Highly cited researchers: a moving target

  • Domingo Docampo
  • Lawrence CramEmail author


Highly cited researchers are a category of researchers defined by scientometric rules relating to counts of citations to their scholarly articles. The designation often refers to researchers identified according to scientometric rules specified by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) and its commercial affiliates; we denote these categories as HCR. The 2001 ISI rules (HRC.1) used membership thresholds derived from the total citation counts to an author’s corpus in a specified research field and time window. The modified 2013 rules also include counts of individual highly cited publications (HCR.2), while the foreshadowed 2018 rules introduce the concept of cross-field influence (HCR.3). The HCR category is a popular, albeit flawed, indicator of outstanding individual researchers. HCR membership has been used as the basis for many studies of research excellence, including the use of an institution’s HCR count as an indicator in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The paper traces the development of the HCR category and its use by ARWU, providing insights into the social construction of research indicators and their potential to change research practice.


Academic rankings World class universities Indicators Highly cited researcher 



The work of D. Docampo was supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Galician Regional Government under agreement for funding the Atlantic Research Center for Information and Communication Technologies (AtlantTIC), as well as by the Government of Spain through the Salvador de Madariaga Program.


Additional information relating to the work reported here is deposited for open access in Technical Reports and other data sets at


  1. Adair, W. C. (1955). Citation indexes for scientific literature? American Documentation, 6(1), 31–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amara, N., Landry, R., & Halilem, N. (2015). What can university administrators do to increase the publication and citation scores of their faculty members? Scientometrics, 103(2), 489–530. Scholar
  3. Analytics, C. (2018). New this year: Cross-field category. Clarivate Analytics. Accessed November 23, 2018.
  4. Anon. (2004). Citation Laureate Awarded to psychiatrist. Australiasian Psychiatry, 12(2), 204.Google Scholar
  5. Anon. (2018). Back to the future: Institute for Scientific Information re-established within Clarivate Analytics. Accessed March 28, 2018.
  6. ARWU. (2012). Methodology for the computation of the HiCi indicator. Accessed October 19, 2015.
  7. Basu, A. (2006). Using ISI’s’ Highly Cited Researchers’ to obtain a country level indicator of citation excellence. Scientometrics, 68(3), 361–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Batty, M. (2003). The geography of scientific citation. Environment and Planning A, 35(5), 761–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bhattacharjee, Y. (2011). Saudi universities offer cash in exchange for academic prestige. Science, 34(6061), 1344–1345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bornmann, L., Bauer, J., & Schlagberger, E. M. (2017). Characteristics of highly cited researchers 2015 in Germany. Scientometrics, 111(1), 543–545. Scholar
  11. Bornmann, L., & Leydesdorff, L. (2018). Count highly-cited papers instead of papers with h citations: Use normalized citation counts and compare “like with like”! Scientometrics, 115(2), 1119–1123. Scholar
  12. Bornmann, L., Mutz, R., Neuhaus, C., & Daniel, H.-D. (2008). Citation counts for research evaluation: Standards of good practice for analyzing bibliometric data and presenting and interpreting results. Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, 8(1), 93–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bornmann, L., Wagner, C., & Leydesdorff, L. (2015). BRICS countries and scientific excellence: A bibliometric analysis of most frequently cited papers. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(7), 1507–1513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Burns, J., Brenner, A., Kiser, K., Krot, M., Llewellyn, C., & Snyder, R. (2009). JSTOR-data for research. In International conference on theory and practice of digital libraries (pp. 416–419). Springer.Google Scholar
  15. Clarivate Analytics. (2018a). Highly cited researchers: Archived lists. Accessed June 12, 2018.
  16. Clarivate Analytics. (2018b). Highly cited researchers: Metholdology. Accessed June 12, 2018.
  17. Clarivate Analytics. (2018c). New this year: Cross-field category. Accessed 23 Nov 2018.
  18. Cronin, B. (2005). A hundred million acts of whimsy? Current Science - Bangalore, 89(9), 1505.Google Scholar
  19. De Bellis, N. (2009). Bibliometrics and citation analysis: From the science citation index to cybermetrics. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.Google Scholar
  20. Docampo, D. (2013). Reproducibility of the Shanghai academic ranking of world universities results. Scientometrics, 94(2), 567–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Docampo, D., & Cram, L. (2014). On the internal dynamics of the Shanghai ranking. Scientometrics, 98(2), 1347–1366. Scholar
  22. Fernández-Cano, A., Curiel-Marin, E., Torralbo-Rodríguez, M., & Vallejo-Ruiz, M. (2018). Questioning the Shanghai Ranking methodology as a tool for the evaluation of universities: An integrative review. Scientometrics, 116(3), 2069–2083. Scholar
  23. Florian, R. V. (2007). Irreproducibility of the results of the Shangai academic ranking of world universities. Scientometrics, 72(1), 25–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Frenken, K., Hardeman, S., & Hoekman, J. (2009). Spatial scientometrics: Towards a cumulative research program. Journal of Informetrics, 3(3), 222–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Garfield, E. (1955). Citation indexes for science: A new dimension in documentation through association of ideas. Science, 122, 108–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Garfield, E. (1957). Breaking the subject index barrier-a citation index for chemical patents. Journal of the Patent Office Society, 39, 583.Google Scholar
