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What type of physicist are you: leader, successor or toiler?

03 Jul 2018 Michael Banks
Pack of sheets of paper fastened by paper clips
Toiler tally: nearly 50% of the 500 physicists analysed were classified as "toilers". (Courtesy: iStock/Gaia-Kan)

Only around 20% of highly cited physicists can be classed as “leaders”, with the rest being “successors,” and “toilers”, according to a new bibliometric study. Carried out by Pavel Chebotarev from the Institute of Control Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Ilya Vasilyev from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, it examined citation statistics for top physicists, mathematicians and psychologists, finding that researchers can be broadly grouped together in these three distinct categories.

The researchers used citation data from Google Scholar, looking at a number of indicators including the yearly and total citations per year a researcher receives as well as the author’s h-index – a measure of a researcher’s productivity and impact of their publications. They then performed cluster analysis to identify groups of researchers that had similar characteristics.

“We wanted to ask whether we can automatically form clusters when describing the recognition that scientists receive by the scientific community and whether that varies from one discipline to another,” Chebotarev told Physics World.

Extended analysis

When looking at the citation data for mathematicians, psychologists and physicists, the authors identified three broad clusters that are “loosely based” on how the citations per year changes over time. Leaders tend to be experienced scientists who are widely recognized in their fields, which results in an annual citation increase. The successors tend to be early-career scientists who have had a surge in their citations in recent years. Toilers, meanwhile, may have a high citation count, but this stays mostly constant and may even drop slightly.

In physics, the researchers found that 48.5% of the 500 physicists analysed classified as toilers with 31.7% as successors and 19.8% as leaders. This compares to 52.0% of mathematicians being toilers with successors and leaders making up 25.8% and 22.2%, respectively. For psychology, 47.7% are toilers with 18.3% being successors and 34% leaders.

The researchers say that they are now going to extend their analysis to other disciplines including literature, genomics and economics.

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