This email goes to more than 23,000 subscribers, both inside and outside academia. Papers are listed solely based on the order in which they were received and processed through the various filters that are required of authors (e.g. disclosure of conflicts). Since the order of receipt and the extent of delay is impossible to predict ex-ante, this is a process that is essentially impossible to game. Indeed, the employees responsible for constructing NTW email view themselves as generating these lists randomly and paper ranking in this email is effectively random with respect to most observable characteristics.
After rigorous analysis and calculations the findings are striking. Despite the effectively random allocation of papers to the NTW ranking, researchers find much higher hits, downloads and citations of papers presented earlier in the list.
The effects are particularly meaningful for the first paper listed, with a 33% increase in views, a 29% increase in downloads, and a 27% increase in citations from being listed first.
For measures of downloads and hits, although not for citations, there are further declines as papers slide down the list. However, the very last position is associated with a boost in views and downloads. The results are robust to a wide variety of specification checks and are present for both all viewers/downloaders, and for academic institutions in particular. These results suggest that even among expert searchers, list-based searches can be manipulated by list placement.
Read more about research methodology, calculations and conclusions in the paper "It's good to be first: Order bias in reading and citing NBER working papers" here or listen the interview with Ina Ganguli on National Public Radio (NPR) "No. 1 With A Bullet Point: To Get Research Cited, Make Sure It's Listed First".