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The Influencers, Ranked

A team of researchers from Hungary has examined the hierarchical network that forms between scientific journals based on citations, as they report in a paper posted to arXiv.

The paper "describes a new metric to measure scientific journals based on their efficiency of information distribution (citations) within the network of journals. It provides a … complex picture of the intricate relations between scientific journals; but basically Science, Nature, and [the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] are the top 3 journals!" says James Hadfield at his CoreGenomics blog.

Using publication data from the Web of Science and a flow hierarchy approach, Tamás Vicsek from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and colleagues found the journal Science to be the most influential, followed by Nature and then PNAS. The fourth level, they note, includes the medical journals the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The top of the flow hierarchy, they add, is dominated by medical, biological, and biochemical journals, as the top chemistry journal, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, comes in at the 11th level and the top physics journal, Physical Review Letters, is at the 13th level.

Through a slightly different nested hierarchy approach, they found the top journal to be Nature, with the next level including PNAS, Science, New Scientist, and Astrophysics Journal. Field-dependent branches then begin at the third level, the researchers note.

As Hadfield notes, the researchers say that "providing an objective ranking of scientific journals … is a … complex problem of high relevance."

Hadfield adds that he agrees "this is a complex problem, but the relevance is very subjective, and looks to be changing."