Highly Cited Researchers 2022: Using deeper qualitative analysis to help spot research anomalies

Today we reveal our annual list of Highly Cited Researchers. This year we recognize 6,938 scientists and social scientists who demonstrate significant and broad influence among their peers in their chosen field or fields of research.

The exceptional individuals designated Highly Cited Researchers 2022 have published multiple highly cited papers, ranking in the top 1% by citations for field and year over the last decade. Of all the world’s researchers, they are one in 1,000.

The analysts at the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)™ who create the Highly Cited Researchers™ list use both quantitative and qualitative analysis to identify influential individuals from around the globe and across many research fields. This year our selection process has been more in-depth than ever, in an effort to navigate increasing evidence of anomalies in patterns and volume of authorship and citations.

Spotlight on the analysis behind the Highly Cited Researchers list

The first step in preparing our annual list includes a quantitative analysis of a decade’s worth of citation records in the Web of Science Core Collection™ to identify a preliminary list of candidates. All Highly Cited Researcher records are then reviewed in a second phase of deep qualitative analysis. Throughout the year we examine evidence of factors such as retractions, misconduct and extreme self-citation—all of which would detract from true community-wide research influence— and may lead to an author being excluded from the list.

For the past several years, we have excluded from our analysis highly cited papers that have been retracted. This year we extended our analysis of retracted papers because we were concerned about cases in which a putative Highly Cited Researcher’s publications that were not highly cited may have been retracted for reasons of misconduct (such as plagiarism, image manipulation and fake peer review).

To help us do this, we’ve partnered with Retraction Watch and used its unparalleled database of retractions to help us expand our qualitative analysis. Our analysts searched for evidence of anomalies in publications of candidates on our preliminary list. This extended analysis proved invaluable in identifying researchers to exclude, so this exercise will continue in future years.

Beyond this, researchers found to have committed scientific misconduct in formal proceedings conducted by a researcher’s institution, a government agency, a funder or a publisher are also excluded.

The impact of deeper qualitative analysis on the Highly Cited Researchers list

In 2019 we began to exclude authors whose collection of highly cited papers revealed unusually high levels of self-citation. For each Essential Science Indicators™ (ESI) field, a distribution of self-citation was obtained, and extreme outliers (a very small fraction) were identified and evaluated.[1]

Inordinate self-citation and unusual collaborative group citation (citation circles or cabals) can seriously undermine the validity of the data analyzed for Highly Cited Researchers. These activities may represent efforts to game the system and create self-generated status.

Unfortunately, it appears to us that such activity is increasing. The incentives to achieve Highly Cited Researcher status are in some nations and research systems quite high. Highly Cited Researcher status often results in rewards for a researcher, which can include:

  • higher renumeration
  • recruitment to other institutions (which benefit institutions in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, since the number of Highly Cited Researchers represents 20% of an institution’s score for ranking)
  • offers to become affiliated researchers at other institutions in exchange for payment and a researcher’s agreement to preferentially list the contracting institution regularly on publications (this represents a shortcut to higher placement in the Academic Ranking of World Universities)

This year we extended the identification of these affiliated or guest researchers, designating these as Research Fellows or Associates. These individuals were not counted in our own ranking of nations or institutions.

More ingenious gaming methods require greater scrutiny of the publication and citation records of putative Highly Cited Researchers. For example, outsized output, in which individuals publish two or three papers per week over long periods, by relying on international networks of co-authors, raise the possibility that an individual’s high citation counts may result from co-authors alone when publishing without the individual in question. If more than half of a researcher’s citations derive from co-authors, for example, we consider this narrow rather than community-wide influence and that is not the type of evidence we look for in naming Highly Cited Researchers. Any author publishing two or three papers per week strains our understanding of normative standards of authorship and credit.

A call to the research community to uphold research integrity

Clarivate analysts use other filters to identify and exclude researchers whose publication and citation activity is unusual and suspect. We will not enumerate all the checks and filters being deployed in the interest of staying ahead of those attempting to game our identification of Highly Cited Researchers.

We can report, with the implementation of more filters this year, the number of putative Highly Cited Researchers excluded from our final list increased from some 300 in 2021 to about 550 this year.

It is concerning to anticipate that in a few years perhaps up to 10% of those we are identifying through our algorithms may be engaged in publication and citation gaming or misconduct.

This then is an explicit call for the research community to police itself through more thorough peer review and other internationally recognized procedures to ensure integrity in research and its publication.

Celebrating Highly Cited Researchers 2022

Our continuing efforts to ensure that the Highly Cited Researchers list reflects genuine, community-wide research influence, through expanding our qualitative analysis, should not detract from those named Highly Cited Researchers this year. The list is truly global, spanning 69 countries or regions and spread across a diverse range of research fields in the sciences and social sciences. Some extraordinary researchers are recognized in multiple ESI research fields, with 219 named in two fields, 28 named in three fields and 4 named in four fields.

While the United States continues to lead the world in research influence with the most Highly Cited Researchers and Harvard University once again the institution with the highest concentration of Highly Cited Researchers in the world, Mainland China, in second place, continues to close the gap. The United Kingdom (third this year) and Singapore (new to the top 10) show a remarkably high number of researchers at the very top of their fields in terms of citation impact. Indeed, the 2022 list reflects a transformational rebalancing of scientific and scholarly contributions at the top level through the globalization of the research enterprise.

Research fuels the race for knowledge. We celebrate the individuals named on the Highly Cited Researchers 2022 list for their role in driving the wheel of innovation and helping transform human ingenuity into our world’s greatest breakthroughs.

See the full list of Highly Cited Researchers 2022 or take a deeper dive into our published methodology.

[1] For a description of the methodology used to exclude authors with very high levels of self-citation, please see: Adams, J., Pendlebury, D. and Szomszor, M., “How Much is Too Much? The Difference between Research Influence and Self-Citation Excess,” Scientometrics, 123 (2):1119–1147, May 2020.