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Is nanoscale research slowing down?

The Carnegie Classification meets an important need in US higher education. Without ranking colleges or universities, it compares a broad range of criteria, and publishes data that enable researchers, policymakers and even prospective students to perform further qualitative analysis of US higher education institutions.

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The number of papers published in nanoscience and nanotechnology has increased rapidly in the last 11 years. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 1996 to 2006 was 16% and papers indexed in Scopus rose from 16,000 to 64,000. Calculating growth is never easy, as there is seldom one estimation method that gives the whole picture. For instance, we know the CAGR value is influenced by the growth in the coverage of Scopus itself. It is also necessary to consider that science may be growing and that nanoscience could be riding on that wave. Consequently, it is customary in bibliometrics to examine how a field is evolving as a percentage of the database used, in this case Scopus. One can see that in 1996, about 1.5% of papers indexed in Scopus were about nanoscience and this has increased to 4.2% of the database’s contents in 2006, close to a threefold increase (see Figure 1).

Slowing growth

In light of these data, one can safely say that nanoscience research grew rapidly in the last decade. However, growth appears to be slowing in both absolute and relative terms. Bearing in mind that not all papers had been included in the database for 1996 when these data were calculated, it is more relevant to examine the curve that presents data in percentage terms. This curve is starting to look s-shaped, which suggests that growth has started to slow down. How can we explain this phenomenon? We will present four hypotheses, the most parsimonious first, followed by those of increasing complexity.

Figure 1 – The number of nanoscience papers indexed in Scopus between 1996 and 2006. Source: “Nanotechnology World R&D Report 2008”, data from Scopus

The first hypothesis is that this slowdown is only a random variation along the exponential growth path observed. In addition to obtaining a strong R-Square value, it is indeed a requirement to accept that an exponential growth curve (or exponential regression curve) offers a robust model on which observed data points are distributed randomly on each side of the curve. Consequently, it is possible that in the future, additional data points will show that a slowdown had not actually occurred – it was merely the normal occurrence of yearly variation.

From exponential to linear growth

The three remaining hypotheses are compatible with the observation that nanoscience research has started to look like an s-shaped curve, a type of growth process observed in biological but also in scientific, technological and social systems. This is not really surprising, as a system can never grow indefinitely. There are also limits to growth, as the means necessary to produce anything are always finite. For instance, there are only a certain number of researchers who can work on nanotechnology and once they are all mobilized and have learnt everything they can to perform and publish research in this field efficiently, their rate of publication will inevitably stabilize. For this reason, the second hypothesis is simply that nanotechnology is maturing, and that future growth will be more linear than exponential.

A third hypothesis would be linked with the idea that the field may be momentarily experiencing a slowdown and that a further boom cycle is forthcoming. If this model is appropriate, it would be akin to what German researcher Ulrich Schmoch calls “double-boom cycles” (1). Schmoch argues that several domains, such as robotics and immobilized enzymes, evolved through an initial period of great patenting activity, followed by a slowdown and a less publicized follow-up cycle of high-frequency patenting. It is therefore possible that nanotechnology would be undergoing a slowdown after an initial boom in publishing and patenting and that a second boom would be forthcoming.

Obliteration by incorporation

The fourth hypothesis is that the use of nanoscale R&D is increasingly incorporated into mainstream S&T, which means that it is no longer being specifically mentioned as often or as prominently by researchers in their scientific publications and patents. This would mean that nanotechnology is undergoing a process analogous to “obliteration by incorporation”. This concept, described by Robert Merton (2), suggests a process by which the origin of an idea is forgotten due to prolonged use, as it enters the mainstream language of academic disciplines, and is thereafter no longer linked with its originators. An analogous situation in the development of a scientific discipline is provided by developments in the field of genomics. In this field, it was common in the 1990s to mention the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method in the title and the abstract of papers, but this was subsequently obliterated by incorporation. Indeed, it is now considered obvious that if one carries out gene sequencing, the PCR method is used. The same may be true of nanotechnology today and researchers may not mention that they are working at the nanoscale level as it may be deemed obvious to knowledgeable practitioners.

For further information about these reports, please click here.

References:

(1) Schmoch, U. (2007) “Double-boom cycles and the comeback of science-push and market-pull”, Research Policy, Vol. 36, issue 7, pp. 1000–1015.
(2) Merton, R.K. (1949) Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.
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The number of papers published in nanoscience and nanotechnology has increased rapidly in the last 11 years. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 1996 to 2006 was 16% and papers indexed in Scopus rose from 16,000 to 64,000. Calculating growth is never easy, as there is seldom one estimation method that gives the whole picture. For instance, we know the CAGR value is influenced by the growth in the coverage of Scopus itself. It is also necessary to consider that science may be growing and that nanoscience could be riding on that wave. Consequently, it is customary in bibliometrics to examine how a field is evolving as a percentage of the database used, in this case Scopus. One can see that in 1996, about 1.5% of papers indexed in Scopus were about nanoscience and this has increased to 4.2% of the database’s contents in 2006, close to a threefold increase (see Figure 1).

Slowing growth

In light of these data, one can safely say that nanoscience research grew rapidly in the last decade. However, growth appears to be slowing in both absolute and relative terms. Bearing in mind that not all papers had been included in the database for 1996 when these data were calculated, it is more relevant to examine the curve that presents data in percentage terms. This curve is starting to look s-shaped, which suggests that growth has started to slow down. How can we explain this phenomenon? We will present four hypotheses, the most parsimonious first, followed by those of increasing complexity.

Figure 1 – The number of nanoscience papers indexed in Scopus between 1996 and 2006. Source: “Nanotechnology World R&D Report 2008”, data from Scopus

The first hypothesis is that this slowdown is only a random variation along the exponential growth path observed. In addition to obtaining a strong R-Square value, it is indeed a requirement to accept that an exponential growth curve (or exponential regression curve) offers a robust model on which observed data points are distributed randomly on each side of the curve. Consequently, it is possible that in the future, additional data points will show that a slowdown had not actually occurred – it was merely the normal occurrence of yearly variation.

From exponential to linear growth

The three remaining hypotheses are compatible with the observation that nanoscience research has started to look like an s-shaped curve, a type of growth process observed in biological but also in scientific, technological and social systems. This is not really surprising, as a system can never grow indefinitely. There are also limits to growth, as the means necessary to produce anything are always finite. For instance, there are only a certain number of researchers who can work on nanotechnology and once they are all mobilized and have learnt everything they can to perform and publish research in this field efficiently, their rate of publication will inevitably stabilize. For this reason, the second hypothesis is simply that nanotechnology is maturing, and that future growth will be more linear than exponential.

A third hypothesis would be linked with the idea that the field may be momentarily experiencing a slowdown and that a further boom cycle is forthcoming. If this model is appropriate, it would be akin to what German researcher Ulrich Schmoch calls “double-boom cycles” (1). Schmoch argues that several domains, such as robotics and immobilized enzymes, evolved through an initial period of great patenting activity, followed by a slowdown and a less publicized follow-up cycle of high-frequency patenting. It is therefore possible that nanotechnology would be undergoing a slowdown after an initial boom in publishing and patenting and that a second boom would be forthcoming.

Obliteration by incorporation

The fourth hypothesis is that the use of nanoscale R&D is increasingly incorporated into mainstream S&T, which means that it is no longer being specifically mentioned as often or as prominently by researchers in their scientific publications and patents. This would mean that nanotechnology is undergoing a process analogous to “obliteration by incorporation”. This concept, described by Robert Merton (2), suggests a process by which the origin of an idea is forgotten due to prolonged use, as it enters the mainstream language of academic disciplines, and is thereafter no longer linked with its originators. An analogous situation in the development of a scientific discipline is provided by developments in the field of genomics. In this field, it was common in the 1990s to mention the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method in the title and the abstract of papers, but this was subsequently obliterated by incorporation. Indeed, it is now considered obvious that if one carries out gene sequencing, the PCR method is used. The same may be true of nanotechnology today and researchers may not mention that they are working at the nanoscale level as it may be deemed obvious to knowledgeable practitioners.

For further information about these reports, please click here.

References:

(1) Schmoch, U. (2007) “Double-boom cycles and the comeback of science-push and market-pull”, Research Policy, Vol. 36, issue 7, pp. 1000–1015.
(2) Merton, R.K. (1949) Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.
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Why did you cite…?

In this section, we ask authors what motivated them to cite certain references. This issue we talk to authors who cited Nobel Prize winners and ask whether winning the Nobel Prize has a positive effect on a scientist’s citation inflow.

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In 2001, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Leland H. Hartwell, R. Timothy Hunt and Sir Paul M. Nurse “for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle”. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in the same year was awarded to George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz “for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information”.

The annual rate of increase in total citation inflow to the growing collection of these Nobel laureates’ papers did not change appreciably after 2001. But was there any change in the reason for these citations being made?

It does not appear so. Professor Kathleen Gould, of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, USA comments that she cites Nurse’s work “because 1) some are also my papers and I cite my old work as background for my new work and 2) our work overlaps in subject matter. I haven’t changed my citation patterns since 2001”.

Professor Paul Russell of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA echoes this: “There was no change for my reasons in citing his work after his receipt of the Nobel Prize. I was [already] well acquainted with his work, and he was already a highly respected and influential leader in my field of research, so the prize didn’t really change my citation pattern.”

The Nobel Prize also seems to have had no effect on the reasons for Stiglitz’ publications being cited, despite economics having very different citation characteristics from physiology and medicine. Professor Philip Arestis of Cambridge University states: “The reason I cited [him] is very obvious: he had undertaken and published relevant and good work; that is the reason and nothing else.”

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In 2001, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Leland H. Hartwell, R. Timothy Hunt and Sir Paul M. Nurse “for their discoveries of key regulators of the cell cycle”. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in the same year was awarded to George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz “for their analyses of markets with asymmetric information”.

