Monday, July 14, 2014

The Most Highly-Cited Universities and Countries

Publish or perish.

That's the mantra many young researchers live by as they compete to establish their early scientific career. But not all publications are treated equally in the world of academia.

Some journals are considered more prestigious than others, and some papers are cited much more widely than others — a quantitative measure of a paper's influence.

And when there's a way to quantitatively evaluate a group, rankings will inevitably emerge. Each year, Thomson Reuters releases a report on the "World's Most Influential Scientific Minds" primarily based on the number and impact of a researcher's academic publications.

While the report focuses on individual researchers, the data also reveal where the highest concentrations of influential researchers work. Several big academic names make an appearance, but there's also a few surprises.

For the latest report, Thomson Reuters used data from the past 11 years to compile a list of researchers with the highest number of "hot papers" and "highly cited papers" over that period. A hot paper is defined as having more citations than 99.9 percent of all papers within its field, while "highly-cited papers" have more citations than 99.0 percent of all papers within a field.

3,200 researchers made the cut by having "the greatest number of highly-cited papers in one of 21 broad fields, 2002-2012."

By Country

The list of researchers is available online at, and you can narrow your search by the researchers' names, institutions (including locations), and fields.

USA reigns supreme with over half of the highly-cited researchers having a primary institution in the country. The United Kingdom came in second with over 300 highly-cited researchers.

The graph below charts the rest of the countries based on each researcher's primary institution.

Data courtesy of

By Institution

Two researchers from the Max Planck Society, Lutz Bornmann and Johann Bauer, went a step further and ranked specific institutions by the number of researchers who made the list.

First, they ranked the researchers just by their primary institution, and I've reproduced their rankings in the chart below. The University of California System is well ahead with 179 researchers; a significant amount of this ranking can be attributed to the sheer size of the system relative to other institutions, however. Harvard and Stanford round out the top three.

Data courtesy of

Cash for Rankings?

Bornmann and Bauer found an interesting wrinkle in the data, however, if they included any secondary institutions as well. The rankings remained largely the same with one notable exception: The King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia skyrocketed to second place with 163 researchers.

Bornmann and Bauer note that this can likely be attributed to King Abdulaziz University's policy of offering part time adjunct professorships to highly-cited researchers around the world. The well-paid, one-to-two week appointments help to significantly boost the university's rankings on such lists without permanently hosting such researchers.

This policy was notably reported a few years ago in a Science Magazine article by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee.


When narrowing the list to just physics researchers, there's a few changes. Although the United States still ranks number one with roughly half of all physics researchers based there, the country rankings jump around after that.

China and Japan both have 14 researchers listed, boosting their rankings, while the United Kingdom drops in the rankings (8 researchers). And previously lower-ranked countries such as Austria (6 researchers) and Spain (5 researchers) feature a number of highly-cited physicists.

The University of California system had 14 highly-cited physicists, still the highest number for a single institution. Other high-ranking institutions include the Chinese Academy of Sciences (6), Stanford University (5), and Oak Ridge National Lab (4, which ties with several other institutions).

You can search through the data yourself at


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  2. The real surprise is that countries other than US and UK aren't doing better when you look at the pro-rota positions per population and the amount of money being spent in each country. A better measure would be a ratio of (US cited Researches/ Another country cited researches * Dollars spent on research)- in other words how well you're doing per buck !

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