O'Really?

February 22, 2007

NSPNAS: Nature, Science or PNAS?

Filed under: publishing,Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 10:19 pm
Tags: , ,

A crude score for benchmarking scientists

TIM Have you ever wanted to compare different scientists by their publication record? It’s not always an easy task, but here is a crude and handy way to benchmark people by their journal publications in Nature, Science or PNAS using PubMed. Let’s call it the NSPNAS score, it’s not the h-index and it’s far from perfect, but it can be useful.

Imagine these scenarios:

  1. You’re a young scientist comtemplating who to do an undergraduate project, Masters degree or PhD with.
  2. You’ve finished your PhD and are wondering which lab could be your Stairway to PostDoc Heaven [1].
  3. You’re lucky enough to have landed a faculty position and you want to check the credibility of your new colleagues.
  4. You want to do some industrial espionage on your competitors in different labs around the world.
  5. You’re a Scientist dammit, and naturally you’re a curious person who just likes to measure things.

In any of these situations, you’ll probably want to look up the people concerned using Google Scholar which will give you a good idea of their research history. But you’re not interested in publications in the Journal of Few Subscribers or the Proceedings of the Boring Incomprehensible Nonsense Society (BINS), even if Google Scholar lists hundreds of their citations. Instead, you care about counting the Big Bang impact publications they have in the über-journals: Nature, Science and PNAS. You can find these publications in PubMed with this simple query:

Surname +Initials[au]+(nature[journal] or science[journal] or Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A[journal])

…and you can obviously modify this query to include popular journals from your own field as appropriate.

Where NSPNAS works

Note, NSPNAS scores were correct at the time of writring in 2007, but will change over time.

When you substitute an authors name and initials into the beginning of that query, you get your NSPNAS score. So Systems Biologist Douglas Kell for example, surname and initials “Kell+D[au]”, has an NSPNAS score of 6.

If the person in question has a unique or unusual surname and initials, its fairly easy to find their score: Nodalpointer Chris Mungall has an NSPNAS score of two while nodalpointer Jason Stajich has an NSPNAS score of three. These results suggest a positive correlation between Californian sunshine and NSPNAS. Meanwhile, back in rainy old Britain, Ensemblian Ewan Birney scores a formidable sixteen, which is just scary for a bloke in his thirties.

Where NSPNAS doesn’t work

Unfortunately, authors with common names like John Smith (who has more than 340 hits) can’t be easily benchmarked with this type of query, without trawling through hundreds of false positives. More importantly, some influential scientists score very low or zero, despite the fact that their work has been important in the world of biomedical science an beyond. This is especially true for Computer Scientists, Mathematicians and Informaticians, for example:

Many important members of the Dead Scientists Society also have low NSPNAS scores…

Conclusions

All these statistics remind us that many important ideas, techniques and results are not published in Nature, Science or PNAS and others are excluded from the PubMed index completely. It also confirms what we already know about peer-reviewed Journal publications not being the be-all and end-all of Engineering, Science or Medicine [3]. But NSPNAS still has its uses, provided the people you’re benchmarking have a rare name and didn’t snuff it before the PubMed index starts.

What is your NSPNAS score? If like me, you score a spectacular “nul points”, console yourself with the fact that you’re in good company with that score and given time, maybe you can change it.

References

  1. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (1971) Stairway to Heaven
  2. Most of the Clay Mathematics Institute Millenium Prizes are still up for grabs if you get disillusioned with bioinformatics, fancy some fame and winning a million dollar fortune!
  3. Michael Seringhaus and Mark Gerstein (2007) Publishing perishing? Towards tomorrow’s information architecture BMC Bioinformatics 2007, 8:17 DOI:10.1186/1471-2105-8-17
  4. This post originally on nodalpoint, with comments

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