The annual rate of increase in total citation inflow to the growing collection of these Nobel laureates’ papers did not change appreciably after 2001. But was there any change in the reason for these citations being made?

It does not appear so. Professor Kathleen Gould, of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, USA comments that she cites Nurse’s work “because 1) some are also my papers and I cite my old work as background for my new work and 2) our work overlaps in subject matter. I haven’t changed my citation patterns since 2001”.

Professor Paul Russell of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, USA echoes this: “There was no change for my reasons in citing his work after his receipt of the Nobel Prize. I was [already] well acquainted with his work, and he was already a highly respected and influential leader in my field of research, so the prize didn’t really change my citation pattern.”

The Nobel Prize also seems to have had no effect on the reasons for Stiglitz’ publications being cited, despite economics having very different citation characteristics from physiology and medicine. Professor Philip Arestis of Cambridge University states: “The reason I cited [him] is very obvious: he had undertaken and published relevant and good work; that is the reason and nothing else.”

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Social sciences literature in citation databases

Social scientists have traditionally published more often in monographs than journals, when compared to fundamental and applied science researchers. However, the last 40 years have seen a continuing trend towards publication in journals, resulting in more citation information for the social sciences being indexed in citation databases. Professor Charles Oppenheim assesses the databases with social sciences coverage.

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Scholarly communication in the social sciences differs from that in the pure sciences. Social scientists publish more often in monographs than journals, when compared to fundamental and applied science researchers. Monographs and their references are not systematically indexed in databases. It is estimated that journal articles account for 45-70% of research output in the social sciences, depending on the discipline (1). As a result, citation studies in these fields require additional care since they can give an incomplete and inaccurate representation of research output if they focus only on journal articles.

Professor Charles Oppenheim, an information scientist for 40 years, and currently Head of Information Science at Loughborough University, UK, has found, however, that there is a continuing trend in the social sciences to publish increasingly in journals. “After World War II, science was seen as successful, a paradigm: it cured diseases, created energy supplies and so on,” he says. “Social sciences felt a bit like Cinderella; they were left out of the funding and grammar of science. Subconsciously, social scientists thought that if they aped pure science, one way of which was to publish in journals, then they might be able to get a larger slice of the funding pie.”

Assessing social sciences output

He continues, “A much more conscious reason is things like the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK, the principal method by which university research funding decisions have been made since 1986. The RAE typically requires each individual who is being returned by a university for consideration to identify four of his/her publications for evaluation. If you’re working on a monograph between each assessment – which takes place roughly every four years - you won’t have four papers available, and producing four monographs in that time is unrealistic.” The RAE will take place in its present form for the last time this year, and it is expected that future assessments will be based, at least in part, on bibliometrics. This will make citation counts increasingly important for all the sciences.

So how does one analyze research output in the social sciences? In 2006, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a research funding and training agency in the UK, asked Professor Oppenheim to help it answer this question. “The ESRC was under pressure from the British government to come up with a measure of the quality of social sciences research conducted in the UK, compared to research done elsewhere. It could find no single database that supplied this information and so asked me to conduct research into the databases available and suggest which one would be the best to use for this study,” says Oppenheim. “Until quite recently, Thomson’s Web of Science (WoS) was the only credible database which had reasonable social sciences coverage and provided citation indexing. In the last years, CSA Illumina, Google Scholar and Scopus have also entered the market, offering a similar service. My research thus covered these four databases. Their holdings and citation records were assessed against two sets of data: one from the 2001 RAE, the other from the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, a bibliography managed by the London School of Economics and Political Science.”

Analyzing the results

The results of the research have since been published in the Journal of Informetrics (2). They suggest that of the four databases studied, WoS and Scopus offer the best social sciences coverage at journal, article and cited reference level. Both have a comprehensive ‘cover-to-cover’ indexing policy, although Scopus’ coverage only captures references for documents published after 1995. In citation searches carried out for records published after 1995, Oppenheim found that there was a 5.4% advantage in Scopus’ favor. CSA Illumina fared best when it came to foreign language journal coverage.

“Despite Scopus’ limited coverage of foreign language journals, something I suggest it consider extending for goodwill purposes, my research concluded that Scopus, with good coverage and sufficient tools to analyze citation counts, is arguably the best choice of the four databases reviewed and could be used as an alternative to WoS to evaluate research impact in the social sciences.”

Professor Oppenheim’s full article and methodology can be found here.

References:

(1) Archambault, É., Vignola Gagné, É. (2004), “The use of bibliometrics in the social sciences and humanities”, Science-Metrix Report, pp.3
(2) Norris, M., Oppenheim, C. (2007) “Comparing alternatives to the Web of Science for coverage of the social sciences’ literature”, Journal of Informetrics, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.161-169.
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Scholarly communication in the social sciences differs from that in the pure sciences. Social scientists publish more often in monographs than journals, when compared to fundamental and applied science researchers. Monographs and their references are not systematically indexed in databases. It is estimated that journal articles account for 45-70% of research output in the social sciences, depending on the discipline (1). As a result, citation studies in these fields require additional care since they can give an incomplete and inaccurate representation of research output if they focus only on journal articles.

Professor Charles Oppenheim, an information scientist for 40 years, and currently Head of Information Science at Loughborough University, UK, has found, however, that there is a continuing trend in the social sciences to publish increasingly in journals. “After World War II, science was seen as successful, a paradigm: it cured diseases, created energy supplies and so on,” he says. “Social sciences felt a bit like Cinderella; they were left out of the funding and grammar of science. Subconsciously, social scientists thought that if they aped pure science, one way of which was to publish in journals, then they might be able to get a larger slice of the funding pie.”

Assessing social sciences output

He continues, “A much more conscious reason is things like the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK, the principal method by which university research funding decisions have been made since 1986. The RAE typically requires each individual who is being returned by a university for consideration to identify four of his/her publications for evaluation. If you’re working on a monograph between each assessment – which takes place roughly every four years - you won’t have four papers available, and producing four monographs in that time is unrealistic.” The RAE will take place in its present form for the last time this year, and it is expected that future assessments will be based, at least in part, on bibliometrics. This will make citation counts increasingly important for all the sciences.

So how does one analyze research output in the social sciences? In 2006, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a research funding and training agency in the UK, asked Professor Oppenheim to help it answer this question. “The ESRC was under pressure from the British government to come up with a measure of the quality of social sciences research conducted in the UK, compared to research done elsewhere. It could find no single database that supplied this information and so asked me to conduct research into the databases available and suggest which one would be the best to use for this study,” says Oppenheim. “Until quite recently, Thomson’s Web of Science (WoS) was the only credible database which had reasonable social sciences coverage and provided citation indexing. In the last years, CSA Illumina, Google Scholar and Scopus have also entered the market, offering a similar service. My research thus covered these four databases. Their holdings and citation records were assessed against two sets of data: one from the 2001 RAE, the other from the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, a bibliography managed by the London School of Economics and Political Science.”

Analyzing the results

The results of the research have since been published in the Journal of Informetrics (2). They suggest that of the four databases studied, WoS and Scopus offer the best social sciences coverage at journal, article and cited reference level. Both have a comprehensive ‘cover-to-cover’ indexing policy, although Scopus’ coverage only captures references for documents published after 1995. In citation searches carried out for records published after 1995, Oppenheim found that there was a 5.4% advantage in Scopus’ favor. CSA Illumina fared best when it came to foreign language journal coverage.

“Despite Scopus’ limited coverage of foreign language journals, something I suggest it consider extending for goodwill purposes, my research concluded that Scopus, with good coverage and sufficient tools to analyze citation counts, is arguably the best choice of the four databases reviewed and could be used as an alternative to WoS to evaluate research impact in the social sciences.”

Professor Oppenheim’s full article and methodology can be found here.

References:

(1) Archambault, É., Vignola Gagné, É. (2004), “The use of bibliometrics in the social sciences and humanities”, Science-Metrix Report, pp.3
(2) Norris, M., Oppenheim, C. (2007) “Comparing alternatives to the Web of Science for coverage of the social sciences’ literature”, Journal of Informetrics, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.161-169.
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Focus on China: the trajectory of Chinese research

Chinese article output has increased 18% per annum over the last 10 years, and the share of global articles with at least one Chinese author grew from 3% in 1997 to almost 13% in 2006. What is driving this growth and what effect is it having on the global research landscape?

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Since the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng almost 1,000 years ago, China has had a long tradition of disseminating the printed word. In the 21st century, the growth in scholarly journal articles by Chinese authors has been nothing short of prodigious. How can we track this growth, and what has its effect on the global research landscape been?

“China has pursued a program of modernization for over 30 years, in particular by increasing the contribution of scientific innovations to the economy,” says Sharon Ruwart, Managing Director of Science & Technology for Elsevier China. “This is helping the country move beyond agriculture and manufacturing into higher value-added production with more indigenous innovation.”

This policy focus has contributed to an exponential increase in Chinese article output of 18% per annum over the last 10 years (Figure 1). As a result, the share of global articles with at least one Chinese author has grown from 3% in 1997 to almost 13% in 2006. In 2006, 49% of these articles were published in English and 51% in Chinese, a ratio that has remained more or less stable over the last decade.

Figure 1 – Number of articles published by Chinese researchers in all languages (dark blue) and those in the Chinese language (light blue) 1997-2006. Source: Scopus

According to Ruwart, this rapid growth seems likely to continue: “The government clearly signalled the high priority it places on science by unveiling a 15-year plan (2006-2020) to systematically invest in designated fields of science and technology, with associated goals for each. One of the plan's key benchmarks is an increase in R&D expenditure from 1.4% to 2.5% of GDP. Underlying GDP growth is estimated to quadruple between 2000 and 2020.”

