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Ranking lists of researchers are problematic
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Rankings of highly cited researchers receive much public attention, but a new study shows that these lists have several problematic aspects.
Dag W. Aksnes (NIFU) and Kaare Aagaard (Aarhus University) have conducted a study of selected researchers who are ranked among the world’s most cited on Clarivate Analytics’ list of Highly Cited Researchers.
The study shows that such lists and their interpretation have several
problematic aspects. First, citations are given to publications and not to individuals. Citation counts for for
individual researchers are therefore calculated indirectly. Highly cited
articles tend to have a large number of authors, some of them several hundred. Authors
of such articles are credited with all citations, while the individual
contributions to the publications are very limited. The study shows that the
ranking list would look very different using an alternative fractionalised
methodology, adjusting for the number of authors who have contributed to the
Second, such lists are interpreted into a traditional view in the history and sociology
of science focusing on the role of individual geniuses in scientific discovery.
It is argued that any list of highly cited researchers will reproduce a concept
of science and scientific progress, which is fundamentally anachronous:
“These lists contribute to creating a misconception of science and the scientific process by focusing on individuals and individual achievements, when in fact a very large number of other scientists have also contributed to their research” (Aksnes & Aaagaard 2021).