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Publication Rankings

I enjoyed looking through the Nature Indexes section recently in that journal – I believe that they do this primarily as a way to make a new section in which to sell advertisements, to be honest, but the content itself is worth a look. They’re tracking publications in 82 leading scientific journals and looking for trends in publication frequency, etc.

Some of the results are not particularly surprising. Across all 82 journals, the largest number of contributions (counted by institutions of all sorts) came under the banner of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, with Harvard second. If you just count universities, then it’s Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge, Tokyo, Peking, the ETH, Oxford, Tsinghua, and Berkeley. Zooming down to just life sciences, the institution list is Harvard, NIH, Max Planck, Stanford, Chinese Academy of Sciences, MIT, UCSF, Yale, Cambridge, and Penn. And the institution list for chemistry alone reads out as Chinese Academy of Science, CNRS (France), Max Planck, Nanjing, Peking, Tsinghua, Univ. Science and Technology of China, MIT, Northwestern, and Stanford – a list with some overlaps but with some notable differences from the overall and life-sciences list, for sure. Nanjing and Northwestern are notable for having risen into those positions rather strongly as compared to last year’s figures.

There’s also an interesting section where they consider an institution’s publication output in those 82 top journals as a fraction of their total number of natural sciences papers coming out. Normalizing in this way changes things around quite a bit; you get some places that haven’t published nearly as many papers as the bigger powerhouses, but puts almost all of them into upper-tier journals. When you run those numbers, Cold Spring Harbor comes out on top, followed by IST Austria, the Weizmann Institute, the IAS in Princeton, Brandeis (whose campus, by coincidence, I am viewing from the commuter rail exactly as I write these words!), Rockefeller, the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Princeton, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). There are some on that list that I don’t think many people would have guessed.

And finally, if you rank things out by natural-science publications in top journals by country of origin (which is what some of you have probably been wondering about as you read through the above), the US is still in the lead. In fact, the top 7 have not changed for three years: the US, China, Germany, the UK, Japan, France, and Canada. Switzerland and South Korea have swapped places in the next two slots, and Australia moved Spain out of the top 10. So Australia clearly increased their share of the total output, but the only other country that did was China (and since this is zero-sum fractional count, these two increased at the expense of all the others in the top ten, with France and Japan dropping the most).

What the list also reveals, as those who follow the literature already know, is that there are large regions of the world that are comparatively hardly heard from. All of the Americas outside of the US and Canada, all of Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia in general outside of Israel – there are papers going into the 82 journals from those areas, but very few in comparison. That country list is very long-tailed – the US has a pretty strong position, but it and China together account for more of the total than not only the other 8 in the top ten, but (in fact) for more than the entire 159 other countries on the entire list. I don’t see that changing much, honestly. China will certainly continue to move up higher, but I would imagine that it and the US are going to dominate any such tabulation for the foreseeable future.

Something that the Nature lists don’t do is provide rankings that are normalized to population. If you do that, the standout is surely Switzerland, with only 8.4 million people total but ranked in the top ten. At the other end of the scale, India (although it produces many publications), definitely underperforms in the higher-end journals compared to its population, as do Russia and Brazil. There are, of course, many other high-population countries whose scientific infrastructures are not well developed – Indonesia is the prime example, the fourth-highest population in the world but almost invisible in the sciences, for many reasons. It takes a lot of disposable income on a national scale to fund R&D, for one thing (both public and private money), as well as a solid educational system up through the graduate-school level, and sadly throughout much of the world neither of these conditions are present. As it is now, many talented people from these areas travel to more scientifically developed nations to study and work, of course, but surely many more never get the chance to do anything of the sort. As always, one can’t help but feel that there’s a lot of human ability going to waste, and I only wish that scientific talent were as relatively straightforward to scout (not to mention as lucrative!) as talent in basketball or soccer. . .

16 comments on “Publication Rankings”

  1. The Iron Chemist says:

    “As always, one can’t help but feel that there’s a lot of human ability going to waste, and I only wish that scientific talent were as relatively straightforward to scout (not to mention as lucrative!) as talent in basketball or soccer. . .”

    You said it. When I watched “The Blindside,” I got pretty bummed out because I thought, “No one would have given a crap about this guy if he were a math prodigy instead of a football star.”

    1. Commentator says:

      And for every “Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” there are thousands whose dreams were not realized due to circumstance and bad luck. It is sad that money can always be found for sports stars (and weapons) but when education comes up – the money dries up…

  2. RM says:

    I only wish that scientific talent were as relatively straightforward to scout (not to mention as lucrative!) as talent in basketball or soccer.

    I’m now imagining a South American football announcer narrating a scientific presentation:

    Martínez aproxima a la relación estructura-actividad. Se busca una apertura sintética. ¡Nada se puede encontrar! Él finta hacia la Claisen, pero … ¡Dios mío! – Lo cambia a último momento: ¡Aldooooooool!

    1. NJBiologist says:

      Startup thesis: Uber, but delivering South American football announcers narrating your scientific presentation.

      Seriously, that was a good laugh–thank you.

    2. Pele says:

      The VAR says offside…. synthetic step disallowed; the aldol gave the wrong product….

    3. The Iron Chemist says:

      Personally, conference talks would be much more interesting if they were given like pro wrestling promos and were periodically aggressively interrupted by other researchers.

      “Dear Gawd! That’s Phil Baran’s music!”

  3. anon says:

    Counting articles in a selection of “top” journals seems rather crude way of assessing scientific output. At least in my subfield of physical sciences the journal selection misses nine out of ten most cited (each with 300+ citations) articles published between Feb 2018 and Jan 2019.

    1. Nameless says:

      How many of the top journals do they own themself? You got to hand it to them. They manage to sell an ad for their other journals to their subscribers that contains ads by other companies.

  4. Ned says:

    Nature index is a publisher scam to lure more Chinese to pay for Nature Communication and other nature money making on-line journals.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It took a lot of clicking around, but I finally found the list of 82 journals covered by this analysis.
    https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/revisions-to-the-nature-index

    1. sgcox says:

      The Revised index now includes ACSNano.
      Oh, the joy !
      https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.9b02180#

      1. eugene says:

        So they basically did the bible code thing but with a few less letters. Hilarious and impressive. But unfortunately not in the nanoputians sort of way. Rather in quite the opposite way but still described by those two adjectives.

  6. anonymous says:

    I am told that in China especially in their famous universities in order to survive you need to have publication in nature! May be Nature feels that it is in symbiotic relation with China by having them publish in their journal. I admit that there are some good papers I see now and then.

    1. NMH says:

      Yes, but anything reproducible?

    2. hn says:

      I am told the same in the US.

  7. Bagger Vance says:

    The secret code you’re looking for is “H B D”

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