Other factors contributing to the dramatic increase in scholarly output in the last decade include government and university incentives to publish in international journals, increased exposure to the journal literature via online platforms since the late 1990s and expanded enrolment in higher research degrees since 2000.

The influence of Chinese research on the rest of the world can be gauged by looking at the most influential articles authored solely by authors based in China. The top 14 have collectively been cited more than 6,000 times to date (Table 1). However, according to Martin Tanke, Managing Director of Science & Technology Journals Publishing at Elsevier, “This table masks the quality gap we currently see between well-established international research and the typical low impact of many Chinese papers. But this is starting to change as China moves away from its focus on quantity alone.”

First author

Main affiliation

Article title

Year

Journal

Cites to Feb 2008

Yu J.

Beijing Genomics Institute, Center of Genomics and Bioinformatics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

A draft sequence of the rice genome (Oryza sativa L. ssp. indica)

2002

Science

987

Han W.

Department of Physics, Center of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing

Synthesis of gallium nitride nanorods through a carbon nanotube- confined reaction

1997

Science

806

Shen Z.-X.

Shanghai Institute of Hematology, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Second Medical University, Shanghai

Use of arsenic trioxide (As2O3) in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (AFL): II. Clinical efficacy and pharmacokinetics in relapsed patients

1997

Blood

576

Guan Y.

Department of Microbiology, University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong

Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animals in Southern China

2003

Science

451

Kong Y.C.

Department of Physics, Mesoscopic Physics National Laboratory, Peking University, Beijing

Ultraviolet-emitting ZnO nanowires synthesized by a physical vapor deposition approach

2001

Applied Physics Letters

391

Liu L.

State Key Laboratory of Engineering Plastics, Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Studies on Nylon 6/Clay Nanocomposites by Melt-Intercalation Process

1999

Journal of Applied Polymer Science

385

Fan E.

Institute of Mathematics, Fudan University, Shanghai

Extended tanh-function method and its applications to nonlinear equations

2000

Physics Letters SectionA

370

Chen G.-Q.

Shanghai Institute of Hematology, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Second Medical University, Shanghai

Use of arsenic trioxide (As2O3) in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL): I. As2O3 exerts dose-dependent dual effects on APL cells

1997

Blood

349

Lin B.

Structure Research Laboratory, Academia Sinca, University of Science and Technology, Hefei

Green luminescent center in undoped zinc oxide films deposited on silicon substrates

2001

Applied Physics Letters

331

Lo C.-M.

Center for the Study of Liver Disease, University of Hong Kong Medical Center, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong

Randomized controlled trial of transarterial Lipiodol chemoembolization for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma

2002

Hepatology

313

Luo H.

Department of Chemistry, Peking University, Beijing

Investigation of the electrochemical and electrocatalytic behavior of single-wall carbon nanotube film on a glassy carbon electrode

2001

Analytical Chemistry

311

Zheng S.-B.

Department of Physics, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei

Efficient scheme for two-atom entanglement and quantum information processing in cavity QED

2000

Physical Review Letters

300

Feng L.

Center of Molecular Sciences, Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Super-hydrophobic surfaces: From natural to artificial

2002

Advanced Materials

289

Wang J.

College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing

Direct electrochemistry of cytochrome c at a glassy carbon electrode modified with single-wall carbon nanotubes

2002

Analytical Chemistry

276

Table 1 – Top-cited articles published solely by Chinese researchers 1997-2006, with citations received to date. Source: Scopus

China’s traditional research strengths have been in Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, but recently its developing expertise in the Health and Life Sciences has begun to emerge (Figure 2). Tanke continues: “In China there is an enormous emphasis on applied science rather than pure science, as research is expected to deliver tangible benefits to society such as highways, dams, hybrid crops, satellite systems and vaccines.”

Figure 2 - Proportion of journal articles in selected subject areas published by Chinese researchers in 2006. Source: Scopus

Given the high hopes that science will help sustain the country's continued development, the coming years will continue to see China expand and deepen its research capabilities. This is not a temporary phenomenon; as a science power, China is here to stay.

To see the citation report of six countries, including China and Australia, please click here.

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Since the invention of movable type printing by Bi Sheng almost 1,000 years ago, China has had a long tradition of disseminating the printed word. In the 21st century, the growth in scholarly journal articles by Chinese authors has been nothing short of prodigious. How can we track this growth, and what has its effect on the global research landscape been?

“China has pursued a program of modernization for over 30 years, in particular by increasing the contribution of scientific innovations to the economy,” says Sharon Ruwart, Managing Director of Science & Technology for Elsevier China. “This is helping the country move beyond agriculture and manufacturing into higher value-added production with more indigenous innovation.”

This policy focus has contributed to an exponential increase in Chinese article output of 18% per annum over the last 10 years (Figure 1). As a result, the share of global articles with at least one Chinese author has grown from 3% in 1997 to almost 13% in 2006. In 2006, 49% of these articles were published in English and 51% in Chinese, a ratio that has remained more or less stable over the last decade.

Figure 1 – Number of articles published by Chinese researchers in all languages (dark blue) and those in the Chinese language (light blue) 1997-2006. Source: Scopus

According to Ruwart, this rapid growth seems likely to continue: “The government clearly signalled the high priority it places on science by unveiling a 15-year plan (2006-2020) to systematically invest in designated fields of science and technology, with associated goals for each. One of the plan's key benchmarks is an increase in R&D expenditure from 1.4% to 2.5% of GDP. Underlying GDP growth is estimated to quadruple between 2000 and 2020.”

Other factors contributing to the dramatic increase in scholarly output in the last decade include government and university incentives to publish in international journals, increased exposure to the journal literature via online platforms since the late 1990s and expanded enrolment in higher research degrees since 2000.

The influence of Chinese research on the rest of the world can be gauged by looking at the most influential articles authored solely by authors based in China. The top 14 have collectively been cited more than 6,000 times to date (Table 1). However, according to Martin Tanke, Managing Director of Science & Technology Journals Publishing at Elsevier, “This table masks the quality gap we currently see between well-established international research and the typical low impact of many Chinese papers. But this is starting to change as China moves away from its focus on quantity alone.”

First author

Main affiliation

Article title

Year

Journal

Cites to Feb 2008

Yu J.

Beijing Genomics Institute, Center of Genomics and Bioinformatics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

A draft sequence of the rice genome (Oryza sativa L. ssp. indica)

2002

Science

987

Han W.

Department of Physics, Center of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing

Synthesis of gallium nitride nanorods through a carbon nanotube- confined reaction

1997

Science

806

Shen Z.-X.

Shanghai Institute of Hematology, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Second Medical University, Shanghai

Use of arsenic trioxide (As2O3) in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (AFL): II. Clinical efficacy and pharmacokinetics in relapsed patients

1997

Blood

576

Guan Y.

Department of Microbiology, University of Hong Kong, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong

Isolation and characterization of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus from animals in Southern China

2003

Science

451

Kong Y.C.

Department of Physics, Mesoscopic Physics National Laboratory, Peking University, Beijing

Ultraviolet-emitting ZnO nanowires synthesized by a physical vapor deposition approach

2001

Applied Physics Letters

391

Liu L.

State Key Laboratory of Engineering Plastics, Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Studies on Nylon 6/Clay Nanocomposites by Melt-Intercalation Process

1999

Journal of Applied Polymer Science

385

Fan E.

Institute of Mathematics, Fudan University, Shanghai

Extended tanh-function method and its applications to nonlinear equations

2000

Physics Letters SectionA

370

Chen G.-Q.

Shanghai Institute of Hematology, Ruijin Hospital, Shanghai Second Medical University, Shanghai

Use of arsenic trioxide (As2O3) in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL): I. As2O3 exerts dose-dependent dual effects on APL cells

1997

Blood

349

Lin B.

Structure Research Laboratory, Academia Sinca, University of Science and Technology, Hefei

Green luminescent center in undoped zinc oxide films deposited on silicon substrates

2001

Applied Physics Letters

331

Lo C.-M.

Center for the Study of Liver Disease, University of Hong Kong Medical Center, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong

Randomized controlled trial of transarterial Lipiodol chemoembolization for unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma

2002

Hepatology

313

Luo H.

Department of Chemistry, Peking University, Beijing

Investigation of the electrochemical and electrocatalytic behavior of single-wall carbon nanotube film on a glassy carbon electrode

2001

Analytical Chemistry

311

Zheng S.-B.

Department of Physics, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei

Efficient scheme for two-atom entanglement and quantum information processing in cavity QED

2000

Physical Review Letters

300

Feng L.

Center of Molecular Sciences, Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing

Super-hydrophobic surfaces: From natural to artificial

2002

Advanced Materials

289

Wang J.

College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering, Peking University, Beijing

Direct electrochemistry of cytochrome c at a glassy carbon electrode modified with single-wall carbon nanotubes

2002

Analytical Chemistry

276

Table 1 – Top-cited articles published solely by Chinese researchers 1997-2006, with citations received to date. Source: Scopus

China’s traditional research strengths have been in Physics, Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, but recently its developing expertise in the Health and Life Sciences has begun to emerge (Figure 2). Tanke continues: “In China there is an enormous emphasis on applied science rather than pure science, as research is expected to deliver tangible benefits to society such as highways, dams, hybrid crops, satellite systems and vaccines.”

Figure 2 - Proportion of journal articles in selected subject areas published by Chinese researchers in 2006. Source: Scopus

Given the high hopes that science will help sustain the country's continued development, the coming years will continue to see China expand and deepen its research capabilities. This is not a temporary phenomenon; as a science power, China is here to stay.

To see the citation report of six countries, including China and Australia, please click here.

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Australia: new government, new research opportunities

A new Australian government is already making an impact on research funding policies. Research Trends talks to Professor Alan Johnson AM about recent policy changes, as well as longer-term funding trends.

