Benchmarking international scientific excellence: Are highly cited research papers an appropriate frame of reference?
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This paper introduces a citation-based "systems approach" for analyzing the various institutional and cognitive dimensions of scientific excellence within national research systems. The methodology, covering several aggregate levels, focuses on the most highly cited research papers in the international journal literature. The distribution of these papers across institutions and disciplines enables objective comparisons their (possible) international-level scientific excellence. By way of example, we present key results from a recent series of analyses of the research system in the Netherlands in the mid 1990s, focussing on the performance of the universities across the various major scientific disciplines within the context of the entire system"s scientific performance. Special attention is paid to the contribution in the world"s top 1% and top 10% most highly cited research papers. The findings indicate that these high performance papers provide a useful analytical framework - both in terms of transparency, cognitive and institutional differentiation, as well as its scope for domestic and international comparisons - providing new indicators for identifying "world class" scientific excellence at the aggregate level. The average citation scores of these academic "Centres of Scientific Excellence" appear to be an inadequate predictor of their production of highly cited papers. However, further critical reflection and in-depth validation studies are needed to establish the true potential of this approach for science policy analyses and evaluation of research performance.
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