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Google's PageRank Predicts Nobel Prize Winners 101

KentuckyFC writes "The pattern of citations between scientific papers forms a network that has remarkable similarities to the network formed by the web. So why not use Google's PageRank, the world's most effective search algorithm to rank these papers in the same way it ranks websites? That's exactly what a couple of US researchers have done for physics papers published by the American Physical Society since 1893 (abstract). The results make interesting reading because almost all of the top ten papers resulted in (or were linked to) Nobel Prizes for their authors. Which means that studying the up-and-coming entries on the list ought to be a good way of predicting future winners. Better get your bets in before the bookies get wind of this."
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Google's PageRank Predicts Nobel Prize Winners

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Preparing for an inundation of people citation bombing each other in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
    • by CompMD ( 522020 )

      You say this, and I imagine a Cessna Citation business jet armed with comically large bombs that it drops on scientists houses.

    • Mod parent up. If 3 people just keep citing each other circularly (avoiding self-citations), the whole ranking collapses because all their papers will be artificially inflated. Accounting for this is quite hard because it will involve distinguishing between natural clusters (of top researchers working on a common topic) or citation gamers (aiming to boost their citation counts). Also, note in the TFA a graph with a parameter "d". That is basically slop. The authors simply changed the d until they could g
      • by mea37 ( 1201159 )

        Of course, in the application of PageRank to general internet search, there is a clear economic incentive to game the system (and so sometimes you see it done).

        Why would anyone care enough where they land in a PageRank search of academic papers to game the system?

        • Yes, because there's no real money in research, especially for those Nobel Prize geeks. </sarcasm>
        • When a search is performed for whatever the modern equivalent of radiation and x-ray crystallography* is, that person's paper would then pop up first, garner more citations, and potentially end up an authoritative source on the topic.

          *Take a look at the contributions of early Nobel winners in Physics.

  • They take bets about this kind of thing?
    • Sure, 20000000000000000:1 odds for myself, in economics, in the next 40 years.

    • Re:bets? (Score:5, Informative)

      by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:37PM (#26547383) Journal

      They take bets about this kind of thing?

      Um, yeah, you would be surprised what offshore betting brings to the internet. My friend had money that Obama would say "Always bet on black" for his opening speech (paid 700:1) and that he would use the word 'banana' in his speech (paid 800:1). He lost them both. He also bets on every play during football games, especially returns. And he also bets on how long the national anthem lasts at the beginning of each game.

      I wish I could link you to the site but it's hard to get to.

      You may be able to say that there is always someone willing to quote you a line for anything anytime as long as they get a cut/rake.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Otter ( 3800 )

        My friend had money that Obama would say "Always bet on black" for his opening speech (paid 700:1) and that he would use the word 'banana' in his speech (paid 800:1). He lost them both.

        Can I propose a simpler scheme where your friend just mails me money while being a racist nitwit? As long as that's his idea of a hobby...

        • Re:bets? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:47PM (#26547579) Journal

          My friend had money that Obama would say "Always bet on black" for his opening speech (paid 700:1) and that he would use the word 'banana' in his speech (paid 800:1). He lost them both.

          Can I propose a simpler scheme where your friend just mails me money while being a racist nitwit? As long as that's his idea of a hobby...

          Sure, as long as you are willing to send him back several thousand dollars in the event of some highly unlikely event. It's called "gambling" and he loves the it. He's also Indian American and has a great sense of humor.

          Perhaps your "racism" comments would be more better directed at the Irish bookie making these offerings to the betting community []? I think the "Obama Cliche Betting" section has most of what was being offered.

          • What will happen first under President Obama?
            4/6 American led signed cease-fire agreement between Israel & Hamas
            3/1 Full Troop withdrawal from Iraq
            8/1 Capture of Osama Bin Laden
            8/1 Online Gambling legalised
            10/1 Full National recognition of Same Sex Marriage
            12/1 Full Troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
            18/1 Legalisation of Marijuana
            20/1 Constitution changed to allow the President to serve 3 or more full terms
            25/1 Total ban of Capital Punishment
            50/1 Moonwalk confirmed as a fake by Obama
            100/1 Complete ban on privately owned guns
            500/1 Discovery of Aliens on Mars

            FUUUCK, your friend is gonna be sooo rich. We already found ice on Mars!