  27. Garfield, E. (1967). Current contents ninth anniversary. Essays of an Information Scientist, 1(12), 12–15.Google Scholar
  28. Garfield, E. (1970). Citation indexing for studying science. Nature, 227, 669–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Garfield, E. (1978). The 100 most-cited SSCI authors, 1969–1977. Essays of an Information Scientist, 3, 633–639.Google Scholar
  30. Garfield, E. (1998). On the origins of current contents and ISI. Accessed January 13, 2016.
  31. Garfield, E., & Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992). Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high impact research authors. Theoretical Medicine, 13, 117–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hicks, D., Wouters, P., Waltman, L., de Rijcke, S., & Rafols, I. (2015). Bibliometrics: The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics. Nature, 520(7548), 429–431. Scholar
  33. King, D. A. (2004). The scientific impact of nations. Nature, 430(6997), 311–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lane, P. (1992). Thomson corporation acquires majority interest in ISI. Information Today, 9(5), 1–2.Google Scholar
  35. Liu, N. C., & Cheng, Y. (2005). Academic ranking of world universities: Methodologies and problems. Higher Education in Europe, 30(2), 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. MacRoberts, M. H., & MacRoberts, B. R. (1996). Problems of citation analysis. Scientometrics, 36, 435–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Más-Bleda, A., & Aguillo, I. F. (2013). Can a personal website be useful as an information source to assess individual scientists? The case of European highly cited researchers. Scientometrics, 96(1), 51–67. Scholar
  38. McVeigh, M. E. (2004). How does ISI identify highly cited researchers. Retrieved from Accessed 1 Oct 2013.
  39. Moed, H. F., Burger, W. J. M., Frankfort, J. G., & Van Raan, A. F. J. (1985). The use of bibliometric data for the measurement of university research performance. Research Policy, 14(3), 131–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Moed, H. F., De Bruin, R. E., & Van Leeuwen, T. N. (1995). New bibliometric tools for the assessment of national research performance: Database description, overview of indicators and first applications. Scientometrics, 33(3), 381–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Morse, R., & Krivian, A. (2017). How U.S. News calculated the best global universities rankings. Accessed June 17, 2018 .
  42. Paarlberg, R. L. (2004). Knowledge as power: Science, military dominance, and U.S. security. International Security, 29(1), 122–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Parker, J., Allesina, S., & Lortie, C. (2013). Characterizing a scientific elite (B): Publication and citation patterns of the most highly cited scientists in environmental science and ecology. Scientometrics, 94(2), 469–480. Scholar
  44. Parker, J., Lortie, C., & Allesina, S. (2010). Characterizing a scientific elite: The social characteristics of the most highly cited scientists in environmental science and ecology. Scientometrics, 85(1), 129–143. Scholar
  45. Pendlebury, D. A. (2014). Methodology: Thomson reuters citation laureates. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  46. Petersen, A. M., Fortunato, S., Pan, R. K., Kaski, K., Penner, O., Rungi, A., et al. (2014). Reputation and impact in academic careers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(43), 15316–15321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Seglan, P. O. (1997). Education and debate. British Medical Journal, 314, 498–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Thomson-ISI. (2000). Japan’s citation laureates, 1981–98. Retreived from Accessed 2 March 2015.
  49. Thomson-ISI. (2001). ISI Launches Accessed June 25, 2015 .
  50. Thomson-ISI (2008). How do we identify highly cited researchers? Accessed November 19, 2018.
  51. Thomson Reuters. (2014). Methodology for identifying highly-cited researchers. Accessed October 19, 2015.
  52. Useem, M. (1976). State production of social knowledge: Patterns in government financing of academic social research. American Sociological Review, 41(4), 613–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. USPTO. (2001). United States Patent and Trademark Office. Accessed November 19, 2018.
  54. Van den Brink, M., Fruytier, B., & Thunnissen, M. (2013). Talent management in academia: Performance systems and HRM policies. Human Resource Management Journal, 23(2), 180–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Van Leeuwen, T. N., Moed, H. F., Tijssen, R. J. W., Visser, M. S., & Van Raan, A. F. J. (2001). Language biases in the coverage of the Science Citation Index and its consequencesfor international comparisons of national research performance. Scientometrics, 51(1), 335–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. van Leeuwen, T. N., Visser, M. S., Moed, H. F., Nederhof, T. N., & van Raan, A. F. J. (2003). The Holy Grail of science policy: Exploring and combining bibliometric tools in search of scientific excellence. Scientometrics, 57(2), 257–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. van Raan, A. F. J. (2005). Fatal attraction: Conceptual and methodological problems in the ranking of universities by bibliometric methods. Scientometrics, 62(1), 133–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Waltman, L., van Eck, N. J., van Leeuwen, T. N., Visser, M. S., & van Raan, A. F. J. (2011). Towards a new crown indicator: Some theoretical considerations. Journal of Informetrics, 5(1), 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yap, S. (2016). Onex, Baring PE Asia complete $3.55b acquisition of Thomson Reuters unit. Accessed March 28, 2018.

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Atlantic Research Center for Information and Communication TechnologiesUniversidade de VigoVigoSpain
  2. 2.Research School of Physical Science and EngineeringAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia

Personalised recommendations