Synopsis: Ranking scientists

An analysis of the citation network leads to an alternative way to quantitatively assess the impact of a scientist’s work.
Synopsis figure
Illustration: F. Radicchi et al., Phys. Rev. E (2009)

Most metrics of a scientist’s impact in a field, like the h-index, rely primarily on the number of times his or her papers have been cited, and can miss the more subtle ways that knowledge and credit for this research spread among scientists. Now, in a paper appearing in Physical Review E, Filippo Radicchi and Santo Fortunato at the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Torino, Italy, and Benjamin Markines and Alessandro Vespignani at Indiana University in the US are instead proposing a way to rank scientists that reflects the diffusion of scientific credit in time. Their method, based on an algorithm similar to Google’s PageRank, takes into account several nontrivial effects such as the fact that being cited by an important author has more influence than being cited by one who is less well known.

By analyzing a set of about 400,000 papers published between 1893 and 2006 in the Physical Review, Radicchi et al. establish a ranking according to their “Science Author Rank Algorithm.” They show that the probability of winning a physics prize is consistently higher for authors who have top positions, according to their algorithm, than for other popular metrics. Moreover, the top positions in their ranking are not necessarily held by those scientists who have garnered the greatest number of citations.

Assessing scientists and their merit has, nowadays, become a crucial task for many policy makers. Radicchi et al.’s paper reminds us that a scientist’s merit and scientific impact cannot always be encoded in a single number, but results from a complex process of interactions between the members of the scientific community. In this respect, this paper is a beautiful first step towards a credible alternative quantitative ranking of scientists’ work. – Marc Barthelemy


More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Interdisciplinary Physics

Previous Synopsis

Next Synopsis

Plasma Physics

A skein of plasma

Read More »

Related Articles

Synopsis: Trees Crumbling in the Wind
Materials Science

Synopsis: Trees Crumbling in the Wind

Lab experiments with wooden rods help explain why all trees—irrespective of size or species—break when battered by wind blowing at the same critical speed. Read More »

Focus: Sensing Delays Control Robot Swarming
Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Sensing Delays Control Robot Swarming

A robot group clusters together or disperses based on each robot’s reaction time for sensing light, a finding useful for search-and-rescue missions.   Read More »

Focus: Wikipedia Articles Separate into Four Categories
Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Wikipedia Articles Separate into Four Categories

A study of the entire editing history of English Wikipedia shows that the articles cluster into four categories based on how frequently and how aggressively they are edited. Read More »

More Articles