Read more >


With a new Labor government instated in Australia in December 2007, changes in research funding policy and procedure were expected. Now, four months into its term of office, the government has instigated a number of reviews of science and technology and is beginning to announce the impact that these will have.

When it comes to opportunities to attract research funding in Australia, there are at least 130 different funding schemes to which academics can apply via the Australian Competitive Grants Register (ACGR). However, universities also receive so-called ‘block funding’ from the government based on several factors (Figure 1), especially student profile; this includes student numbers and type of discipline.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is an authority whose mission is to advance Australia's research excellence, to be globally competitive and deliver benefits to the community. In doing so, it advises the government on research matters and manages the National Competitive Grants Program (part of the ACGR), a significant component of Australia's investment in research and development. At the time of writing, the Australian government has suggested that it will preserve the independence of the ARC, for which it has already established an independent advisory council.

Meanwhile, the government has committed to creating a charter for public research agencies including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. The charter aims to identify the responsibilities of each organization to guarantee that they carry them out.

Promoting flexibility

But what do these changes mean for individual researchers and institutions? We ask Professor Alan Johnson AM, industry expert at Research Management Services International, to elucidate. He succinctly shares his own definitions of research and innovation: “I define research as turning money into knowledge, and innovation as turning knowledge into money.”

He goes on to explain how this applies to the situation in Australia: “The government aims to determine how the national innovation system (the flow of technology and information among people, enterprises and institutions which is key to the innovative process on the national level) should perform in order to improve both innovation and research. In practice, this means two major changes: firstly, there is likely to be a radical shift from centralized sectoral reform to mission-based compacts between the commonwealth and individual institutions. This will promote operational flexibility, and covers education, research and research training, community outreach and innovation. This will allow universities in particular to negotiate with the government to determine their own research priorities.”

Secondly, the Research Quality Framework (RQF) project has been abolished. The RQF was intended to be a national assessment of university research based around measuring quality and impact, similar to the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise. The government has suggested that it will use a more metrics-based system instead. While universities are able to put funds that they had allocated internally for administrating the RQF back into research, competition for funding from the ACGR schemes is likely to intensify.

Funding trends

While the overall amount of money allocated to research in 2008 is not expected to rise significantly from 2007 levels, there has been a shift in research priorities over the last seven years. Higher education research expenditure on commerce and management increased by 51% between 2001 and 2005, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The expenditure on Earth Sciences, however, rose far less during the same period: 21% for Biological Sciences, 27% for Chemistry, 17% for Physics and 31% for Mathematical Science. “As a result,” Johnson concludes, “Australia may have a significant knowledge and expertise gap in science and technology in the coming years.”

Figure 1 - Apparent flows of funding and spending (in Australian dollars). Source: ‘Public support for science and innovation’ by Australian Government Productivity Commission, March 9, 2007.

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

With a new Labor government instated in Australia in December 2007, changes in research funding policy and procedure were expected. Now, four months into its term of office, the government has instigated a number of reviews of science and technology and is beginning to announce the impact that these will have.

When it comes to opportunities to attract research funding in Australia, there are at least 130 different funding schemes to which academics can apply via the Australian Competitive Grants Register (ACGR). However, universities also receive so-called ‘block funding’ from the government based on several factors (Figure 1), especially student profile; this includes student numbers and type of discipline.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is an authority whose mission is to advance Australia's research excellence, to be globally competitive and deliver benefits to the community. In doing so, it advises the government on research matters and manages the National Competitive Grants Program (part of the ACGR), a significant component of Australia's investment in research and development. At the time of writing, the Australian government has suggested that it will preserve the independence of the ARC, for which it has already established an independent advisory council.

Meanwhile, the government has committed to creating a charter for public research agencies including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. The charter aims to identify the responsibilities of each organization to guarantee that they carry them out.

Promoting flexibility

But what do these changes mean for individual researchers and institutions? We ask Professor Alan Johnson AM, industry expert at Research Management Services International, to elucidate. He succinctly shares his own definitions of research and innovation: “I define research as turning money into knowledge, and innovation as turning knowledge into money.”

He goes on to explain how this applies to the situation in Australia: “The government aims to determine how the national innovation system (the flow of technology and information among people, enterprises and institutions which is key to the innovative process on the national level) should perform in order to improve both innovation and research. In practice, this means two major changes: firstly, there is likely to be a radical shift from centralized sectoral reform to mission-based compacts between the commonwealth and individual institutions. This will promote operational flexibility, and covers education, research and research training, community outreach and innovation. This will allow universities in particular to negotiate with the government to determine their own research priorities.”

Secondly, the Research Quality Framework (RQF) project has been abolished. The RQF was intended to be a national assessment of university research based around measuring quality and impact, similar to the UK’s Research Assessment Exercise. The government has suggested that it will use a more metrics-based system instead. While universities are able to put funds that they had allocated internally for administrating the RQF back into research, competition for funding from the ACGR schemes is likely to intensify.

Funding trends

While the overall amount of money allocated to research in 2008 is not expected to rise significantly from 2007 levels, there has been a shift in research priorities over the last seven years. Higher education research expenditure on commerce and management increased by 51% between 2001 and 2005, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The expenditure on Earth Sciences, however, rose far less during the same period: 21% for Biological Sciences, 27% for Chemistry, 17% for Physics and 31% for Mathematical Science. “As a result,” Johnson concludes, “Australia may have a significant knowledge and expertise gap in science and technology in the coming years.”

Figure 1 - Apparent flows of funding and spending (in Australian dollars). Source: ‘Public support for science and innovation’ by Australian Government Productivity Commission, March 9, 2007.

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The secret life of the Nobels

Winning a Nobel Prize is one of the highest achievements in many fields of science, but how are Laureates actually chosen? Research Trends investigates and finds that everything is shrouded in secrecy.

Read more >


There are many ways of assessing a particular researcher’s contribution to science and mankind, and Nobel Prizes have been recognized as an indicator of outstanding impact for over 100 years. They are so well regarded that having a Laureate on staff can significantly boost a university’s ranking.

As such a respected and definitive recognition of scholarly value in a number of fields of human endeavor, Research Trends investigates how Nobel Laureates are selected.

Selection process (e.g. “Physiology or Medicine”)

The Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine sends nomination forms to around 3,000 selected professors, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, and members of the Nobel Assembly, among others. The completed forms must reach the Nobel Committee by January 31 of the following year. The Committee screens the nominations, and then sends a list of preliminary candidates to specially appointed experts who assess the candidates’ work. The Committee then submits its recommended candidates to the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, which selects the Nobel Laureate by majority vote. (1) For more information, visit Nobel.org.

Veil of secrecy

According to Nobel.org., the statutes of the Nobel Foundation specifically: “restrict disclosure of information about the nominations […] for 50 years. The restriction concerns the nominees and nominators, as well as investigations and opinions related to the award of a prize.” (1)

The selection processes in the scientific fields of Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine is run along very similar lines (see box for an overview). Those eligible to nominate and how they are selected, as well as whom they nominate and how they themselves judge candidates, are secret for 50 years. The Nobel Committee also appoints experts to assess the preliminary candidates. Again, who these people are, how they are selected and what weight their opinion has is not disclosed. The Laureates are finally selected through majority vote.

It seems fair to imagine that bibliometrics might be consulted at some stage of the lengthy process. As journal editors and university administrators already know, determining excellence is a difficult job.

Since the Nobel Committee clearly uses peer nomination and review, we asked the Chairmen of two Nobel Committees whether they pay attention to metrics. Lars Thelander, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, and Ingemar Lundström, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, declined to reveal anything: “I regret to tell you that all details on the internal prize work in the Committees are secret for […] 50 years and therefore I cannot answer your questions.”

Bias and influence

However, the 50-year restriction means archives prior to 1960 are open to researchers. This is still too early to investigate whether bibliometrics were used, but researchers are shedding light on how decisions are made behind this veil of secrecy.

Elisabeth Crawford has conducted research in the Nobel archives since they were opened to scholars in 1974. In “Nobel: Always the Winners, Never the Losers”, she lists some of the things she has learned: “[...] that Einstein’s award of the physics prize of 1921 for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect rather than for his theory of special relativity was due to the incapacity of members of the Nobel Committee for Physics to grapple with theoretical physics and their reluctance to reward ‘speculations’ such as relativity theory; […] and that Lise Meitner’s exclusion from the 1944 chemistry prize awarded Otto Hahn for the discovery of nuclear fission resulted from a complex set of circumstances in which the chemistry committee’s difficulty of evaluating an interdisciplinary discovery, Sweden’s scientific and political isolation during the Second World War, and a lack of sensitivity to the ravages of racial persecution all figured prominently.” (2)

Meanwhile, in “Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine”, Erling Norrby from The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences casts doubt on the 1951 nomination and selection process for Max Theiler, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his yellow fever vaccine. (3) While there is no question that this vaccine has benefited mankind, it is the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine. And more curious is how he was nominated. Late on January 31, 1951, the deadline for nominations, the Chairman of the Committee, Vice-Chancellor of the Karolinska Institutet and Professor of Pathology Hilding Bergstrand, nominated Theiler. Bergstrand then performed the evaluation. (3)

According to Crawford: “Committee members’ own ideas about the kind of scientific work that should be honored with awards played a major role. In this they were guided both by their own research interests and by prior prize decisions.”

What we can learn?

Research into the archives also reveals how much depends on the final vote. For instance, while Theiler won his Nobel Prize based on just three nominations, only one of which was detailed, Selman A. Waksman was nominated 39 times in six years before winning. (3)

Crawford calculates that each candidate, whether winning or losing, was nominated on average eight times. (2) “However, this figure masks the much higher number of nominations accumulated by perennial losers such as the physicists Arnold Sommerfeld (74), Vilhelm Bjerknes (54) and Friedrich Paschen (45), and the chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (42).

