Archive for April 2, 2011

(Guest Post) The Astronomical Premiership

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on April 2, 2011 by telescoper

Here’s a contribution to the discussion of citation rates in Astronomy (see this blog passim) by the estimable Paul Crowther who in addition to being an astronomer also maintains an important page about issues relating to STFC funding.


At last week’s Sheffield astrophysics group journal club I gave a talk on astronomical bibliometrics, motivated in part by Stuart Lowe’s H-R diagram of astronomers blog entry from last year, and the subsequent Seattle AAS 217 poster with Alberto Conti. These combined various versions of google search results with numbers of ADS publications. The original one was by far the most fun.

The poster also included Hirsch’s h-index for Americal Astronomical Society members, which is defined as the number of papers cited at least h times. Conti and Lowe presented the top ten of AAS members, with Donald Schneider in pole position, courtesy of SDSS. Kevin Pimblett has recently compiled the h-index for (domestic) members of the Astronomical Society of Australia, topped by Ken Freeman and Jeremy Mould.

Even though many rightly treat bibliometrics with distain, these studies naturally got me curious about comparable UK statistics. The last attempt to look into this was by Alex Blustin for Astronomy and Geophysics in 2007, but he (perhaps wisely) kept his results anonymous. For the talk I put together my attempt at an equivalent UK top ten, including those working overseas. Mindful of the fact that scientists could achieve a high h-index through heavily cited papers with many coauthors, I also looked into using normalised citations from ADS for an alternative, so-called hl,norm-index. I gather there are a myriad of such indices but stuck with just these two.

Still, I worried that my UK top ten would only be objective if I were to put together a ranked list of the h-index for every UK-based astronomy academic. In fact, given the various pros and cons of the raw and hl,norm-indexes, I thought it best to use an average of these scores when ranking individual astronomers.

For my sample I looked through the astrophysics group web pages for each UK institution represented at the Astronomy Forum, including academics and senior fellows, but excluding emeritus staff where apparent. I also tried to add cosmology, solar physics, planetary science and gravitational wave groups, producing a little over 500 in total. Refereed ADS citations were used to calculate the h-index and hl,norm-index for each academic, taking care to avoid citations to academics with the same surname and initial wherever possible. The results are presented in the chart.

Andy Fabian, George Efstathiou and Carlos Frenk occupy the top three spots for UK astronomy. Beyond these, and although no great football fan, I’d like to use a footballing analogy to rate other academics, with the top ten worthy of a hypothetical Champions League. Others within this illustrious group include John Peacock, Rob Kennicutt and Stephen Hawking.

If these few are the creme de la creme, I figured that others within the top 40 could be likened to Premier League teams, including our current RAS president Roger Davies, plus senior members of STFC committees and panels, including Andy Lawrence, Ian Smail and Andrew Liddle.

For the 60 or so others within the top 20 percent, I decided to continue the footballing analogy with reference to the Championship. At present these include Nial Tanvir, Matthew Bate, Steve Rawlings and Tom Marsh, although some will no doubt challenge for promotion to the Premier League in due course. The remainder of the top 40 per cent or so, forming the next two tiers, each again numbering about 60 academics, would then represent Leagues 1 and 2 – Divisons 3 and 4 from my youth – with Stephen Serjeant and Peter Coles, respectively, amongst their membership.

The majority of astronomers, starting close to the half-way point, represent my fantasy non-league teams, with many big names in the final third, in part due to a lower citation rate within certain sub-fields, notably solar and planetary studies. This week’s Times Higher Ed noted that molecular biology citation rates are 7 times higher than for mathematics, so comparisons across disciplines or sub-disciplines should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

It’s only the final 10 percent that could be thought of as Sunday League players. Still, many of these have a low h-index since they’re relatively young and so will rapidly progress through the leagues in due course, with some of the current star names dropping away once they retire. Others include those who have dedicated much of their careers to building high-impact instruments and so fall outside the mainstream criteria for jobbing astronomers.

This exercise isn’t intended to be taken too seriously by anyone, but finally to give a little international context i’ve carried out the same exercise for a few astronomers based outside the UK. Champions League players include Richard Ellis, Simon White, Jerry Ostriker, Michel Mayor and Reinhard Genzel, with Mike Dopita, Pierro Madau, Simon Lilly, Mario Livio and Rolf Kudritzki in the Premier League, so my ball-park league divisions seem to work out reasonably well beyond these shores.

Oh, I did include myself but am too modest to say which league I currently reside in…


Loose Ends

Posted in Biographical, Education, Finance with tags , , , , , on April 2, 2011 by telescoper

Just a brief post today, I think, in order to tie up a few loose ends from this week.

For reasons that I really don’t understand my blog suddenly became very popular on Thursday (31st March), attracting nearly 5000 hits in a day. That’s nearly four times my current daily average and a couple of thousand more than my previous busiest day. So this week I had my busiest day, last week was my busiest week, and last month was my busiest month. I guess it’s all downhill from here.

I couldn’t figure out what happened to cause all this interest, as not all the hits were on any specific article and no particular search terms were used to find this blog, at least not that I could figure out. I presume that it was my sarcastic take on Wonders of the Universe that was behind it. At any rate that was the post that generated the deluge of abusive comments that my spam filter caught.

Anyway, other items of relevant news are that two new members of Staff joined the School of Physics & Astronomy yesterday (April 1st; no, seriously…) and there are a couple more expected to join soon. It’s nice to have a few new faces around the place, and I’m sure they’ll all be bringing new ideas about research and teaching to the physics side of the School.

A week or so ago I passed on some pretty disappointing news about the funding climate here in Welsh universities. More details emerged this week about what this means for individual institutions; you can find the full list of allocations here (PDF). The figures don’t tally with those in the newspaper article I referred to in the previous post which was presumably inaccurate.

The picture isn’t as bad as I feared but, with a total cut of about 5% (in cash terms) across the sector it could hardly be described as good, especially when inflation is running about 5% on top of that. My employer, Cardiff University, has done slightly better than average, with a cut of only 3% in cash.

However – and it’s really delightful to be able to pass on some good news for once – the School of Physics & Astronomy has just been awarded a pretty large increase in its quota of undergraduate students. This is excellent, as I’ve previously reported that we have had a huge surge in applications this year. We’ll have to work hard to squeeze the extra bodies into laboratories, tutorials and even lecture theatres, but the income they will generate should help us carry out the strategic plans we have developed, perhaps bringing in even more new members of staff.

I’m still a bit grumpy, though, as our teaching terms has another two weeks to run, while some lucky bastards have finished already and are now on their Easter holidays…