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High-flying physicists ranked like WWI fighter pilots

german ace2.jpg
German aces Credit: Bernie Hengst

By James Dacey

How does one compare the achievements of Nobel Prize winning physicists?

Well, a couple of researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) believe it can be done – look a physicist’s cyber-presence.

Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury open their arXiv paper by dismissing the two “standard” measures of scientific achievement:

Number of published papers – journals publish all sorts of nonsense.
Number of citations – “multiplicate by mere copying”.

They go on to propose a third way based on a previous study of theirs…

Back in 2006, these two electrical engineers published a paper demonstrating that fame of German World War I fighter pilots (measured as number of Google hits) grows exponentially with their achievement (number of victories).

In this latest arXiv paper Simkin and Roychowdhury have turned their method on its head by measuring scientific ‘achievement’ by the number of Google hits a physicist receives.

They ran Google searches for all 45 pre-WWII Nobel Laureates in Physics, and translated this into achievement using a simple logarithm.

Unsurprisingly, Einstein is the biggest cyber celeb – his 22,700,000 Google hits give him an achievement score of “1 Einstein”. Second was Max Planck whose 10,600,000 rate his achievement as 0.911 Einsteins. Third was Marie Curie scoring 0.850 Einsteins.

Just missing out on the top ten is the UK’s Paul Dirac whose 255,000 hits give him a web presence just 1% that of Einstein’s but this rates his achievement as 0.48 Einsteins.

To round things up, Simkin and Raychowbury argue that their findings are backed up by the “recent attention given to studies where very many non-expert opinions lead to estimates agreeing with reality as good or better than expert opinions”.

Hmmm… that’s a little bit vague isn’t it! And aren’t they assuming that there is an absolute measure of scientific achievement?

So, readers of, a question for you to ponder:

Can you think of a better / fairer / more useful way of comparing physicists’ achievements?

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  1. I can’t, but their method certainly won’t work for today’s physicists. Why – because anyone with a blog has an enormous advantage!

  2. jordimp

    I think it should be Max Planck, not Plank.

  3. weirdo13

    … and it is, yes it is german, but is II WW fighter FW-190 on the photo…
    What’s about Galileo and Newton in this scale?
    And how the names of physcist were separated from the projects named after them ? I just ask for case of my backpack
    Einstein II, cause I think there is a threshold of popularity when name become a trademark ??

  4. S2

    Indeed, Planck (not Plank). Fortunately the researchers used the correct spelling in their “research”.
    Peer review may be flawed, but until someone comes up with something better it is the best that we’ve got. You cannot replace it with Google hits – Science is not a popularity contest!
    And they didn’t even try James Clark Maxwell.
    Note that arXiv papers are not peer reviewed …


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