She believes that: “Learning the names of the candidates and of those who nominated them as well as the specific scientific work for which they were put forth provides much information not only about what was considered scientific achievement in the first half of the 20th century, but also about who were considered the important scientists and the relations between them.”

To this, we could add that learning the selection criteria would provide much information on how Nobel Laureates are selected, thus shedding light on what kind of discovery one of the most prestigious scientific prizes considers worthy of recognition.

If you have any comments on this story, or have done any research on this subject, we would love you hear from you. Please use our feedback facility.

References:

(1) “Nomination and Selection of Medicine Laureates”, Nobelprize.org., Oct. 17, 2010.
(2)
Crawford, E. (1998) “Nobel: Always the Winners, Never the Losers”, Science, Vol. 282, No. 5392, pp. 1256–1257, DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5392.1256.
(3) Norrby, E. (2007) “Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine”, The Journal of Experimental Medicine, pp. 2779–2784.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

There are many ways of assessing a particular researcher’s contribution to science and mankind, and Nobel Prizes have been recognized as an indicator of outstanding impact for over 100 years. They are so well regarded that having a Laureate on staff can significantly boost a university’s ranking.

As such a respected and definitive recognition of scholarly value in a number of fields of human endeavor, Research Trends investigates how Nobel Laureates are selected.

Selection process (e.g. “Physiology or Medicine”)

The Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine sends nomination forms to around 3,000 selected professors, Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, and members of the Nobel Assembly, among others. The completed forms must reach the Nobel Committee by January 31 of the following year. The Committee screens the nominations, and then sends a list of preliminary candidates to specially appointed experts who assess the candidates’ work. The Committee then submits its recommended candidates to the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet, which selects the Nobel Laureate by majority vote. (1) For more information, visit Nobel.org.

Veil of secrecy

According to Nobel.org., the statutes of the Nobel Foundation specifically: “restrict disclosure of information about the nominations […] for 50 years. The restriction concerns the nominees and nominators, as well as investigations and opinions related to the award of a prize.” (1)

The selection processes in the scientific fields of Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine is run along very similar lines (see box for an overview). Those eligible to nominate and how they are selected, as well as whom they nominate and how they themselves judge candidates, are secret for 50 years. The Nobel Committee also appoints experts to assess the preliminary candidates. Again, who these people are, how they are selected and what weight their opinion has is not disclosed. The Laureates are finally selected through majority vote.

It seems fair to imagine that bibliometrics might be consulted at some stage of the lengthy process. As journal editors and university administrators already know, determining excellence is a difficult job.

Since the Nobel Committee clearly uses peer nomination and review, we asked the Chairmen of two Nobel Committees whether they pay attention to metrics. Lars Thelander, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, and Ingemar Lundström, Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, declined to reveal anything: “I regret to tell you that all details on the internal prize work in the Committees are secret for […] 50 years and therefore I cannot answer your questions.”

Bias and influence

However, the 50-year restriction means archives prior to 1960 are open to researchers. This is still too early to investigate whether bibliometrics were used, but researchers are shedding light on how decisions are made behind this veil of secrecy.

Elisabeth Crawford has conducted research in the Nobel archives since they were opened to scholars in 1974. In “Nobel: Always the Winners, Never the Losers”, she lists some of the things she has learned: “[...] that Einstein’s award of the physics prize of 1921 for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect rather than for his theory of special relativity was due to the incapacity of members of the Nobel Committee for Physics to grapple with theoretical physics and their reluctance to reward ‘speculations’ such as relativity theory; […] and that Lise Meitner’s exclusion from the 1944 chemistry prize awarded Otto Hahn for the discovery of nuclear fission resulted from a complex set of circumstances in which the chemistry committee’s difficulty of evaluating an interdisciplinary discovery, Sweden’s scientific and political isolation during the Second World War, and a lack of sensitivity to the ravages of racial persecution all figured prominently.” (2)

Meanwhile, in “Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine”, Erling Norrby from The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences casts doubt on the 1951 nomination and selection process for Max Theiler, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his yellow fever vaccine. (3) While there is no question that this vaccine has benefited mankind, it is the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine. And more curious is how he was nominated. Late on January 31, 1951, the deadline for nominations, the Chairman of the Committee, Vice-Chancellor of the Karolinska Institutet and Professor of Pathology Hilding Bergstrand, nominated Theiler. Bergstrand then performed the evaluation. (3)

According to Crawford: “Committee members’ own ideas about the kind of scientific work that should be honored with awards played a major role. In this they were guided both by their own research interests and by prior prize decisions.”

What we can learn?

Research into the archives also reveals how much depends on the final vote. For instance, while Theiler won his Nobel Prize based on just three nominations, only one of which was detailed, Selman A. Waksman was nominated 39 times in six years before winning. (3)

Crawford calculates that each candidate, whether winning or losing, was nominated on average eight times. (2) “However, this figure masks the much higher number of nominations accumulated by perennial losers such as the physicists Arnold Sommerfeld (74), Vilhelm Bjerknes (54) and Friedrich Paschen (45), and the chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (42).

She believes that: “Learning the names of the candidates and of those who nominated them as well as the specific scientific work for which they were put forth provides much information not only about what was considered scientific achievement in the first half of the 20th century, but also about who were considered the important scientists and the relations between them.”

To this, we could add that learning the selection criteria would provide much information on how Nobel Laureates are selected, thus shedding light on what kind of discovery one of the most prestigious scientific prizes considers worthy of recognition.

If you have any comments on this story, or have done any research on this subject, we would love you hear from you. Please use our feedback facility.

References:

(1) “Nomination and Selection of Medicine Laureates”, Nobelprize.org., Oct. 17, 2010.
(2)
Crawford, E. (1998) “Nobel: Always the Winners, Never the Losers”, Science, Vol. 282, No. 5392, pp. 1256–1257, DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5392.1256.
(3) Norrby, E. (2007) “Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine”, The Journal of Experimental Medicine, pp. 2779–2784.

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

Popularity or prestige: are you making the right impact?

You might not have won a Nobel Prize this time round, but how about having a Nobel Laureate cite your work? We speak to Ying Ding, Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, about quality over quantity in citation analysis.

Read more >


When researchers compile resumes quoting indices such as the h-index and citation counts, they often mention any prestigious journals they have published in. This is natural; even if your paper receives no citations, simply being admitted into a leading journal confers an element of prestige on your career.

However, have you ever wondered who is actually citing you? Being cited by your colleagues and junior researchers in your department is one thing, but what if your academic hero cites your work? Imagine finding out that your paper was read and acknowledged by the leading researcher(s) in your field; would that not be a more valuable indicator that your ideas are valuable? And what if a Nobel Prize winner cited your work in his or her next paper? How many “lesser” citations would you exchange for this single endorsement?

Professor Ying Ding

Professor Ying Ding

Who’s citing whom?

Ying Ding, Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, the US, believes citations from recognized experts should count for more. In a recent paper, co-authored with Blaise Cronin, “Popular and/or prestigious? Measures of scholarly esteem”, she explores whether taking the source of a citation into account can help identify groundbreaking contributions to a subject area, in this case, the field of information retrieval. (1)

Ding makes a clear distinction between: “popularity, which is how many citations a paper receives, irrelevant of who is making the citation, and prestige, which gives greater weight to citations coming from highly cited papers.”

She is concerned that raw citation counts might identify educational or other general-interest texts, especially review articles, as the most highly cited works in a field. It is possible to receive a large number of citations from non-experts, but Ding believes that experts in the field are more likely to be citing groundbreaking discoveries.

She explains: “I wanted to use citations to identify which papers were making real contributions to the field. I therefore decided to follow citations from recognized experts only. A real breakthrough is more likely to be recognized by thought leaders in a field, and so it is those citations I wanted to track,” she explains.

While there could be an element of circularity in using highly cited (popular) papers to determine prestige, Ding explains, “we could use peer review and other qualitative measures to pinpoint the leaders, but my objective was to find a quantitative measure of prestige. Based on the 80/20 rule of thumb [in which just 20 percent of all published papers attract 80 percent of citations], I only counted citations from this 20 percent.”

Essentially, Ding is using the most-cited papers in a field as a filter so she can use citations to distinguish between popularity and prestige, with prestige being a finer distinction.

Rising above the crowd

Separating out this 20 percent becomes even more useful when we remember how crowded academia is getting these days. The number of scientists, journals, papers and citations has been climbing exponentially. According to Ding, “now there are so many citations that we need to distinguish those that really indicate scientific impact.”

Many groups need to be able to identify prestige, either quickly or because they are not actually experts themselves. Journal editors need to efficiently find the best experts for peer review, while research institutes, governments and other sources of funding need to be able to identify the best targets. “With more competition for scarcer funding, it is becoming increasingly important for the people who make these decisions to identify where they will get the best return on investment: that is obviously by directing funding at the researchers most likely to create value and impact as a result,” says Ding.

Real quality lasts

Ding sorts her authors into two tables showing the top-10 for prestige and for popularity over a 50-year time period. By checking the names at the top of these tables, Ding finds that the authors identified as prestigious remain in the top-10 for far longer than those who are popular.

She explains: “Popularity doesn’t last because ideas and technologies change. This is why prestige is a better way to identify groundbreaking papers. For instance, a textbook might initially receive a lot of citations, but (depending on how fast the field moves) this will eventually become outdated. On the other hand, real contributions to a field will be cited for a long time. If a paper introduces concepts or terminologies that become building blocks in the field, then many people will cite them for a longer time.”

Some papers are only identified as prestigious, indicating they are only receiving citations from the most-cited papers. This suggests that the content is so innovative that only the leaders in the field are capable of identifying their importance. Ding points out: “If we don’t weight citations, these papers would fall to the bottom of the list, as they don’t receive a high number of citations. However, if the experts are citing this work, it is important that we can see this.”

