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Citation laureates: recognizing the best and brightest.

Each year, Thomson Reuters releases its list of Citation Laureates before the Nobel Prize winners are announced--but the list doesn't necessarily aim to predict that particular year's winners. Its goal is to celebrate researchers who have the potential to one day win a Nobel Prize in the categories of chemistry, economics, medicine, or physics. After all, says David Pendlebury, lead analyst in the program, he can't predict the future, let alone the whims of the Nobel committees. He and his team simply want to recognize the researchers working at Nobel Prize-winning levels by analyzing citations to get a reliable picture of which researchers are being cited most often.

In the 1950s, Eugene Garfield (who created the precursor to the Web of Science) felt that the citations researchers attached to their papers "were one of the best methods of linking or associating related papers," says Pendlebury. "You have the experts, the people most knowledgeable about whatever they're writing on, saying this paper is related to this previously published paper. And so the idea was that if you looked up a work that you knew in a citation index, you could travel forward in time to see what other papers had cited that previous paper, and those linkages would be very strongly related to the intellectual content of the paper."

When the first science citation index launched in 1964, Garfield began examining the correlation between winning a Nobel Prize and citation frequency. He published a paper in 1965 showing that Nobel Prize-winning scientists wrote five times as many papers as non-winners and had about 30 times more citations. "So it was very clear and very early on, using a very small bit of data ... that there was clearly and distinctly an elite group of scientists who could be identified not just in the traditional way of peer review, but also using this new method of counting citations," says Pendlebury.

Making the Predictions

Thomson Reuters started its annual Citation Laureates list in 2002. Since then, Pendlebury and his team have used the company's Web of Science, which has more than 60 million papers, to name potential future Nobel Prize winners. "[W]e have very few people who achieve at a high level and most people that achieve at an average level. So this means that we don't have to trawl through millions and millions of papers to try to find the elite scientists; we can trawl through that small percentage at the top," he says. "[I]t's only a very small fraction that has been cited at high frequency."

This translates to about 12,000 papers that have been cited more than 1,000 times, and about 1,500 papers that have been cited more than 3,000 times. Typically, Nobel Prize winners have written at least one paper that has been cited at least 2,000 times or even more than 5,000 times.

Pendlebury looks at papers published in the last 30 or so years, because the Nobel Prize is awarded only to living researchers, he says. He and his team separate the papers by field and then rank them by times cited. They skip any papers authored by people who already won a Nobel Prize.

Then they choose up to three papers (also the Nobel Prize's limit) in each of the four categories (chemistry, economics, medicine, and physics) whose authors "could be recognized for that breakthrough [described in the paper] or that important finding and research." There are always more people of Nobel Prize-caliber than can be named Citation Laureates, but there are more people of Nobel Prize-caliber than can win that prize too. "[P]art of the reason that we pursue this and use citation analysis to name Citation Laureates is that we know that not everybody who is of Nobel class will win a Nobel Prize," Pendlebury says. "And yet it is Thomson Reuters' desire to recognize this kind of world-class achievement in science. So some [Citation Laureates] will win, but most will not, just because there are so few Nobel prizes to go around."

This Year's Honorees

The following researchers made the cut to become Thomson Reuters' 2015 Citation Laureates (


Carolyn R. Bertozzi, for founding the field of bloorthogonal chemistry Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, for developing a new method of genome editing

John B. Goodenough and M. Stanley Whittingham, for laying the scientific foundation for the development of the lithium-ion battery


Richard Blundell, for using empirical microeconometric studies to advance the understanding of the policy decisions impacting labor markets and consumer demand

John A. List, for extending the application of field experiments In economics Charles F. Manski, for explaining the range and limits of social policy decisions and predictions in areas such as criminal sentencing and medical treatment


Jeffrey I. Gordon, for revealing the effects of intestinal microbiota on human nutrition, obesity, and overall health

Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter, for their study of the "unfolded protein response" and its relationship to diseases and possible treatments

Alexander Y. Rudensky, Shimon Sakaguchi, and Ethan M. Shevach, for advancing the understanding of T cells and their function in autoimmune diseases, among other processes


Paul B. Corkum and Ferenc Krausz, for pioneering the field of attophysics Deborah S. Jin, for creating the first fermionic condensate at ultralow temperatures

Zhong Lin Wang, for inventing power-generating nanosystems that convert mechanical energy into electricity

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Author:Scardilli, Brandi
Publication:Information Today
Date:Dec 1, 2015
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