TMBI Science Awards

Between them, the researchers belonging to the TMBI produce hundreds of journal papers and conference proceedings,  books and book chapters every year. How can we promote truly excellent and important work within the Institute’s voluminous output?

We propose to use Google Scholar’s ability to track citations of every one of the Institute’s members to produce a short list of papers that have had a large impact.

For example, using just the publications of the first 100 scientists to join the TMBI, and taking into account their publications for the period 2011-16, we can use Google Scholar to obtain a wealth of information about which papers have been most cited.

TMBI2011-16

It turns out that the total number of publications for the period was over 1600. Together, those publications have  received 12,662 citations, but of course the distribution of those citations is anything but random. Many publications have never been cited so far – something that is of course inevitable for a paper that has only just been published.

Nevertheless,  304 publications have already had at least 10 citations. But, in principle, the most impressive papers will be the ones that have been cited the most, and you can see from the table that the h-index for the set was 50, meaning that 50 of the papers produced by the TMBI since 2011 have been cited at least 50. And you can see that the top of the list is dominated with papers related to Parkinson’s disease with a paper by Chollet et al recieving an impressive 396 citations. But there are other types of papers in the top ten, including papers on Pedestrian behavior, EEG source analysis and neuronal models of visual cortex.

If the Scientific Advisory Board were to look through the papers at the top of the list, it would not be difficult to imagine that they could find a number of very interesting and varied studies that could merit an award. Obviously, the SAB might well want to prioritise work that was done entirely in Toulouse, as well a promoting a range of different areas of research.

Picking out the best papers from the last 5 years is already a good tool for rewarding high-impact science and the researchers responsible for the work.  But the same methods can be used to pick out the really exciting breakthrough science. You just need to restrict the analysis to papers produced in the past 2 years (2014-16), as shown below.

TMBI2014-16

It turns out that the 100 first members to sign up to the TMBI have published over 700 papers since 2014, and that those papers have been cited 1834 times so far. 51 have been cited at least 10 times, but the top of the list is again a paper on Parkinson’s, published in the Lancet in 2014, and which has been cited 112 times already – impressive.  But there are other papers on such varied topics as anatomical hierarchies in cerebral cortex, interindividual variability in social insects, studies using methods inclusing EEG and Near Infrared spectroscopy. Particularly impressive is the fact that Google Scholar has picked out a book, written in French, and published in 2014 that has already been cited 40 times.

While Google Scholar has its critics, we believe that it nevertheless provides a powerful way of encouraging original and groundbreaking research. The fact is that there is far too much attention paid to the sheer volume of production – we are supposed to compare the scientific output of different countries by simply counting the the numbers of papers that have been published. But who cares about papers that have not been read, let alone cited.

The TMBI believes that it has a role to play in encouraging adventurous and high-risk science by awarding such prizes. And not that given that we could award a prize at the end of 2016 for a paper that may have only appeared in 2014, it means that young scientists could get really good reinforcement very early in their careers. Hopefully, obtaining a TMBI Science award will rapidly become a highly real boost to a young scientists CV.

Finally, it is worth noting that by concentrating on recently published work, it levels the playing field between scientists at different stages of their career. Of course a young scientist has no hope of competiting in the citation stakes with a senior scientist who has been publishing for 40 years and has tens of thousands of citations. But by resetting the counter and looking only at what has been produced in the past 2 or 5 years, this will hopefully stimulate a much better environment where everyone is treated equally.