We propose a new citation model which builds on the existing models that explicitly or implicitly include “direct” and “indirect” (learning about a cited paper’s existence from references in another paper) citation mechanisms. Our model departs from the usual, unrealistic assumption of uniform probability of direct citation, in which initial differences in citation arise purely randomly. Instead, we demonstrate that a two-mechanism model in which the probability of direct citation is proportional to the number of authors on a paper (team size) is able to reproduce the empirical citation distributions of articles published in the field of astronomy remarkably well, and at different points in time. Interpretation of our model is that the intrinsic citation capacity, and hence the initial visibility of a paper, will be enhanced when more people are intimately familiar with some work, favoring papers from larger teams. While the intrinsic citation capacity cannot depend only on the team size, our model demonstrates that it must be to some degree correlated with it, and distributed in a similar way, i.e., having a power-law tail. Consequently, our team-size model qualitatively explains the existence of a correlation between the number of citations and the number of authors on a paper.
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