            • The part that bothers me is that the moonwalk being a fake is considered 10 times as likely as life on Mars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        "If someone gives you 10,000 to 1 on anything, you take it. If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I am going to be a very rich dude." ~ Kevin, The Office

  • movie-star (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mmThe1 ( 213136 ) * on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:37PM (#26547387) Homepage

    Did the star make the movie a hit, or did the movie make the star?

    For 'prediction' to be valuable, it has to work with citations that were linked *before* the paper got the Nobel.

  • Nicola Cabibbo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by apetrelli ( 1308945 )

    So even in this article Nicola Cabibbo demonstrated to deserve the Nobel Prize: []

  • by taumeson ( 240940 ) * on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:40PM (#26547435)

    Seriously, like this is some kind of weird correlation. No shit Nobel prize winning papers would have excellent page ranks.

  • Yes, it happens all the time: the Swedish Academy can change their vote any time, if it feels pressed by the media.

  • They assume that interest in someone's published work is the same whether they are Nobel prize winner or not. That is simply not true, papers written by Nobel prize winners will generate more links and have higher rating, just because they recently won the prize.
    • That's true, unless this algorithm only searches through papers linked before the cooresponding announcement--which is what my first thought was on seeing the sumamry. I did not RTFA, though.

      • The original paper doesn't really discuss the connections with Nobel prizes - it mentions as an aside that one paper was cited for a Nobel prize - as it's concerned not with predicted Nobel laureates but evaluating the importance of papers. Therefore any conclusions about predicting Nobel winners are without merit until further analysis is performed.

  • I plan to do a blog post on this. I am seeing Google Meta-data being gold in more than just the ad revenue point of view. This data is showing up as useful predictors in medical research, and other fields.
  • No Kidding (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeff Hornby ( 211519 ) <> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @12:45PM (#26547545) Homepage

    The algorithm for Google PageRank is based on the concept of citations from academia. If I remember correctly, the software was originally meant only to index academic papers and eventually grew to index the whole internet. So its not surprising that it predicts winners so well (depending on how much the Nobel committee weights citations in their decisions).

    • by bipbop ( 1144919 )
      I'm impressed with your restraint. "Not surprising" is putting it a bit mildly. But maybe I'm just feeling grumpy this morning ;-)
    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      I don't know how one is nominated for a Nobel, but I don't think the decision takes citations into account at all. However, influential works are both more likely to win a Nobel prize and more likely to be cited often.

      PageRank is very much like academic citation.

    • Re:No Kidding (Score:5, Informative)

      by elguillelmo ( 1242866 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:55PM (#26548703)

      The algorithm for Google PageRank is based on the concept of citations from academia

      Quoting from the original paper: "It is obvious to try to apply standard citation analysis techniques to the web's hypertextual citation structure. One can simply think of every link as being like an academic citation. So, a major page like http: will have tens of housands of backlinks or citations pointing to it" [L Page, S Brin, R Motwani, T Winograd. The pagerank citation ranking: Bringing order to the web ].

      the software was originally meant only to index academic papers

      That's not right. From the same original paper:
      "PageRank is a global ranking of all web pages, regardless of their content, based solely on their location in the Web's graph structure "
      Anyway you are right, and the article's idea sounds way too old: probably an example of two research communities (physics & citation analysis) not knowing too much of each other

    • by Jyms ( 598745 )
      I did this for my M.Sc. almost 10 years ago. The idea was to find seminal works. Unfortunately I only had access to 100000 papers total, not all papers since 1893. Still showed that it worked in principle.
  • Note that they're not looking at webpage referrals, but citations in other scientific papers. Rather than simply counting citations, they're weighting the citations by the number of citations the citing papers received. Thus, if your paper is cited by a paper which is very popular, then your paper will get a boost to it's citation score.

  • winners bias? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Glog ( 303500 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:07PM (#26547899)

    Not having read the actual paper, the following question comes to mind: did they include only the period of time *before* the physicists got their Nobels? Because if they included the citations after that - yeah, I imagine those authors got quite a few citations being Nobel Prize winners and all...

    • Yeah, I thought the same thing. Then I actually read the article. They aren't claiming the highest ranked pages are going to win a Nobel. In fact the author of the highest ranked paper has not received a Nobel. Instead they are suggesting that authors of higher ranked papers are likely candidates for a Nobel. If they had done what you suggest, it would have been more interesting.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by godrik ( 1287354 )
      No they are not. So it is possible that their papers have been cited after being nobel prize. From what i understood of the paper, this index is basically weighted citation index which considers how many references do an article cite and recursively (with exponentially decreasing weight).
  • In other news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hobbit ( 5915 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:17PM (#26548045)

    Top 40 music singles chart predicts highest-selling singles of the week with astounding precision!

