, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 401–412 | Cite as

Why it has become more difficult to predict Nobel Prize winners: a bibliometric analysis of nominees and winners of the chemistry and physics prizes (1901–2007)

  • Yves Gingras
  • Matthew L. WallaceEmail author


We propose a comprehensive bibliometric study of the profile of Nobel Prize winners in chemistry and physics from 1901 to 2007, based on citation data available over the same period. The data allows us to observe the evolution of the profiles of winners in the years leading up to—and following—nominations and awarding of the Nobel Prize. The degree centrality and citation rankings in these fields confirm that the Prize is awarded at the peak of the winners’ citation history, despite a brief Halo Effect observable in the years following the attribution of the Prize. Changes in the size and organization of the two fields result in a rapid decline of predictive power of bibliometric data over the century. This can be explained not only by the growing size and fragmentation of the two disciplines, but also, at least in the case of physics, by an implicit hierarchy in the most legitimate topics within the discipline, as well as among the scientists selected for the Nobel Prize. Furthermore, the lack of readily-identifiable dominant contemporary physicists suggests that there are few new paradigm shifts within the field, as perceived by the scientific community as a whole.


Nobel Prize Citation Centrality Scientific disciplines 


  1. Ashton, S. V., & Oppenheim, C. (1978). A method of predicting Nobel prizewinners in chemistry. Social Studies of Science, 8, 341–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barkan, D. K. (1994). Simply a matter of chemistry? The Nobel Prize for 1920. Perspectives on Science, 2(4), 357–395.Google Scholar
  3. Bernhard, C. G., Crawford, E., & Sörbom, E. (Eds.). (1982). Science and technology in the time of Alfred Nobel. Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  4. Björk, R. (1991). Inside the Nobel Committee on medicine: Prize competition procedures 1901–1950 and the fate of Carl Neuberg. Minerva, 39, 393–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. (1975). The scientific field and the social conditions for the progress of reason. Social Science Information, 14(6), 19–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cole, J. R., & Cole, S. (1973). Social stratification in science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Crawford, E. (1984). The beginnings of the Nobel institution: The science prizes, 1901–1915. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Crawford, E. (1992). Nationalism and internationalism in science, 1880–1939: Four studies of the nobel population. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Crawford, E. (2002). The nobel population 1901–1950: A census of the nominators and nominees for the prizes in physics and chemistry. Tokyo: Universal Academy Press.Google Scholar
  10. Elzinga, A. (2006). Einstein’s Nobel Prize: A Glimpse behind closed doors. Sagamore Beach: Science History Publications.Google Scholar
  11. Freeman, L. C. (1978/1979). Centrality in social networks: Conceptual clarification. Social Networks, 1: 215–239.Google Scholar
  12. Friedman, R. M. (2001). The politics of excellence: Behind the Nobel Prize in science. New York: W.H. Freeman Books.Google Scholar
  13. Garfield, E. (1977). The 250 most-cited primary authors, 1961–1975. Part II: The correlation between citedness, Nobel Prizes and Academy memberships. Essays of an Information Scientist, 3, 337–347.Google Scholar
  14. Garfield, E. (1981). Are the 1979 prizewinners of Nobel class? Essays of an Information Scientist, 4, 609–617.Google Scholar
  15. Garfield, E. (1986). Do Nobel Prize winners write citation classics? Essays of an Information Scientist, 9, 182–187.Google Scholar
  16. Garfield, E., & Welljams-Dorof, A. (1992). Of Nobel class: A citation perspective on high-impact research authors. Theoretical Medicine, 13, 117–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gingras, Y. (2007). Mapping the changing centrality of physicists (1900–1944). Proceedings of the 11th International Conference of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics, pp. 314–320.Google Scholar
  18. Jenkin, J. (2001). A unique partnership: William and Lawrence Bragg and the 1915 Nobel Prize in physics. Minerva, 39(4), 373–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kademani, B. S., Kalyane, V. L., Kumar, V., & Mohan, L. (2005). Nobel laureates: Their publication productivity, collaboration and authorship status. Scientometrics, 62(2), 261–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Karazija, R., & Momkausaite, A. (2004). The Nobel Prize in physics: Regularities and tendencies. Scientometrics, 61(2), 191–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Krige, J. (2001). The 1984 Nobel physics prize for heterogeneous engineering. Minerva, 39(4), 425–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Maclachlan, J. (1991). Defining physics: The Nobel Prize selection process, 1901–1937. American Journal of Physics, 59(2), 166–174.CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  23. Merton, R. K. (1973). The sociology of science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. O’sullivan, A. (2001). Henry Dale’s Nobel Prize winning ‘discovery’. Minerva, 39(4), 409–424.CrossRefMathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  25. Zuckerman, H. (1977). The Nobel elite: Nobel laureates in the United States. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Observatoire des Sciences et des Technologies (OST), Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur la Science et la Technologie (CIRST)Université du Québec à MontréalMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations