Metrics Mania: Which Schools Stand Tall?

April 2015

The NCAA’s “March Madness®” tournament has been in full swing, winnowing down the starting field of 68 men’s collegiate teams vying for the national basketball championship. The successful teams have drawn on solid execution, as well as on the sometimes improbable, occasionally wild turns of fortune that make the tournament such a popular and enduring spectacle.

Along with sports, however, there are many spheres in which colleges and universities can compete. For the third consecutive year, the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters is holding its Metrics Mania” competition, in which the 68 schools in the hoops tournament face off and try to advance in a different game: a comparison of their research programs as gauged by the various evaluative measures found in Thomson Reuters data.

Specifically, the competition hinges on the Thomson Reuters resource the Web of Science and its coverage of some 12,000 scientific and scholarly journals, along with conference proceedings, book chapters, and other materials. Within that vast compendium lies a portrait of each institution and its researchers who publish scholarly papers. How many papers, for example, has a university produced? How often do peers outside the institution judge those papers to be significant enough to be cited in their own work?  On average, how do these citation totals compare to baseline figures for a given field and year of publication? And to what extent do the university’s researchers collaborate with other institutions across regional and national boundaries?

As Metrics Mania progresses, these measures—derived from  the customized Web of Science evaluation tool InCitesTM, the leading web-based research analytics platform enabling institutions to measure research output and impact, monitor trends, and benchmark performance against peers at the individual, departmental, and global levels—are applied in turn to an ever-narrowing array of contenders. Ultimately, as in the basketball tournament, two schools will be left to battle for the championship. In the 2014 competition, Stanford bested Duke to claim the ultimate victory. In the previous year, the University of California at Berkeley edged Harvard for all the marbles.

Although those past winners, having failed to qualify on the basketball court, are absent from this year’s Metrics Mania, the two runners-up are very much in the running. In the Web of Science subset known as Essential Science Indicators, which tracks research over the last decade, Harvard and Duke both rank among the top 40 institutions in the world by total citations. Prominence according to this particular measure, which favors large and prolific research entities, bodes well for both universities. UCLA is also highly ranked among world institutions and, as the Mania commenced, was clearly a school to watch in the competition.

Metrics Mania: Five Universities to Watch

Their Most Prolific Web of Science Subfields

(Listed alphabetically, shown with number of papers, 2005 to 2014)

University Most Prolific Field Number of Papers
Duke University Cardiac & Cardiovascular Systems 6,328
Georgetown University Oncology 1,621
Harvard University Oncology 19,739
University of California Irvine Neurosciences 2,592
University of California Los Angeles Neurosciences 5,969
SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Science

Then again, universities with smaller research production might pull off a surprise or two. The table above shows five universities, along with the Web of Science subfield in which each produces the greatest number of papers. Although Georgetown, for example (still in contention at this writing), fields fewer papers than powerhouse Harvard, the pound-for-pound strength of smaller producers, as measured by overall average citations per paper, should not be dismissed.

Similarly, UC Irvine, despite a lower Web of Science paper tally than that of UCLA as measured for all fields, scores comparably in overall impact, and might well mount a challenge.

To follow the competition and learn the ultimate winner of the Research Crown, visit the Thomson Reuters Metrics Mania site and follow the latest updates on Twitter @InCites_TR and hashtag #metricsmania. Even if your favorite teams met an early end on the basketball court, their school's research prowess may have taken them farther.   

The data and citation records included in this report are from Thomson Reuters Web of ScienceTM. Web of ScienceTM is a registered trademark of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.