Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The most "famous" ecologists (and some time wasting links) (Updated)

(Update: This has gotten lots more attention than I expected. Since first posted, the top 10 list has been updated 2 times based on commenters suggestions. You can also see everyone we looked up here. Probably I won't update this again, because there is a little time wasting, and there is a lot of time wasting :) )

At some point my officemates Matthias and Pierre and I started playing the 'who is the most famous ecologist' game (instead of, say, doing useful work), particular looking for ecologists with an h-index greater than 100. An h-index of 100 would mean that the scientist had 100 publications with at least 100 citations  and their other papers had less than 100 citations. Although the h-index is controversial, it is readily available and reasonably capture scientists that have above average citations per paper and high productivity. We restricted ourselves to only living researchers. We used Publish or Perish to query Google Scholar (which now believes everyone using the internet in our office may be a bot).

We identified only 12 ecologists at level 100 or greater. For many researchers in specialized subfields, an h-index this high is probably not achievable. The one commonality in these names seems to be that they either work on problems of broad importance and interest (particularly, climate change and human impacts on the landscape) or else were fundamental to one or more areas of work. They were also all men, and so we tried to identify the top 12 women ecologists. (We tried as best as we could, using lists here and here to compile our search). The top women ecologists tended to have been publishing for an average of 12 years less than the male ecologists (44 vs. 56 years) which may explain some of the rather jarring difference. The m-index is the h-index/years publishing and so standardizes for differences in career age.

(It's difficult to get these kind of analyses perfect due to common names, misspellings in citations, different databases used, etc. It's clear that for people with long publication lists, there is a good amount of variance depending on how that value is estimated).

Other links: 
(I've been meaning to publish some of these, but haven't otherwise had a time or space for it.. )
Helping graduate students deal with imposter syndrome (Link). Honestly, not only graduate students suffer from imposter syndrome, and it is always helpful to get more advice on how to escape the feeling that you've lucked into something you aren't really qualified for. 

A better way to teach the Tree of Life (Link). This paper has some great ideas that go beyond identifying common ancestors or memorizing taxonomy.

Analyzing scientists are on Twitter (Link). 

Recommendation inflation (Link). Are there any solutions to an arms race of positivity?  


Brian said...

Fun post! Like you I wonder what results for m-index (h-index divided by career length since H increases roughly linearly with time) would show - would there be more women mixed in? It seems almost certainly yes.

Oddly, I did find your list reassuring about the objectiveness of the US National Academy membership - most of your most famous ecologists are members (or not from the US). It does make Peter Reich standout as belonging in the National Academy though.

Caroline Tucker said...

Thanks for the suggestion about m-index. It is nice to see that there is a lot of overlap in m-index values between the top male and female ecologists here. I've updated the table to show m-index values.

I didn't realize that Peter Reich isn't yet in the NA. Just a matter of time hopefully!

Jeremy Fox said...

Fun. Though not of course the only way to measure "fame" or "influence". Coincidentally, this coming week I'll have a post reviewing Robert Trivers' memoirs. As background research, I looked up Trivers' Google Scholar page. His h-index is "only" 40--but he has a paper and a book chapter that have both been cited over *10,000* times. The only ecologist I can find who has even one such paper is Bob May (May & Anderson 1979), though I admit I haven't searched all that hard. Dave doesn't have anything that comes close. And of course, Trivers is the founder of an entire field (evolutionary psychology). At least, he has as much claim as anyone to be the founder of that field.

In debates over who should be in the baseball Hall of Fame, there are often arguments about peak vs. career value. Is a Hall of Famer somebody who was great for a short period, or someone who was merely very good but for an exceptionally long time? (Of course, many Hall of Famers were both). Trivers is kind of the EEB equivalent of Sandy Koufax--somebody who was transcendent for a relatively brief period.

Not saying that one way of measuring "fame" or "influence" is better than another. Just musing on the differences between them.

Your list would also be rather different if one measured fame with the general public. Wilson and Ehrlich would still be right up there, but Dave not so much. And Peter Kareiva would probably show up near the top.

Caroline Tucker said...

Hi Jeremy - absolutely, I hope no one thinks that h-indices are the best or only way of measuring success. Having an h-index over 100 is clearly a highly improbable event - many many people we thought of as 'field changing' ecologists didn't have indices over 50.
I agree with the time-component too - another good example of an ecologist who is undeniably 'famous' but without the high h-index is Robert MacArthur. Hard to say what his career would have looked like if he hadn't passed away so young, but regardless his short career was immensely important.

Jeff Ollerton said...

This is interesting and the gender split confirms what I was talking about in this post from earlier in the year:

Chris Klausmeier said...

Here are a few people for your list that came to mind: Anne Magurran (h=65), Jane Lubchenco (h=63), and it might be ironic if Simon Levin (h=115) bumps EO Wilson off the bottom after his "Great Scientists Don't Need Math" rant ;)

Caroline Tucker said...

Hey Chris - based on the Publish or Perish software which we used across all the names, Simon Levin is "only" at 95, so EO Wilson gets to keep his spot for the interim. Jane Lubchenco just misses at h=60. (In general, it gives lower scores than google scholar, since it is less likely to double count or count non-peer-reviewed papers, and allows more precision in specifying people's names).

Molly said...

Gene Likens comes in at 118.

Anonymous said...

I thought that a few prominent names are missing from your list.
1) Stephen Carpenter.
2) Elinor Ostrom (some of her work is within mainstream ecology)
3) Gene Likens

Anonymous said...

A few more names in the ~100 club:

4) Hal Mooney
5) Jerry Mellilo
(both show h>=Tilman)
6) Terry Chapin (FW Chapin, III)
7) Bill Lauenroth
8) Phil Grime
9) William F Laurence
10) Bob Holt
11) Gary Polis
12) Tim Clutton-Brock
13) Charlie Krebs
14) Howard Odum
15) Charles Driscoll
16) Pierre Legendre
17) Rob Whittaker
18) Nelson Hairston Sr
19) Hugh Possinsgham
20) David Lindenmayer

Caroline Tucker said...

Hi all - thanks for all the suggestions - you thought of a bunch of really good people! We've updated the list and also added a link to the entire list of researcher names that we searched. Sometimes people suggested are dead (against our arbitrary rules) or I have arbitrarily decided they aren't primarily ecologists (sorry!).