ben-Avraham and colleagues started by compiling a list of 449 condensed-matter physicists who have published papers on the cond-mat pre-print server. Then they determined how "famous" each scientist was by counting the number of Google hits their name produced in a search. To calculate "merit" they counted the number of papers that he or she had posted in cond-mat since it began in 1991. They found that fame is linearly proportional to merit.

This is completely different to what is found for people who enjoy what the Clarkson physicists describe as "true fame", such as sports stars and actors. Fame for these people increases exponentially with merit. Moreover, fame for the truly famous follows a power-law distribution, whereas it falls off more rapidly for scientists.

"The simplest explanation for this is that scientists cite their colleagues in web pages, in relation to their published work," ben-Avraham told PhysicsWeb. "Thus, more work published results in an equivalent increase in citations in web pages. Essentially, the fame of scientists is limited to within their peer group, hence the title of our paper "How famous is a scientist? – Famous to those who know us."