Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Hot Schools in the Biosciences

Quality not quantity. That's what won several institutions the top slot in the latest rankings of specific biological fields, reported in the September/October ScienceWatch. Scientists at the highest ranking universities published fewer papers between 1993 and 1997 than did their peers at other institutions, but the work was rated as having higher scientific impact. Overall, Harvard University was rated as the number one research university.

The Philadelphia-based Institute for Scientific Information, which publishes ScienceWatch, tracks citations from hundreds of scientific journals. To rank the top 100 federally funded universities, ScienceWatch worked out the average number of times that papers at each institution were cited in another paper. These scores were then compared to a world average for papers in the same field to yield an estimate of their "relative impact." Chris King, who edits ScienceWatch, says the calculation "represents what scientists think is important in their field when they write papers."

Field University No. Papers Relative Impact
Neuroscience Caltech 395 135%
Immunology Washington University 551 140%
Molecular Biology/Genetics MIT 823 239%
Biology/Biochemistry Duke 1446 130%


In neuroscience, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) came out on top for relative impact, despite publishing 395 papers to Harvard's 2419. Washington University in St. Louis ranked first in immunology with only a third as many papers as number two Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had the highest relative impact in molecular biology and genetics with a fraction of Harvard's publication rate. The same story held true for the rankings of biology and biochemistry, which Duke University topped. Harvard, which published the most papers in total, ranked as the top research university overall, placing in the top 10 in 17 of the 21 science categories.