4/8/13 - nice scientific guys finish first

In today's selection -- the influence of a scientist can be measured by the number of times their research work is cited. Nobel prize winners are more likely to give the spotlight for research to others:

"We can ... understand the impact of [scientific research] papers and the results within them by measuring how many other publications cite them. The more important a work is, the more likely it is to be referenced in many other papers, implying that it has had a certain foundational impact on the work that comes after it. While this is certainly an imperfect measure -- you can cite a paper even if you disagree with it -- much of the field of scientometrics is devoted to understanding the relationship between citations, scientific impact, and the importance of different scientists.

"Using this sort of approach, scientometrics can even determine what types of teams yield research that has the highest impact. For example, a group of researchers at Northwestern University found that high-impact results are more likely to come from collaborative teams rather than from a single scientist. In other words, the days of the lone hero scientist, along the lines of an Einstein, are vanishing, and you can measure it.

"Citations can also be used as building blocks for other metrics. By examining the average number of times articles in a given journal are cited, we can get what is known as the impact factor. This is widely used and carefully considered: Scientists want their papers to be published in journals with high impact factors, as it is good both for their research and influences decisions such as funding and tenure. The journals with the highest impact factors have even penetrated the public consciousness -- no doubt due to the highly cited individual papers within them -- and include the general science publications such as Nature and Science, as well as high-profile medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Scientometrics has even given bragging tools to scientists, such as the h-index, which measures the impact of a paper on other researchers. It was created by Jorge Hirsch (and named after himself; notice the h) and essentially counts the number of articles a scientist has published that have been cited at least that many times. If you have an h-index value of 45, it means that you have forty-five articles that have each been cited at least forty-five times (though you have likely published many more articles that have been cited fewer times). It also has the side benefit of meaning that you are statistically more likely to be a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious U.S. scientific organization. ...

"Scientometrics can demonstrate the relationship between money and research output. The National Science Foundation has examined how much money a university spends relative to how many articles its scientists publish. Other studies have looked at how age is related to science. For example, over the past decades, the age at which scientists receive grants from the National Institutes of Health has increased, causing a certain amount of concern among younger scientists.

"There's even research that examines how being a mensch is related to scientific productivity. For example, in the 1960s, Harriet Zuckerman, a sociologist of science -- someone who studies the interactions and people underlying the entire scientific venture -- decided to study the scientific output of Nobel laureates to see if any patterns could be seen in how they work that might distinguish them from their less successful peers. One striking finding was the beneficence of Nobel laureates ... or as Zuckerman termed it, noblesse oblige. In general, when a scientific paper is published, the author who did the most is listed first. There are exceptions to this, and this can vary from field to field, but Zuckerman took it as a useful rule of thumb. What she found was that Nobel laureates are first authors of numerous publications early in their careers, but quickly begin to give their junior colleagues first authorship. And this happens far before they receive the Nobel Prize.

"As one generous Nobel laureate in chemistry put it: 'It helps a young man to be senior author, first author, and doesn't detract from the credit that I get if my name is farther down the list.' On the other hand, those peers of Nobel laureates who were not as successful tried to maintain first authorship for themselves far more often, garnering more glory for themselves. By their forties, Nobel laureates are first authors on only 26 percent of their papers, as compared to their less accomplished contemporaries, who are first authors 56 percent of the time. Nicer people are indeed more creative, more successful, and even more likely to win Nobel prizes."


Samuel Arbesman


The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date


Penguin Group


Copyright 2012 by Samuel Arbesman


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