New Zealand's seven most influential scientists

UPDATED: At least seven New Zealand scientists have featured in a list including the top 1 per cent most-cited researchers in science worldwide.

They include (I missed a couple of expat Kiwis out so have updated the list):

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 1.20.45 PM

A couple of ex-pat Kiwis also make it into the 1% club. Professor Rob Knight, University of Colorado at Boulder is actually the most-cited Kiwi on the list. Here’s a Nature profile on him.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 1.23.35 PM

And Robert Webster, an avian influenza expert who was born in Balclutha. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 11.29.07 AM

The list is compiled by Thomson Reuters, who assessed papers indexed between 2002 and 2012 in 21 broad fields of study. They tracked authors who published numerous articles that ranked among the top 1% of the most cited in their respective fields in the given year of publication.

You can view their report: The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014

Highly cited

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 11.36.31 AMAlexei Drummond is a Professor of Computational Biology at the University of Auckland. According to Google Scholar, his work has been cited 22,211 times. He has an h-index of 48 overall. As BenchFly explains:

“…the larger the number of important papers, the higher the h-index, regardless of where the work was published. To calculate it, only two pieces of information are required: the total number of papers published (Np) and the number of citations (Nc) for each paper”.

Professor Harvey White is research leader and cardiologist at Auckland City Hospital Green Lane Cardiac Service. A personal scandal in 2005 hasn’t dented his citation record – he is considered one of the top cardiologists in the world. Here’s an in-depth interview with Harvey White. According to ResearchGate, his work has been cited 14,647 times.

Professor Richie Poulton is Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, which conducts the Dunedin longitudinal study. According to ResearchGate, his work has been cited 13,392 times. One of the papers he was a co-author of was cited 3341 times alone.

Philip Hulme is a Professor of plant biosecurity at Lincoln University. According to Google Scholar his work has been cited 8508 times and he has an h-index of 49.

Robert Webster, who is based in the US, is highly-cited – I can’t find a tally of total citations for him, but one of his papers, from 1992 has been cited 3209 times. I interviewed Robert back in 2010, reflecting on the N1H1 pandemic.

Rob Knight is a Professor at the BioFrontiers Institute and in the Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Earth Microbiome Project, and a co-founder of the American Gut Project. He has 31,270 citations according to Google Scholar and an h-index of 80.

David Wardle has 28,254 citations according to Google Scholar and an h-index of 77. He is Professor of Soil and Plant Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and also works at Landcare Research here in New Zealand. His research “explores the links between aboveground and belowground communities and their consequences for ecosystem functioning”.
Did I leave any kiwis off the list?

And because we love comparing ourselves to our friends across the Tasman, how many Australia-based scientists make it into the highly-cited one per cent? That would be 65.



  1. ross

    Peter: “Maybe not of scientific merit Stephen, but of “influence” – maybe. I checked out Einstein’s Google Scholar profile – he has over 90,000 citations.”

    Heh! In Einsteins original paper on Special Relativity he mentioned a few scientists but didn’t cite any references!!!!

    I be they would be totally pissed off today!!!

    Click to access specrel.pdf

  2. stephenthorpe

    PS: Just to spell it out more clearly, the problem is that scientist’s employers might well judge the scientist’s worth by citation metrics, but why should we care? Why should we care which scientists are bending over backwards for their employers the most, in order to get promotion, etc.? The fallacy which is being somewhat thrust on the rest of us by articles like the above is to think that this internal performance metric has anything at all to do with how good a scientist is at their science.

  3. stephenthorpe

    Is it not better to be more influential?? I’m sure the universities think so. Isn’t that the whole point? But “better” from the perspective of the employing university does not necessarily equate to “better” scientist. Hence, universities (etc.) value scientists based on a metric which does not measure how good a scientist is qua scientist, but rather how good they are at gaining citations. Hence the big mult-author citation fests that go on, so numerous “authors” all get citation credit whenever the multi-authored paper is cited. We live in a world of falsity and illusion …

  4. Peter Griffin

    @stephenthorpe No, the bigger the number the more “influential”! Not necessarily “better”…

  5. stephenthorpe

    So it seems that scientists are judged by a metric such that all we really understand is “the bigger the number the better”, but we don’t understand the details! Such sophistication!!

  6. Peter Griffin

    @stephenthorpe As it turns out, there are two profiles for Albert Einstein on Google Scholar – one with his Princeton affiliation (83, 942 citations) and the Kaiser Wilheim Institute (96,515 citations). Don’t know what overlap there is.

    @mikeh What I don’t quite get is why people like Witten miss the list entirely on Thomson Reuters but rank really highly on Google Scholar.

  7. mikeh

    Searching Google Scholar for “Zealand” does not capture all NZ top-cited scholars. Searching by each of NZ Universities identifies 27 scientists with more than 10,000 citations (and there may be more in CRIs). Topping the list is Ian Witten (Waikato) at 54,298.

  8. stephenthorpe

    PS: So Alexei Drummond has about one fifth the “influence” of Einstein?? Me thinks something is wrong …

  9. stephenthorpe

    There is a parallel here with music artists. The biggest selling album of all time by far is Thriller by Michael Jackson (1982), but is it the best album of all time? I very much doubt it! Objective metrics cannot measure subjective value. Sure you can call it “influence” instead of “merit”, but that is mere semantics. The employers of the above scientists probably do value them in proportion to their citations. The problem though is that the number of citations is a function of many factors, some important ones of which have little or nothing to do with the intrinsic attributes of the scientists concerned. One such big factor is what area of science they publish in. In todays world, a taxonomist would have great difficulty getting citations comparable to a molecular biologist, for example, but this says absolutely nothing about their relative merit as scientists, or their influence WITHIN their area of expertise. One must compare apples with apples ..

  10. Peter Griffin

    Maybe not of scientific merit Stephen, but of “influence” – maybe. I checked out Einstein’s Google Scholar profile – he has over 90,000 citations.

  11. stephenthorpe

    Yes, but we surely don’t REALLY believe that citations are a true measure of scientific merit? For a start, no distinction is made between citations in a good light and citations in a bad light, so publish “controversial” stuff and get more citations – tabloid science! At least some of the people on this list are simply trying all out to maximise citations. I wonder how the great scientists of the past would fare in the current citation system??

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s