  • The next step is obviously to let PageRank select the Nobel winners and cut out the middleman.

    • by azaris ( 699901 )

      The next step is obviously to let PageRank select the Nobel winners and cut out the middleman.

      I can't wait for my first Nobel Prize Optimization spam.

    • by NATP ( 992108 )
      Actually - the authors already thought of this - and warn against it. From the last paragraph in the article...

      Even if a way is devised to attach a high-fidelity quality measure to a citation, there is no substitute for scientific judgment to assess publications. We need to avoid falling into the trap of relying on automatically generated citation statistics for accessing the performance of individual researchers, departments, and scientific disciplines, and especially of allowing the evaluation task to be

  • by pete-wilko ( 628329 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @01:20PM (#26548087)
    Anyone else really get tired of the friggin tags for a lot of these stories? CorrelationIsNotCausation (this meme here really needs to go, saying it dosn't make you sound smart when it makes no sense or is bleedingly obvious) , and BecauseItWillGetGamed? GTFO. How the hell do you as a scientist game the entire specter of academic publishing to get yourself voted as a nobel prize winner, without you know, maybe actually doing some good science (and having it further recognized by being cited heavily by peers)? The tags are next to useless unless they are good as flamebait (yes am aware of the irony)
    • Check out "The Case of El Naschie" for how to game academic publishing. (Become an editor of a vanity paper, publish 5 articles a month, cross-cite every article with 10 similar 'scientists').

    • Lets tag this article with "lametags" or "uselesstagsincludingthisone" =P

  • And of course the results of their experiment are submitted in the form of a research paper. Hmm, I wonder...

  • It would be quite logical for the Nobelists to get considerably more exposure for the mere fact they on the prize. I would think merely referencing a paper from an author who'd made it up there would give your own research more attention than it would otherwise.

    This would be quite obvious, but then again what is Google for anyway?


    Have you read the Terms of Service [] lately?
  • You mean people who write good papers get Nobel prizes? Wow!

    Also, I didn't know that people who won Nobel prizes for fundamental discoveries won't post facto get gratuitous citations in the first line of the introduction of every subsequent paper in the field.

    Page Rank captures whatever is `sensational', in every domain of human activity. Having RTFA, I conclude that if all that is sensational is good, then what we have here is an empirical demonstration of circular reasoning. If all that is good need

  • The foundation for the work of Messrs. Maslov and Redner was laid by Hari Seldon, who discovered [] that "while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events." The recent paper by Messrs. Maslov and Redner represents the smallest corpus to which Seldon's theory has been successfully applied to date.

    Further applications of these techniques to this same corpus will likely fall afoul of Seldon

  • by spikenerd ( 642677 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @03:00PM (#26549771)
    There's a tool [] that tries to create a network of reviews, rather than just citations. In this case, the reviewer actually specifies the level of endorsement, whereas citations can mean anything. One of the most common reasons to cite a paper is to say "Our idea is way better than this lame idea", or "These guys did something similar, but it comparatively sucked". Sometimes the worst implementations get cited the most because they are so easy to improve upon. Why should that build up a paper?
  • Sorry, but links do not make a Nobel.
  • I wonder how different the result are from the normal cumulated Impact factor of the scientists publications....

    But i forgot. Google is the only database on the planet....

  • Such an algorithm may be quite good at indicating popular papers and topics. But there are ideas which are like urban legends. They spread faster than they get falsified. Just think about topics like "cold fusion" or "transmutation of matter". An idea is not good just because it is attractive.
  • If it's a valid predictor, it would produce those results based only on citations before the author receives a Nobel nomination. An author known to be a Nobel nominee, and especially a Nobel prize winner, will receive more citations and page reads based on their Nobel notoriety. An author who fails to cite a Nobel winning paper would be considered to have incomplete references, and the referees or thesis committee will tell them to add those missing citations.
  • Actually, citation ranking was first and developed some time in the 1970's. Google's page rank algorithm was an application of citation ranking to the web. The original Page Rank paper even cites the citation ranking papers.

    (This also kinds of points out a problem with citation ranking: everybody these days is going to cite page rank, even though the idea originally was developed by other people. So, citation ranking isn't going to tell you who should get the credit, only who popularized an idea.)

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle