Laying foundations for the future: Citation Laureates 2021

Clarivate™ draws on Web of Science™ publication and citation data to reveal annual list of Citation Laureates™ – researchers ‘of Nobel class’ whose high-impact contributions have transformed their fields and paved the path for the future of science.

Each year in early October, a select handful of researchers receive science’s highest honor in the form of the Nobel Prize. Since 2002, this highly anticipated event is preceded by Clarivate citation analysts’ annual list of Citation Laureates. These influential researchers have authored extremely highly cited publications and contributed to science over decades, in ways that have transformed their fields in the present and laid the groundwork for the scientific advances of the future.


Citation as an indicator of impact

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Eugene Garfield, founder of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)™ and father of citation indexing for the scientific literature, published a paper which presented a table of the 50 most-cited scientists during 1967. The list contained the names of six Nobel Prize recipients as well as 10 others who went on to earn Nobel recognition, eight within a decade.

Garfield was demonstrating that citations, at least at high frequency, can serve as a strong indicator of influence and impact within a scientific field. Later research also showed a strong correlation among citations and other measures of peer recognition, including awards. This explains why something as simple as Garfield’s list of 50 most-cited scientists could capture so many Nobel laureates and Nobelists-to-be.

In the spirit of Garfield’s work, it is by using a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis that ISI analysts identify the annual list of world-class researchers who are deemed Citation Laureates.


“As of September 2021, 59 Citation Laureates have received the Nobel Prize, 37 within three years of being named a Citation Laureate.”

David Pendlebury, Head of Research Analysis at the Institute for Scientific Information


This table illustrates the citation distribution for journal articles and proceedings papers published from 1970 to 2020 in the Web of Science. Out of some 52 million papers, only 6,532 have been cited 2,000 or more times, or just .01%. Because Nobel laureates typically have published one or more papers cited 2,000 or more times, this makes the task of identifying scientists ‘of Nobel class’ among millions of researchers much more manageable as it narrows the search to exceptionally highly cited papers and their authors.


Citations Number in range (papers) Cumulative count (papers)
100,000 – 331,679 3 3
50,000 – 99,999 14 17
10,000 – 49,999 308 325
5,000 – 9,999 836 1,161
3,000 – 4,999 1,869 3,030
2,000 – 2,999 3,502 6,532
1,000 – 1,999 18,253 24,785
500 – 999 70,220 95,005
0 – 499 52,285,444 52,380,449

Table 1. Citation distribution for journal articles and proceedings papers, 1970 to 2020.
Source: The Web of Science


Determining a Nobel level of influence

Since 2002, Clarivate has named Citation Laureates in the areas recognized by the Nobel Prize: Physiology or Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Economics. These researchers have laid the foundations for their fields, often pioneering whole new areas of science and paving the way for those who have come after them. Citation Laureates also exhibit exceptional levels of citation among their peers and have often produced multiple highly cited papers.

However, a high level of citation is only a prerequisite for selection on this prestigious list. While we say that citations at high frequency reflect contributions that have been influential in some way, we also maintain that citation data should be combined with qualitative information and human judgement. In order to do this, we analyze:

  • Discovery: whether the authors of the highly cited papers were the primary discoverers within their research topic
  • Awards: whether the researchers have received international or national awards for this research
  • Nobel ‘taste’: whether the identified achievements ‘make sense’ alongside past choices
  • Timing: whether the topics would likely receive attention or if they are ‘too similar’ to recent Nobel prizes or ‘too soon’ (Nobel recognition typically comes 20 years or more after a published discovery or contribution)

At the intersection of these quantitative and qualitative data sets, we find potential Nobel laureates who we define as Citation Laureates. To date, we have identified more than 360 Citation Laureates in our Hall of Citation Laureates. As of September 2021, 59 of these later received the Nobel Prize, 37 within three years of being named a Citation Laureate. Their achievement demonstrates once again the early association between citations in the literature, influence through a research community and peer judgement.


Celebrating the 2021 inductees to the Hall of Citation Laureates

This year we name 16 new Citation Laureates who have made significant contributions in each of the four Nobel Prize areas. Some of the topics of their highly cited research contributions include:

  • identification and isolation of the Hantaan virus (hantavirus), agent of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome
  • fundamental contributions to the fields of complex networks and complex systems, including work on community structure and random graph models
  • pioneering research in free-radical chemistry including the role of free radicals and antioxidants in human disease
  • contributions to international macroeconomics and insights on global debt and financial crises

As always, we do not attempt to predict that an individual will receive a Nobel Prize in a specific year. Rather, we identify researchers ‘of Nobel class’ who are, in the words of sociologist Harriet Zuckerman, “peers of the prize-winners in every sense except that of having the award.”[1]  While not all can possibly become Nobel laureates, we believe strongly that their research achievements ought to be highlighted and celebrated.

When the Nobel Prizes for 2021 are announced, we will discover who will be honored with the laurels of the Nobel Assembly in Stockholm. As ever, we hope that some richly deserving Citation Laureates will be among them.

Learn more about this year’s list and view our Hall of Citation Laureates here.


[1] Harriet A. Zuckerman, Scientific Elite: Nobel Laureates in the United States, 1977