How Bibliometric Indicators Should Be Used to Assess Excellence in Science and Technology

Claudio Nicolini1-3

1President NanoWorld Institute Fondazione ELBA Nicolini, Pradalunga, Bergamo-Italy; Foreign Member Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; and Editor in Chief of NanoWorld Journal, Santa Clara, CA, USA
2University Eminent Chair of Biophysics (Philadelphia-USA, 1976-1984; Genova-Italy, 1985-2012; Moscow-Russia, 2010-now)
3Member (Italian Science Technology Council, 1990-99; Russian Academy Sciences, 2008-now)


In order to identify the best standards for the assessment of world-wide scientific performances at the level of both individuals and institutions, we have carried out a comparative analysis of the relative scientific and technological level of individual scientists and individual scientific institutions for given fields and disciplines, using the prominent bibliometric indicators (patents, citations, publications SCI, impact factor). Individual scientists competing for science and technology career progression and grant awards should be ranked by the number and the total impact factor of their publications as first authors falling into 10 out of 10 deciles. This study, contrary to some gloomy opinions, appears capable to effectively and objectively assess institutions, individual university professors and researchers proving to be quite significant and should be used to provide computer-assisted evaluation criteria for either maintaining or upgrading the given position, maintaining or closing public institutions, and filtering grant applications.


Bibliometric indicators when properly weighted appear to be effective parameters to monitor degree of excellence in science and technology establishing reliable objective standards [1-4]. Their utilization [5-9] appears capable to automatize the assessment of both the public and private Institutions and of their individual researchers proving to be quite significant in providing computer-assisted evaluation criteria with the properly referenced international databank. If our goal is to select the very best for science and technology in academia and industry rather emblematic appears the emerging list of most cited Journals worldwide (Figure 1), where the number one by far is the “CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians” published by the American Cancer Society with Impact Factor 137 provided by the ISI Journal Citation Reports© Ranking in 2015. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians is a peer-reviewed journal providing cancer care professionals with up-to-date information on all aspects of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, including primary care physicians, medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists; nurses; other health care and public health professionals; and students in various health care fields.

Critics of bibliometric indicators should reflect on these data since the future of every country depends to a large extent on its ability to carry out advanced research in science and technology at the highest level. This must be done by improving stringent meritocracy and maximal visibility in the decision-making process, which should determine career progression and grant allocation. The Impact Factor and H-index of submitting authors are constantly monitored and at the end of each year could and should be used in any new future objective criteria emerging worldwide strictly on the merit and far from the interest and lobbying power of leading Publishing Groups. Career progressions and Research Grant allocations should be based strictly and objectively on the merit worldwide as unfortunately not done everywhere too often. Evaluation is typically carried out worldwide on total H-index of each author regardless the number of coauthors and of his position in each of the quoted papers, which most times is highly misleading and arbitrary. An objective science assessment will instead enhance technology acquisition and creative scientific thinker’s promotion worldwide to better focus on the real world achievements and priorities, which is the object of this communication. In order to explore the possibility that the assignment of both chairs and contracts could be automated taking it away from bureaucrats and deals, we carried out a comparative analysis of the relative scientific and technological level of candidates competing nationally using indicators such as the number of publications and citations in highest standard international journals for the corresponding disciplines and sectors, integrated by the number of patents and inventions. This study, contrary to some gloomy opinions, suggests that at least for what concerns hard science, performances can be measured impartially. Bibliometric indicators, only when properly selected (deciles and author position using strictly Science Citation Index ) as here suggested, appear capable to monitor degree of excellence in scholastic rating and to establish reliable objective standards for the needed provision of computer-assisted selection criteria pulling properly in the same class (deciles 10 out of 10), where decile is each of ten equal groups into which a population can be divided according to the distribution of values of a particular variable (as the impact factor in this manuscript).


