Researchers’, subjects’, and students’: Ruth’s Rankings 2019 leftovers

By Ruth A. Pagell*

  • What is the impact of “hyper-authorship” on rankings?
  • Who is the best researcher in the world?
  • What is the best Asian university in the field of Plant and Animal Science?
  • What region now leads the world in the PISA reading scores?

1 – Multiple Authorship

Clarivate Analytics released the report “Multi-authorship and research analytics” that analyses the effect these articles have on citation rates.  CA defines multi-authorship articles as having more than 10 authors from five countries and hyper-authorship articles having over 100 authors and/or 30 countries. 95% of articles have 10 or fewer authors with the mode being three.  99% of articles have five or fewer countries with the mode being one.

The impact of adding authors and/or countries results in more citations. The increase varies among Essential Science Indicator (ESI) categories using Category Normalized Citation Impact (CNCI). For those who prefer visualizations, the report contains a variety of charts mapping relationships between number with authors, country, and discipline category CNCIs.

Multi-authorship has a higher impact in smaller research economies. Times Higher Education recognized that hyper-authorship was affecting rankings.  First, they excluded all papers with over 1,000 authors. Then, working with Elsevier, they “developed a fractional counting approach that ensures that all universities where academics are authors of these papers will receive at least 5% of the value of the paper, and where those that provide the most contributors to the paper receive a proportionately larger contribution.” The problem is not completely solved. Using THE’s citation methodology, universities from Jordan, Sri Lanka and Iran, ranked 351-400 in the world, are in the top 10.  For medicine and dentistry, three of the top five are from Egypt, Jordan and Sri Lanka.  Elsevier also issued a report on fractional counting (Gasson).

In evaluating size dependent article metrics, we need to know how suppliers of the metrics distribute author counts. For each article, does each institution and country count once (AC) or is the credit divided among the authors’ institutions and countries, referred to as fractional counting (FC). See Nature’s definitions. The impact of the two counting methods can be seen in the recent Nature ranking of “Institutions with high affiliation articles”.  See Table 1 (in pdf) for the top 10 in FC and AC for 200 institutions in physics and astronomy. The top institutions are research institutes, primarily from Europe. Checking the rest of the list displays the many universities that have contributed to the research in conjunction with the research groups. Nature also ranked the top 100 in both  Genetics and Oncology and Immunology, where more universities are in the top tier.



Adams, J., Pendlebury, D., Potter, R. & Szomszor, M. (Dec 2019).  Global research report: Multi-authorship and research analytics.  Institute for Scientific Information, accessed at

Gasson, K., Herbert, R. & Ponsford, A. (May 2019) Fractional authorship and publication productivity.  International Center for the Study of Research, Elsevier accessed at

Nature Index 2019 Collaboration and Big Science (21 November 2019).  575, (7783) accessed at


2 – Highly Cited Researchers

Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers, first covered in RR 34, contains over 6,000  authors in the top 1% of their science and social science fields as identified by ESI. Bibliometrics differ among subject categories. Therefore, researchers are not ranked.

Click here for an overview of the results and methodology. Harvard University has the most researchers and the Chinese Academy of Sciences leads Asia/Pac. The list does not answer the question: “Who is the best researcher in the world?” Click here for the full list arranged alphabetically by authors’ first names.  See Examples 1.A. and 1.B (in pdf)  for tips on how to access the dataset online or by downloading the researcher file. To see the Executive Summary, Highly Cited Researchers 2019: Identifying top talent in the sciences and social sciences click here and register.

As with everything bibliometric, using size dependent metrics such as number of papers and citations used in this rating, mainland China is over-taking the European countries. We can conclude that China has the second highest number of highly cited researchers in the world. This does not mean that China has the second highest quality output.


3 – THE and U.S. News Subject Rankings 2020

There are rarely surprises in the top of THE’s subject rankings. THE uses the same dataset as its world rankings and the same metrics, with slightly modified weightings.  U.S. universities take eight of the 11 top spots. Stanford leads with four. Oxford, THE’s world number one, takes two spots and Cambridge takes the other 3.  Melbourne is first in seven categories for Oceana.

U.S. universities have five top spots in the U.S. News rankings.  U.S. News does not issue separate subject rankings. Subjects are incorporated into the annual global ranking using the same methodology. Universities that do not qualify for the Global rankings are included in the subject rankings.  Four subjects are headed by their world number one Harvard. Tsinghua is first in two categories and Oxford in one.  The Netherlands’ Wageningen heads the Plant and Animal category while Thailand’s unranked Mae Fah Luang is first in Asia.  See Table 2 (in pdf).


4 – Pre-tertiary student ranking

PISA, OECD’s Programme for International School Assessment is administered every three years to 15-year-old students from around the world. It tests reading, mathematics and science. Countries are ranked based on students’ scores and are compared to the OECD average.  Of the 14 Asia/Pac countries in the rankings, four are in the top 10 in all categories and two are in the bottom 10.  B-S-J-Z China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang) replaced Singapore as number one.  Nine of the 14 participating Asia/Pac countries score above the OECD mean in all categories.  Estonia is the top non-Asian country, replacing Finland (The parable).  For comparison, the USA and UK are not in the top 10 and the USA is below the OECD average for Mathematics.   Despite Malaysia’s improvement in international university rankings, its PISA scores are similar to those of Brunei, placing them in the bottom half of the rankings.  See Table 3 (in pdf) for the top 10 in each category and all the Asia/Pac countries that participated.

PISA 2018 Results: Combined Executive summaries Volumes I, II, III OECD retrieved at

The parable of Finland: PISA results can lead policymakers astray (5 Dec 2019).  Economist accessed at


5 – Other Articles of Interest updating SDGs and Indian Rankings

Ruth’s Rankings articles on Sustainable Development Goals (RR38 and RR41) did not address Gender Equity, SDG 5. An article in BMJ (Lerchenmueller) statistically analyzes millions of articles in the field of medicine for the use of positive words to describe the articles. The authors concluded that articles where the first and last authors were men used more positive words to describe their research and these articles were more highly cited.

Three years ago, we wrote about Indian universities (RR22).  A recent article compares India’s domestic rankings NIRF with THE rankings (Kulkarni). One conclusion in the article is that Indian institutions in the top 100 of domestic rankings were ranked in THE, and many were at the lower end of the THE rankings.  In checking I found 56 ranked in THE 2020 with two above 500.  24 are ranked in QS with three in the top 200 and nine above 500. The number of Indian universities in the rankings has increased in three years, but not the performance.

Lerchenmueller, M.J., Sorsenson, O. & Anupam, B.J. (Nov, 2019).  “Gender differences in how scientists present the importance of their research: observational study”.  BMJ367,

Kulkarni, A. (16 Nov 2019).  “Can domestic rankings be a springboard to global success?”.  University World News. Accessed at


*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS –