Size is not everything according to latest Nature Index annual tables

Major institutions in the US and China dominate the top ranks for output of quality research articles, but a new normalized Nature Index ranking reveals that some smaller institutes are punching well above their weight.

In the Nature Index 2019 annual tables, released today, the United States is well ahead of China then Germany to make up the top three in the country ranking, while the top three institutions – the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Harvard University and Max Planck Society – have held fast to their positions in the institutional ranks. For the first time, the Nature Index annual tables also include a normalized ranking. This takes into account the number of high-quality articles published as a proportion of an institute’s overall output in the natural sciences. The normalized ranking reveals a very different set of leaders among academic institutions.

The top 100 Nature Index ranking draws on metrics known as the Article Count (AC) and Fractional Count (FC), which measure the number of articles and the contribution an institution makes to an article, respectively. In contrast, the new normalized ranking is derived by considering the ratio of FC to the institution’s total article output in natural sciences as tracked by the Dimensions database of Digital Science. The normalization calculation allows institutions of different size to be compared on the same basis. The AC and FC are based on about 60,000 articles published during 2018 in the 82 prestigious scientific journals included in the Nature Index, while the counts of articles in natural sciences in Dimensions are drawn from 3.88 million articles tracked in 2018.

The top three institutes in the normalized ranking are: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the US, the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Interestingly, the normalized approach sees some renowned research institutes slip down the rankings slightly in comparison to their position in the standard ranking tables.

David Swinbanks, Founder of the Nature Index, said: “The inclusion this year of a normalized ranking alongside the standard Nature Index annual tables is especially interesting because the ranking draws to light some smaller institutes that are proportionally outstripping research powerhouses and would otherwise remain buried much lower down in the standard rankings. The smallest institutions in the top ten have some common features: ambition, as disclosed by mission statements about striving to be the best in the world, interdisciplinarity, with the strong embrace of collaboration across fields, and in several cases, the backing of Nobel laureates.”

To coincide with the release of this year’s Nature Index annual tables, Nature will publish a special supplement in the 20 June issue that includes data visualizations of the top twenty global institutions, the top ten institutions in each Nature Index subject area, and the top countries and regions by FC. On, top ten listicles will cover seven categories, including the life sciences, chemistry, physical sciences, earth and environmental sciences and the normalized top ten. Further category listicles will be published subsequently on Nature Index (link below), for example highlighting the top ten government, corporate and healthcare institutions.

The Nature Index is a database of author affiliations and institutional relationships. The index tracks contributions to research articles published in 82 high-quality natural science journals, chosen by an independent group of researchers.

The Nature Index provides absolute and fractional counts of article publication at the institutional and national level and, as such, is an indicator of global high-quality research output and collaboration. Data in the Nature Index are updated regularly, with the most recent 12 months made available under a Creative Commons license at the website. The database is compiled by Springer Nature.

Dimensions is a research insights platform that re-imagines discovery and access to research. Developed by the company Digital Science in collaboration with over 100 leading research organizations around the world, Dimensions brings together grants, publications, citations, alternative metrics, clinical trials and patents to deliver a platform that enables users to find and access the most relevant information faster, analyze the academic and broader outcomes of research, and gather insights to inform future strategy. Visit the website (link below).

The Nature Index metrics
The Nature Index provides several metrics to track research output and collaboration. These include article count (AC), fractional count (FC), and normalized fractional count.

A country/region or an institution is given an AC of 1 for each article that has at least one author from that country/region or institution. This is the case regardless of the number of authors an article has, and it means that the same article can contribute to the AC of multiple countries/regions or institutions.

FC takes into account the relative contribution of each author to an article. The maximum FC per paper is 1, and this is shared between all authors under the assumption that each contributed equally. For instance, each author on a paper with 10 authors would receive a FC of 0.1.

Normalized FC is calculated by dividing the FC of an institution in the Nature Index by its total output in natural sciences as tracked by the platform Dimensions. The ranking is produced by normalizing the top 500 Academic Institutions by FC in the Nature Index based on the 2018 calendar year data.

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Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables Cover