Nature Index 2019: small institutes shine in new slant on ranking

Large universities drop down list looking at high quality research once overall natural science output is taken into account

June 19, 2019
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Smaller institutes appear to be more successful than the world’s top universities in producing natural sciences research that makes it into the world’s top journals, according to a new ranking.

After accounting for their size, four institutes from the US, Israel and Austria come top in a new “normalised” list of those publishing most in the Nature Index, a selection of 82 high-quality scientific journals.

Of the major universities that make the top 10 of the overall Nature Index ranking, only four appear in the top 20 of the normalised ranking. And institutions from the UK and China are among those that drop down the list significantly.

The normalised list was compiled by taking the amount of research that each institution published last year in the index – based on share of authorship – and then comparing this with their total output in the natural sciences.

Topping the ranking is the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, a private, non-profit institute that specialises in fields such as cancer research and genomics, which is only ranked 345th when looking purely at its contribution to the index overall.

In 2nd place is the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, which is 410th in the overall Nature Index ranking. Third is Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, 56th in the main list.

The highest institution in the normalised list is the small, private Brandeis University, based near Boston, in fifth, while the only larger universities in the top 10 are the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Princeton University.

Harvard University, which comes top for overall contribution to the 2019 index, drops down to 20th once the ranking is normalised for size, while the University of Cambridge falls from fourth to 32nd, and the University of Oxford drops to 46th from eighth.

David Swinbanks, founder of the Nature Index, said that the new ranking “draws to light some smaller institutes that are proportionally outstripping research powerhouses and would otherwise remain buried much lower down in the standard rankings”.

“The smallest institutions in the top 10 have some common features: ambition, as disclosed by mission statements about striving to be the best in the world, interdisciplinarity, with the strong embrace of collaboration across fields, and in several cases, the backing of Nobel laureates.”

Meanwhile, a country analysis of the main index shows China again making great strides, with an increase in the share of authorship of more than 15 per cent compared with last year.

Almost every other major research nation lost ground, apart from Australia, whose share of research in the journals rose by about 8 per cent. This lifted the nation into the top 10, at the expense of Spain.

The highest institution from any sector in the overall index was the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is also ranked top in three out of four subject areas. However, US institutions still dominate the overall list for academic institutions. After Harvard, the highest ranked are Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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