A general theory of bibliometric and other cumulative advantage processes



A Cumulative Advantage Distribution is proposed which models statistically the situation in which success breeds success. It differs from the Negative Binomial Distribution in that lack of success, being a non-event, is not punished by increased chance of failure. It is shown that such a stochastic law is governed by the Beta Function, containing only one free parameter, and this is approximated by a skew or hyperbolic distribution of the type that is widespread in bibliometrics and diverse social science phenomena. In particular, this is shown to be an appropriate underlying probabilistic theory for the Bradford Law, the Lotka Law, the Pareto and Zipf Distributions, and for all the empirical results of citation frequency analysis. As side results one may derive also the obsolescence factor for literature use. The Beta Function is peculiarly elegant for these manifold purposes because it yields both the actual and the cumulative distributions in simple form, and contains a limiting case of an inverse square law to which many empirical distributions conform.