From popularity to prestige

According to Ding, prestige should be the ultimate aim of all scientists, since this means you have contributed something of real and lasting value to your field.

“Ultimately, ‘prestige’ measures whether you have made significant contributions, which first requires experience and deep understanding of your subject. Not everyone can become a thought leader, and measuring prestige helps us understand which researchers have achieved this level. It helps us understand which authors are being read by the best researchers,” she explains.

And how should researchers work towards this prestige? According to Ding, “you have to write better papers! My strategy starts with only reading the best papers. It’s not possible to read everything, so you should limit your reading to the very best journals and papers in your field. You also need to reserve time for critical thinking. Keep asking yourself ‘what is missing, what can I add?’ There’s no point following the crowd.”

And what about Ding herself; is she putting her theory into practice? “Prestige is obviously my ultimate ambition because that would mean I’ve managed to make a lasting contribution, but I first need to make myself highly cited, so this is what I’m currently working towards.”

Reference:

(1) Ding, Y. and Cronin, B. (2011) “Popular and/or Prestigious? Measures of Scholarly Esteem”, Information Processing and Management, Vol. 47, issue 1, pp. 80–96.

Additional reading:

1. Bollen, J.; Rodriguez, M.A.; and Van De Sompel, H. (2006) “Journal Status”, Scientometrics, issue 69, pp. 669–687.
2. González-Pereira, B.; Guerrero-Bote, V.P.; and Moya-Anegón, F. (2009) “The SJR indicator: A new indicator of journals’ scientific prestige”, arxiv.org/pdf/0912.4141.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

When researchers compile resumes quoting indices such as the h-index and citation counts, they often mention any prestigious journals they have published in. This is natural; even if your paper receives no citations, simply being admitted into a leading journal confers an element of prestige on your career.

However, have you ever wondered who is actually citing you? Being cited by your colleagues and junior researchers in your department is one thing, but what if your academic hero cites your work? Imagine finding out that your paper was read and acknowledged by the leading researcher(s) in your field; would that not be a more valuable indicator that your ideas are valuable? And what if a Nobel Prize winner cited your work in his or her next paper? How many “lesser” citations would you exchange for this single endorsement?

Professor Ying Ding

Professor Ying Ding

Who’s citing whom?

Ying Ding, Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University, the US, believes citations from recognized experts should count for more. In a recent paper, co-authored with Blaise Cronin, “Popular and/or prestigious? Measures of scholarly esteem”, she explores whether taking the source of a citation into account can help identify groundbreaking contributions to a subject area, in this case, the field of information retrieval. (1)

Ding makes a clear distinction between: “popularity, which is how many citations a paper receives, irrelevant of who is making the citation, and prestige, which gives greater weight to citations coming from highly cited papers.”

She is concerned that raw citation counts might identify educational or other general-interest texts, especially review articles, as the most highly cited works in a field. It is possible to receive a large number of citations from non-experts, but Ding believes that experts in the field are more likely to be citing groundbreaking discoveries.

She explains: “I wanted to use citations to identify which papers were making real contributions to the field. I therefore decided to follow citations from recognized experts only. A real breakthrough is more likely to be recognized by thought leaders in a field, and so it is those citations I wanted to track,” she explains.

While there could be an element of circularity in using highly cited (popular) papers to determine prestige, Ding explains, “we could use peer review and other qualitative measures to pinpoint the leaders, but my objective was to find a quantitative measure of prestige. Based on the 80/20 rule of thumb [in which just 20 percent of all published papers attract 80 percent of citations], I only counted citations from this 20 percent.”

Essentially, Ding is using the most-cited papers in a field as a filter so she can use citations to distinguish between popularity and prestige, with prestige being a finer distinction.

Rising above the crowd

Separating out this 20 percent becomes even more useful when we remember how crowded academia is getting these days. The number of scientists, journals, papers and citations has been climbing exponentially. According to Ding, “now there are so many citations that we need to distinguish those that really indicate scientific impact.”

Many groups need to be able to identify prestige, either quickly or because they are not actually experts themselves. Journal editors need to efficiently find the best experts for peer review, while research institutes, governments and other sources of funding need to be able to identify the best targets. “With more competition for scarcer funding, it is becoming increasingly important for the people who make these decisions to identify where they will get the best return on investment: that is obviously by directing funding at the researchers most likely to create value and impact as a result,” says Ding.

Real quality lasts

Ding sorts her authors into two tables showing the top-10 for prestige and for popularity over a 50-year time period. By checking the names at the top of these tables, Ding finds that the authors identified as prestigious remain in the top-10 for far longer than those who are popular.

She explains: “Popularity doesn’t last because ideas and technologies change. This is why prestige is a better way to identify groundbreaking papers. For instance, a textbook might initially receive a lot of citations, but (depending on how fast the field moves) this will eventually become outdated. On the other hand, real contributions to a field will be cited for a long time. If a paper introduces concepts or terminologies that become building blocks in the field, then many people will cite them for a longer time.”

Some papers are only identified as prestigious, indicating they are only receiving citations from the most-cited papers. This suggests that the content is so innovative that only the leaders in the field are capable of identifying their importance. Ding points out: “If we don’t weight citations, these papers would fall to the bottom of the list, as they don’t receive a high number of citations. However, if the experts are citing this work, it is important that we can see this.”

From popularity to prestige

According to Ding, prestige should be the ultimate aim of all scientists, since this means you have contributed something of real and lasting value to your field.

“Ultimately, ‘prestige’ measures whether you have made significant contributions, which first requires experience and deep understanding of your subject. Not everyone can become a thought leader, and measuring prestige helps us understand which researchers have achieved this level. It helps us understand which authors are being read by the best researchers,” she explains.

And how should researchers work towards this prestige? According to Ding, “you have to write better papers! My strategy starts with only reading the best papers. It’s not possible to read everything, so you should limit your reading to the very best journals and papers in your field. You also need to reserve time for critical thinking. Keep asking yourself ‘what is missing, what can I add?’ There’s no point following the crowd.”

And what about Ding herself; is she putting her theory into practice? “Prestige is obviously my ultimate ambition because that would mean I’ve managed to make a lasting contribution, but I first need to make myself highly cited, so this is what I’m currently working towards.”

Reference:

(1) Ding, Y. and Cronin, B. (2011) “Popular and/or Prestigious? Measures of Scholarly Esteem”, Information Processing and Management, Vol. 47, issue 1, pp. 80–96.

Additional reading:

1. Bollen, J.; Rodriguez, M.A.; and Van De Sompel, H. (2006) “Journal Status”, Scientometrics, issue 69, pp. 669–687.
2. González-Pereira, B.; Guerrero-Bote, V.P.; and Moya-Anegón, F. (2009) “The SJR indicator: A new indicator of journals’ scientific prestige”, arxiv.org/pdf/0912.4141.

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Where do Nobel Laureates come from?

The Nobel Prizes are awarded amid much secrecy in Sweden and Norway. Research Trends compares the global distribution of Laureates with country rankings based on citations to see how the Nobel Committees are measuring up.

Read more >


The Nobel Prizes are awarded by various institutions in Sweden and Norway, but does this Scandinavian outlook have any impact on the geographical distribution of Prize winners?

In his will, Nobel specified that: “It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.” (1)

According to country rankings based on the number of documents or citations, such as the SCImago country rankings, the leading nations in terms of article output are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Japan
  4. China
  5. Germany

And the leaders in terms of citations are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. France

The United States and Europe lead

The geographical distribution of the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences mirrors these results, with most Prize recipients coming from the US, the UK and Germany (see Figure 1). This prevalence persists for all subject areas (see Figures 2, 3, 4, 5) except for Germany for Economic Sciences. On a regional basis, most Laureates are, unsurprisingly, found in North America and Europe. Asia comes third due to Japan.

Figure 1 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 1 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award).

Figure 2 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 2 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 3 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award).

Figure 3 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 4 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 4 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 5 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 5 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Taking a look at national performance for specific subject areas, we find that Canada leads on Nobel Prizes for Chemistry while Russia is strong in Physics. Most Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences Prizes are won by Americans and Europeans, with the UK doing particularly well for Economic Sciences.

Emerging Laureates?

The Nobels have been awarded since 1901, and during this period of time, the leaders have remained relatively stable. However, the results of investment within emerging economies is already showing a rapid rise in output, and the most successful of these, such as China, are gaining prominence in country rankings. For instance, while China ranks fourth for output, according to SCImago, it still lags behind in terms of citations, ranking 12th overall. However, this rank does represent a steady upwards trend in citation impact over the years.

It will be interesting to see if this investment starts paying off in terms of recognition, both through citations as well as potentially receiving prestigious prizes. Due to the average 20-year delay between discovery and recognition in the context of the Nobel Prizes, this particular indicator will not start becoming apparent for some time yet.

Reference:

(1) “Full text of Alfred Nobel’s Will”, Nobelprize.org., Oct. 15, 2010.

Useful links:

BBC News – Which country has the best brains?

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The Nobel Prizes are awarded by various institutions in Sweden and Norway, but does this Scandinavian outlook have any impact on the geographical distribution of Prize winners?

In his will, Nobel specified that: “It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.” (1)

According to country rankings based on the number of documents or citations, such as the SCImago country rankings, the leading nations in terms of article output are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Japan
  4. China
  5. Germany

And the leaders in terms of citations are:

  1. The United States
  2. The United Kingdom
  3. Germany
  4. Japan
  5. France

The United States and Europe lead

The geographical distribution of the Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences mirrors these results, with most Prize recipients coming from the US, the UK and Germany (see Figure 1). This prevalence persists for all subject areas (see Figures 2, 3, 4, 5) except for Germany for Economic Sciences. On a regional basis, most Laureates are, unsurprisingly, found in North America and Europe. Asia comes third due to Japan.

