In rankings, size is not the whole story

Renowned institutions reign over the research ranks, except when high-quality research is considered as a proportion of total research.
Chief editor, Nature Index

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We are delighted to present the Nature Index Annual Tables. The rankings for 2018 revealed in this print and online supplement highlight the institutions and countries with the highest outputs of top-quality research in the natural sciences. Our measure, fractional count (FC), is based on the share of articles published in 82 prestigious scientific journals, selected by an independent panel of scientists and tracked by the Nature Index database.

Although we rank institutions by comparing their FC, we recognize there are many qualities that distinguish them. There are also many possible causes of a decrease in an institution’s publications in Nature Index journals from year to year. Yet, the specificity of our metric is also its strength: top-notch research in the natural sciences, pure and simple.

Renowned institutions — often with advantages conferred by long history, good reputation, generous funding, and size — reign over the research ranks as might be expected. It is interesting, then, to see how the rankings change when we consider an institution’s Nature Index output as a proportion of its overall output in the natural sciences, based on article counts in the Dimensions from Digital Science database.

This normalized ranking, showing what share of an institution’s research output in the natural sciences has been judged high quality, reveals a very different set of leaders among academic institutions. Some of them have tiny article counts compared to the likes of Harvard: the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York is number one, yet comes 345th in our Annual Tables; the 30-year-old Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research of Bangalore, India, is 8th in the normalized ranking and otherwise 413th. Princeton University is an impressive 9th normalized and 24th otherwise. Some academic institutions fare much worse than their reputations might predict, and others, much better. As the normalization analysis demonstrates, size isn’t everything, and neither is rank.

For more detail, more tables and more top 10 rankings, please visit

Nature 570, S1 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01919-8

This article is part of Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables, an editorially independent supplement. Advertisers have no influence over the content.

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