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Emerging Technology from the arXiv

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The World’s Best (And Worst) Scientific Institutions Ranked By Discipline

A new website ranks the world’s scientific institutions by discipline and shows their location on a global map

  • August 7, 2013

There is no shortage of lists that attempt to rank the world’s universities and research-focused institutions. However, it’s well known that some places are much stronger in one area of science than others but it is not always possible to interrogate these rankings by discipline.

Today, Lutz Bornmann at the Administrative Headquarters of the Max Planck Society in Germany and a few pals release new online ranking tool that does this and more. Their website site lists the top institutes by discipline and also displays them on a map of the world allowing different regions to be compared as well.

The site uses a straightforward measure of excellence. It assumes that a good indicator of an institution’s worth is the rate at which it produces high quality scientific papers, in other words those papers that are most highly cited.

So the site counts the number of papers produced by an institution in a given discipline and then counts the number of these that are among the top 10 per cent of most highly cited. If more than ten per cent of the institution’s papers are in this category it gets a positive rating, if less than 10 per cent, it gets a negative rating.

The app then ranks the institutions by discipline and shows them on a zoomable global map.

The results throw up some surprises. In physics and astronomy, for example, two of the top three institutions in physics and astronomy are Spanish: the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona and ICREA (Institucio Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avancats) also in Barcelona. Ranked 8th, above Harvard and MIT, is Partners Healthcare System, a non-profit healthcare organisation based in Boston that funds research, mostly in the life sciences. And the top ranked UK institute in physics and astronomy is the University of Glasgow which only just makes the top 100.

In biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, the top three institutes are more predictable: the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory.

It’s also possible to rank these places in reverse order, a pursuit that readers can indulge in for themselves using the URL given below.

Of course, every ranking system has its advantages and disadvantages. In this case, the ability to rank places by discipline and location is hugely useful.

But there are disadvantages too. Citations take no account of the relative amount of work of different authors. Nor does the ranking method distinguish between papers that are cited because they are excellent and those that are cited because they are not.

Then there are the other factors that potential students, faculty and investors might be interested in, such as teaching standards, graduate job prospects and so on. This ranking system takes no account of these, although there are plenty of other rankings that do and there’s no reason why these kinds of indices cannot be added in future.

Bornmann and co say their ranking system is part of a new approach to evaluation known as spatial scientometrics that assesses organisations by both excellence and geography. 

It’s certainly worth a look at www.excellencemapping.net. The necessary password can be obtained by emailing password-request@excellencemapping.net.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1212.0304 : Ranking And Mapping Of Universities And Research-Focused Institutions Worldwide Based On Highly-Cited Papers: A Visualization Of Results From Multi-Level Models

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