Figure 1 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 1 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award).

Figure 2 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 2 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 3 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award).

Figure 3 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Economic Sciences (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 4 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 4 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physics (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 5 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Figure 5 – Geographical distribution of Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine (country of birth or affiliation at time of award). Source: NobelPrize.org

Taking a look at national performance for specific subject areas, we find that Canada leads on Nobel Prizes for Chemistry while Russia is strong in Physics. Most Physiology or Medicine, and Economic Sciences Prizes are won by Americans and Europeans, with the UK doing particularly well for Economic Sciences.

Emerging Laureates?

The Nobels have been awarded since 1901, and during this period of time, the leaders have remained relatively stable. However, the results of investment within emerging economies is already showing a rapid rise in output, and the most successful of these, such as China, are gaining prominence in country rankings. For instance, while China ranks fourth for output, according to SCImago, it still lags behind in terms of citations, ranking 12th overall. However, this rank does represent a steady upwards trend in citation impact over the years.

It will be interesting to see if this investment starts paying off in terms of recognition, both through citations as well as potentially receiving prestigious prizes. Due to the average 20-year delay between discovery and recognition in the context of the Nobel Prizes, this particular indicator will not start becoming apparent for some time yet.

Reference:

(1) “Full text of Alfred Nobel’s Will”, Nobelprize.org., Oct. 15, 2010.

Useful links:

BBC News – Which country has the best brains?

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Research Trends Image

Does a Nobel Prize lead to more citations?

At first sight, winning a Nobel Prize seems like exactly the sort of thing that will raise your profile, leading to increased citations and smoother funding applications. On the other hand, it could also bring high expectations for future success. Research Trends investigates the effects a Nobel Prize could have on your career.

Read more >


A Nobel Prize is considered by most as the pinnacle of scientific achievement, but does winning a Nobel Prize have any effect on the citations received by individual researchers?

For instance, it has been noted that citations can be used to indicate potential future Nobel Laureates (1, 2). Eugene Garfield’s research group found that among the 50 most highly cited primary authors in the Science Citation Index of 1967, six had already won the Nobel Prize and eight others went on to win. In addition, among the 50 most-cited authors in economics between 1966 and 1986, 15 had already won a Nobel Prize and two others received it between 1987 and 1991. However, while this indicates the power of citation analysis to forecast Nobel Prize winners, does it work the other way round: can Nobel Prizes indicate future citations?

Research Trends extracted the publication records of the winners of the 2000–2004 prizes in Chemistry, Economic Sciences, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine from Scopus. Annual 1996–2009 citations to this dataset, comprising more than 10,000 records, were then exported. Finally, the citations were matched by the year the Prizes were awarded to allow the data before and after the Prize to be compared (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards.

Figure 1 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards. Source: Scopus.

Figure 2 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners, by subject area, four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards.

Figure 2 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners, by subject area, four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards. Source: Scopus.

These analyses reveal no particularly large shift in citation rates between the “before Nobel” versus “after Nobel” time periods, which makes sense, as the prizes are usually received many years after the award-winning research has been published. Control analyses performed for eminent scientists who did not win a Nobel Prize but achieved excellence in related research areas confirmed that perceived increases in citation rates (e.g. for Chemistry) could not be directly attributed to the Nobel Prize.

Life goes on...

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle

This apparent absence of effect of Nobel Prizes on citations was consistent with the observations of the recipients themselves.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, winner of the 2001 Physics Prize for achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates, says: “In my case, the Nobel Prize has not changed my career or publication record in any major way. I was fortunate that my work received very good attention and funding before the Nobel Prize. Probably, the Nobel Prize made it easier to maintain this.”

Professor Kurt Wüthrich

Professor Kurt Wüthrich

Professor Kurt Wüthrich, 2002 Chemistry prizewinner for the development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for determining the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution, made the following observations: “In my case, the Nobel Prize came just three years before mandatory retirement age. This coincided with a change in government policy in Swizerland, allowing people who wished to carry on working to extend their employment beyond the age of 65 […] I published rather a bit less afterwards, but not by much. My citation rate went up for a couple of years after the Prize, and is now back at the level it was before winning the Prize. […] It certainly made it easier for me to establish collaborations I was interested in. […] When it comes to publication and peer review, I notice that our papers are being read extremely carefully and we very often get really detailed reports on our papers that are longer than the papers themselves.”

Professor Peter Agre

Professor Peter Agre

Professor Peter Agre, 2003 Chemistry prizewinner for the discovery of membrane water channels, reports: “[It] was both exhilarating and draining. Basically, our work was already pretty well regarded, but the expectations after the Nobel became unrealistic. The family dog didn’t love me more than before, but my many friends and colleagues were jubilant. Our funding and publication record did not change. It was ironic that prior to the Nobel, the only NIH application of ours that had been rejected was the one where we proposed the work that led to the water channel! I guess we were ahead of our time.”

References:

(1) Garfield, E. and Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992a) “Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high impact research authors”, Theoretical Medicine, Vol. 13, pp. 118–126.
(2) Garfield, E. and Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992b) “Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high impact research authors (Part 2)”, Theoretical Medicine, Vol. 13, pp. 128–136.

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A Nobel Prize is considered by most as the pinnacle of scientific achievement, but does winning a Nobel Prize have any effect on the citations received by individual researchers?

For instance, it has been noted that citations can be used to indicate potential future Nobel Laureates (1, 2). Eugene Garfield’s research group found that among the 50 most highly cited primary authors in the Science Citation Index of 1967, six had already won the Nobel Prize and eight others went on to win. In addition, among the 50 most-cited authors in economics between 1966 and 1986, 15 had already won a Nobel Prize and two others received it between 1987 and 1991. However, while this indicates the power of citation analysis to forecast Nobel Prize winners, does it work the other way round: can Nobel Prizes indicate future citations?

Research Trends extracted the publication records of the winners of the 2000–2004 prizes in Chemistry, Economic Sciences, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine from Scopus. Annual 1996–2009 citations to this dataset, comprising more than 10,000 records, were then exported. Finally, the citations were matched by the year the Prizes were awarded to allow the data before and after the Prize to be compared (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards.

Figure 1 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards. Source: Scopus.

Figure 2 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners, by subject area, four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards.

Figure 2 – Annual citations received by papers published by 2000-2004 Nobel Prize winners, by subject area, four years before receiving the prize and five years afterwards. Source: Scopus.

These analyses reveal no particularly large shift in citation rates between the “before Nobel” versus “after Nobel” time periods, which makes sense, as the prizes are usually received many years after the award-winning research has been published. Control analyses performed for eminent scientists who did not win a Nobel Prize but achieved excellence in related research areas confirmed that perceived increases in citation rates (e.g. for Chemistry) could not be directly attributed to the Nobel Prize.

Life goes on...

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle

This apparent absence of effect of Nobel Prizes on citations was consistent with the observations of the recipients themselves.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, winner of the 2001 Physics Prize for achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates, says: “In my case, the Nobel Prize has not changed my career or publication record in any major way. I was fortunate that my work received very good attention and funding before the Nobel Prize. Probably, the Nobel Prize made it easier to maintain this.”

Professor Kurt Wüthrich

Professor Kurt Wüthrich

Professor Kurt Wüthrich, 2002 Chemistry prizewinner for the development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for determining the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution, made the following observations: “In my case, the Nobel Prize came just three years before mandatory retirement age. This coincided with a change in government policy in Swizerland, allowing people who wished to carry on working to extend their employment beyond the age of 65 […] I published rather a bit less afterwards, but not by much. My citation rate went up for a couple of years after the Prize, and is now back at the level it was before winning the Prize. […] It certainly made it easier for me to establish collaborations I was interested in. […] When it comes to publication and peer review, I notice that our papers are being read extremely carefully and we very often get really detailed reports on our papers that are longer than the papers themselves.”

Professor Peter Agre

Professor Peter Agre

Professor Peter Agre, 2003 Chemistry prizewinner for the discovery of membrane water channels, reports: “[It] was both exhilarating and draining. Basically, our work was already pretty well regarded, but the expectations after the Nobel became unrealistic. The family dog didn’t love me more than before, but my many friends and colleagues were jubilant. Our funding and publication record did not change. It was ironic that prior to the Nobel, the only NIH application of ours that had been rejected was the one where we proposed the work that led to the water channel! I guess we were ahead of our time.”

References:

(1) Garfield, E. and Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992a) “Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high impact research authors”, Theoretical Medicine, Vol. 13, pp. 118–126.
(2) Garfield, E. and Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992b) “Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high impact research authors (Part 2)”, Theoretical Medicine, Vol. 13, pp. 128–136.

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The Midas touch

Winning a Nobel Prize is a significant achievement, recognized worldwide and beyond academia as the ultimate scientific accolade. But it is not just the Laureates who benefit; universities earn serious respect for having prizewinners on staff.

Read more >


Nobel Prizes can bring the winner fame, fortune and respect, but their impact can be felt beyond the individual winner. Established to recognize scientific and cultural discoveries benefiting mankind, Nobel Prizes can also be used by bibliometricians to assess scientific research. Many Nobel Prize winners, particularly in science, are affiliated to university departments; this can bring recognition to the department and university, and, more formally, has been put to use as a means of assessing research departments and universities.

Selling out?
According to many practitioners in the field of quantitative research assessment, the Academic Ranking of World Universities and other similar university rankings are primarily marketing rather than research-management tools. The Expert Group on the Assessment of University-Based Research (AUBR 2009) underlined in its 2009 report that institutional research performance is a multidimensional concept that may be poorly reflected in the currently available global rankings. A rank position itself does not tell managers how to improve their institution’s performance. They need more detailed and accurate data on the research performance of their personnel, and they need to take the context and mission of their particular institution into account.

