August 22, 2008

If Science was an Olympic Sport…

Olympic Rings by JL08A fictional scene from the future: The Olympic games, London 2012. A new candidate sport is on trial, joining skateboarding, rugby and golf at their debut Olympic games. It is challenging discipline called Science, a sport more ancient than Olympia itself. The crowd awaits eagerly in the all new Boris Johnson Olympic stadium. It has taken more than 2000 years just to convince the International Olympic Committee that Science is worthy of being an Olympic sport. The big day has finally arrived but the judges are still arguing about how to award the medals to scientists. Despite all the metrics involved, it’s all very very subjective. The games go ahead anyway, and there are lots of exciting new events: (more…)

November 6, 2007

What’s The Point of Blogging?

I am a hard bloggin' scientist. Read the Manifesto.
Sometimes I wonder what what the point of blogging is and just how much time people (myself included) waste reading and writing them. Let’s face it, most leading scientists are too damn busy to pay much attention to the blogosphere, especially when it descends (as it frequently does) into “uncontrollable verbal discharge”. This unfortunate medical condition is also known as Blogorrhoea. A free-flowing blog is unlikely to directly increase a scientists productivity (as approximated by the infamous h-index), and might even decrease it. Now, we all know that powerpoint can be PowerPointless, so is blogging also a pointless activity? Or to put it another way: Nodalpoint or Nodalpointless?

If you’ve ever wondered what the point of scientific blogging is, you should read the following, (if you haven’t already):

So what the heck, if blogging is fun and helps you communicate ideas with people, why get all uptight about questionable metrics for measuring scientific productivity? Wherever you blog, blog hard, blog fast and enjoy it. At the very least, it will fill the gaping void left on the Web by traditional scientific publishing. Who knows what the other benefits might be?


  1. Jorge Hirsch An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2005 November;102(46):16569-16572 DOI:10.1073/pnas.0507655102
  2. this post originally on nodalpoint with comments

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…


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.


  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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November 1, 2006

Bioinformatics Impact Factors

B of the Bang (in Big Bangchester)There are all sorts of flaws with using impact factors for judging the quality of biomedical research. Love them or hate them, just getting hold of impact factors for journals in bioinformatics and related fields is much harder than it should be, so I thought I’d reproduce some statistics I gathered here. The rankings, which you should use with caution [1,2], are correct as of June 2006 (and apply to citations in 2005) courtesy of Journal Citation Reports®, part of Thomson ISI Web of Knowledge. JCR has a pretty horrible clunky web interface when compared to some of its rivals [3,4], maybe one day they’ll make it better. Anyway, this is not a comprehensive list, just a fairly random selection of bioinformatics and computer science journals that publish articles I’ve been reading the last few years.

Journal ISI impact factor
Science 30.927
Cell 29.431
Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 29.852
Nature 29.273
Nature Genetics 25.797
Nature Biotechnology 22.378
Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 18.775
PLOS Biology 14.672
PNAS 10.231
Genome Research 10.139
Genome Biology 9.712
Drug Discovery Today 7.755
Nucleic Acids Research 7.552
Bioessays 6.787
Plant Physiology 6.114
Bioinformatics (OUP) 6.019
BMC Bioinformatics 4.958
BMC Genomics 4.092
Proteins: structure, function and bioinformatics 4.684
IEEE Intelligent Systems 2.560
Journal of Computational Biology 2.446
Journal of Biomedical Informatics 2.388
IEEE Internet Computing 2.304
Artificial Intelligence in Medicine 1.882
Comparative and Functional Genomics 0.992
Concurrency and Computation: Practice and experience 0.535
Briefings in Bioinformatics (OUP) not listed
PLOS Computational Biology not listed
Journal of Web Semantics not listed

One point of interest, cheeky young upstart BioMed Central Bioinformatics (going since 2000) seems to be catching up on traditional old-school favourite OUP Bioinformatics (going since 1985), which as mentioned on nodalpoint, has been publishing some dodgy parser papers lately.

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