Over the last decade, there has been growing interest in the production of rankings to assess the performance of universities on a global scale. One particular ranking exercise, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), produced since 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, includes an indicator based on Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals awarded to staff and alumni of the university that accounts for 30% of the overall score in the rankings.

Winning a Nobel Prize is a rare event, and the distribution of Prizes across institutions changes little year on year (the Prizes have been running for over 100 years, with only a handful awarded each year), so do they have any effect on the evolution of rankings such as ARWU? To explore this question, we examined the relationship between large year-to-year rank changes and individual indicators used to determine universities’ overall scores in the ranking.

Winning by association

Having a staff member or alumnus that wins an award can give a substantial boost to a university’s position in the ARWU rankings. All institutes that rose by at least eight places in one year are associated with Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals to staff or alumni (see Table 1). The emphasis given to these Prizes in the rankings reflects their rarity value, and that they mark the best research. But does such an award, given to one or a few individuals, tell you much the overall quality of the broad range of research at large, multi-faculty universities?

Rank change (places gained) Number of institutions Reasons for change
Alumni Award HiCi N & S PUB PCP
20 1 1 1
18 1 1
16 2 1 1 1 1 1
15 1 1 1
14 2 1 1 1 1
12 2 1 1
10 6 1 1 2 1 1 4
9 3 1 2 2
8 4 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1
6 4 1 2 3 1
5 2 1 1 1
Total 7 8 8 9 10 6

Table 1 – Large rank gains in the ARWU rankings 2004–2009, and the indicator changes associated with these rank changes. All universities that gained at least eight places in the rankings between years when staff or alumni received a Nobel Prize or Fields Medal (highlighted). For full details of the indicators, visit www.arwu.org.

On the flipside, failure to win a Nobel Prize or Fields Medal in a given year does not tend to harm a university’s position in the ranking. Significant drops in rank are more often associated with other ARWU indicators that describe a university’s publication record (see Table 2).

Rank change (places gained) Number of institutions Reasons for change
Alumni Award HiCi N & S PUB PCP
-13 2 2 2 1
-10 4 1 3 3
-9 3 1 3
-8 3 2 1 2
-7 8 2 6 5
-6 5 2 2 4
-5 18 1 1 4 11 8 1
Total 43 1 1 14 28 23 1

Table 2 – Large rank declines in the ARWU university rankings 2004–2009 and the associated indicator changes. Big rank falls were not associated with falls in the score for Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, but rather the publication record (highlighted). This is because an institute cannot lose an award once gained, although ARWU does have a mechanism built in that values an award less the longer it has been held for. This may account for the small declines in ranking associated with the alumni and award scores.

This highlights an important point about the rankings: these big, rare awards, once won, continue to contribute to the overall score of a university even when the awards are effectively historical. Although an award’s effect on a university’s score does decline over the decades, these effects are negligible within the timescale that ARWU has been creating these rankings.

Furthermore, since Nobel Prizes are often awarded decades after the ground-breaking work was carried out, they do not reflect the current research strength of an institution. In addition, this research may have been conducted at a completely different university, even though the university where the winner is currently employed receives the credit for the award.

In fact, Anthony van Raan, has commented on the limitations of using of Nobel Laureates as an indicator of institutional research performance: “‘Affiliation’ is a serious problem. A scientist may have an (emeritus) position at [ARWU] University A at the time of the award (which seems to be the criterion in the Shanghai study), but the prize-winning work was done at University B. The 1999 physics Nobel Laureate Veltman is a striking example (A = University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; B = University of Utrecht).” (1)

Tipping the scales

This raises two important questions about the value of using awards to assess universities. Can awards given to only a few individuals each year really contribute to an effective means of assessing a huge number of large, multi-faculty institutions? And is right to use a measure that incorporates rapid gains, but does not allow for rapid declines?

If anything, this indicates the power of such awards, not only in recognizing specific examples of excellence, but in the way they are also taken as indicators of prestige for the universities, departments, and even research teams, associated with the recipient.

Reference:

(1) van Raan, A.F.J. (2005) “Fatal Attraction: Conceptual and methodological problems in the ranking of universities by bibliometric methods”, Scientometrics, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 133–143.

Further reading:

Billaut, J-C.; Bouyssou, D. and Vincke, P. (2010) “Should you believe in the Shanghai ranking? An MCDM view”, Scientometrics, issue 84, pp. 237–263.

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Nobel Prizes can bring the winner fame, fortune and respect, but their impact can be felt beyond the individual winner. Established to recognize scientific and cultural discoveries benefiting mankind, Nobel Prizes can also be used by bibliometricians to assess scientific research. Many Nobel Prize winners, particularly in science, are affiliated to university departments; this can bring recognition to the department and university, and, more formally, has been put to use as a means of assessing research departments and universities.

Selling out?
According to many practitioners in the field of quantitative research assessment, the Academic Ranking of World Universities and other similar university rankings are primarily marketing rather than research-management tools. The Expert Group on the Assessment of University-Based Research (AUBR 2009) underlined in its 2009 report that institutional research performance is a multidimensional concept that may be poorly reflected in the currently available global rankings. A rank position itself does not tell managers how to improve their institution’s performance. They need more detailed and accurate data on the research performance of their personnel, and they need to take the context and mission of their particular institution into account.

Over the last decade, there has been growing interest in the production of rankings to assess the performance of universities on a global scale. One particular ranking exercise, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), produced since 2003 by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, includes an indicator based on Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals awarded to staff and alumni of the university that accounts for 30% of the overall score in the rankings.

Winning a Nobel Prize is a rare event, and the distribution of Prizes across institutions changes little year on year (the Prizes have been running for over 100 years, with only a handful awarded each year), so do they have any effect on the evolution of rankings such as ARWU? To explore this question, we examined the relationship between large year-to-year rank changes and individual indicators used to determine universities’ overall scores in the ranking.

Winning by association

Having a staff member or alumnus that wins an award can give a substantial boost to a university’s position in the ARWU rankings. All institutes that rose by at least eight places in one year are associated with Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals to staff or alumni (see Table 1). The emphasis given to these Prizes in the rankings reflects their rarity value, and that they mark the best research. But does such an award, given to one or a few individuals, tell you much the overall quality of the broad range of research at large, multi-faculty universities?

Rank change (places gained) Number of institutions Reasons for change
Alumni Award HiCi N & S PUB PCP
20 1 1 1
18 1 1
16 2 1 1 1 1 1
15 1 1 1
14 2 1 1 1 1
12 2 1 1
10 6 1 1 2 1 1 4
9 3 1 2 2
8 4 1 1 1 1 1
7 1 1 1
6 4 1 2 3 1
5 2 1 1 1
Total 7 8 8 9 10 6

Table 1 – Large rank gains in the ARWU rankings 2004–2009, and the indicator changes associated with these rank changes. All universities that gained at least eight places in the rankings between years when staff or alumni received a Nobel Prize or Fields Medal (highlighted). For full details of the indicators, visit www.arwu.org.

On the flipside, failure to win a Nobel Prize or Fields Medal in a given year does not tend to harm a university’s position in the ranking. Significant drops in rank are more often associated with other ARWU indicators that describe a university’s publication record (see Table 2).

Rank change (places gained) Number of institutions Reasons for change
Alumni Award HiCi N & S PUB PCP
-13 2 2 2 1
-10 4 1 3 3
-9 3 1 3
-8 3 2 1 2
-7 8 2 6 5
-6 5 2 2 4
-5 18 1 1 4 11 8 1
Total 43 1 1 14 28 23 1

Table 2 – Large rank declines in the ARWU university rankings 2004–2009 and the associated indicator changes. Big rank falls were not associated with falls in the score for Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, but rather the publication record (highlighted). This is because an institute cannot lose an award once gained, although ARWU does have a mechanism built in that values an award less the longer it has been held for. This may account for the small declines in ranking associated with the alumni and award scores.

This highlights an important point about the rankings: these big, rare awards, once won, continue to contribute to the overall score of a university even when the awards are effectively historical. Although an award’s effect on a university’s score does decline over the decades, these effects are negligible within the timescale that ARWU has been creating these rankings.

Furthermore, since Nobel Prizes are often awarded decades after the ground-breaking work was carried out, they do not reflect the current research strength of an institution. In addition, this research may have been conducted at a completely different university, even though the university where the winner is currently employed receives the credit for the award.

In fact, Anthony van Raan, has commented on the limitations of using of Nobel Laureates as an indicator of institutional research performance: “‘Affiliation’ is a serious problem. A scientist may have an (emeritus) position at [ARWU] University A at the time of the award (which seems to be the criterion in the Shanghai study), but the prize-winning work was done at University B. The 1999 physics Nobel Laureate Veltman is a striking example (A = University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; B = University of Utrecht).” (1)

Tipping the scales

This raises two important questions about the value of using awards to assess universities. Can awards given to only a few individuals each year really contribute to an effective means of assessing a huge number of large, multi-faculty institutions? And is right to use a measure that incorporates rapid gains, but does not allow for rapid declines?

If anything, this indicates the power of such awards, not only in recognizing specific examples of excellence, but in the way they are also taken as indicators of prestige for the universities, departments, and even research teams, associated with the recipient.

Reference:

(1) van Raan, A.F.J. (2005) “Fatal Attraction: Conceptual and methodological problems in the ranking of universities by bibliometric methods”, Scientometrics, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 133–143.

Further reading:

Billaut, J-C.; Bouyssou, D. and Vincke, P. (2010) “Should you believe in the Shanghai ranking? An MCDM view”, Scientometrics, issue 84, pp. 237–263.

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  • Elsevier has recently launched the International Center for the Study of Research - ICSR - to help create a more transparent approach to research assessment. Its mission is to encourage the examination of research using an array of metrics and a variety of qualitative and quantitive methods.