Large amount of literature data exists on bibliometric or scientometric indicators, which provide the methodological background for the applied indicators. Our search through the scientific and technical literature has been carried out using the SCISEARCH database of the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) of Philadelphia, which we accessed via on-line connection to the DIALOG information services [4, 5]. The database is a well-known multidisciplinary and multinational index to the journal literature of science and technology. According to ISI, SCISEARCH indexes the contents of 90% of the world’s most significant scientific and technical literature. It also offers citation indexing, which is essential to our approach. The journals indexed may vary each year on the basis of strict criteria, including citation analysis. As stated by ISI, 3,322 source issues and 620,000 authored source items are included. Citation data concerning journals are also considered, and are collected in the Journal Citation Reports (JCR), which are published annually. In using these data, we have focused on full-length articles, considering these to be the most indicative signs of scientific performance. We have excluded conference proceedings, chapters in books and other contributions to the scientific literature [6-9]. It is well known that the selection of a journal for inclusion in the SCISEARCH database follows strict criteria - namely, the significance and impact of articles, reference from subject specialists, citation frequency, and recommendation from subscribers, historical data, editorial policy, geopolitical considerations, and punctuality. The number of publications as First-author in the first decile (Table 1) is, therefore, a sign of scientific and technological performance with international standard and appears to be an important indicator along with the impact factor of the journal where each First-author article is published. As far as the number of citations is concerned we acknowledge and correct for the several limitations of this indicator [7-9]. We have thereby successfully tested this new bibliometric tool to assess the excellence in selected scientific disciplines, using data from the Science Citation Index (SCI) published by Thomson Scientific and Google Scholar. For the number of scientists contributing as co-authors to a specific article, we select papers only as first and last authors. In summary: 1_Number of Publications in Top-ranked Journals (Impact Factor above 4.2); 2_Science Citation Index and Google Scholar, where performance indicators are based on Science Citation Index that was created by the Institute for Science Information (ISI) and Google Scholar produced by Google; 3_H-Index and Number of Patents.


In the Disciplines of Nanotechnology-Biophysics- Biochemistry-Biotechnology (covering the full range of NanoWorld Journal) taken as reference in this study only 379 International Journals are present in the SCISEARCH database with Impact Factor Computed for each Decile within the Upper and Lower Range Indicated in Table 1. For the first decile chosen to identify the fraction of international journals with highest impact factor in excess of 4.2 to be defined as equally excellent in the given scientific and technological sector, regardless the level of impact factor achieved associating artificially a large number of authors frequently in excess of 20 in highly popular and well diffuse journal similarly proliferating in all parts of society to include part of the community extraneous to science and technology, as nurses, undergraduate students, bureaucrats, managers, patients and businessman. Bureaucrats handling grant should keep this in mind. In Table 2 is summarized the objective Ranking using all prominent bibliometric indicators (patents, H-index, Articles in Science Citation Index) of worldwide leading scientists and technologists members of the Editorial Board of the NanoWorld Journal including a Nobel Prize winner and Clinicians, where in terms of number of publications (SCI only) with Maximum Number decili (10 over 10 for impact factor) the best author appears to have 35 as first author for a total IF of 315, 62 as last author for a total IF of 349 and 4 as middle name for a total IF of 18 in the period 2014-2015 or at given publication date if out press. This objective science assessment will enhance technology transfer and creative scientific thinkers worldwide to better focus on innovative technology and on the real world priority. The objective ranking of the Editorial Board (kept anonymous) of NanoWorld Journal in 2015 is shown in Table 2. In Table 2 over the total of 102 publications with Max Number decili (10 over 10) the number of those published as first name corresponds to the absolute excellence identified in my proposal as the best criteria to better characterize individual scientists performance in the early part of their carrier.

In Table 3 is shown the objective Ranking of best scientists in the Biophysics Division at Temple University Health Science Center in Philadelphia (USA) between 1972 and 1984 (In USA) and Biophysics Institute, Department and Nanobiotechnology Center and Labs in Genova University (Italy) between 1985 and 2015 (In Europe) all Chaired by Professor Claudio Nicolini. While in Genova University during 1989-2012 38 PhDs in Biophysical Sciences and Technologies over 80 admitted and in joint Genova and Marburg Universities Programme 24 PhDs in Nanobiotechnology over 24 admitted. In Table 3 the summary for 1989-2013 38 best PhDs in Genova over 80 admitted and the 12 PhDs NBT in Genova over 24 admitted NBT 12 in Genova and 12 in Marburg jointly recognized by German and Italian Universities. Extending the search to 9 deciles the Impact Factor range for excellence shifted to the lower values indicated in Table 1 increasing the number of best scientists in the three classes to MA, GV, BP, GP, GP, FA for PhD Candidates; TV, DD SN, RR, SV, TA, SB, DT, DH for Post Doctors; RJ for Faculty. Table 3 gives also the objective ranking of best scientists in Biophysics Division at Temple University Health Science Center in USA between 1972 and 1984 (In USA) and in the Biophysics Institute and Department, Interuniversity Nanobiotechnology Center and Labs in Genova University between 1985 and 2015 (In Europe) all Chaired by Professor Claudio Nicolini.

In Table 4 the first (number I) of the 10 deciles of the Nanobiotechnology- Biophysics-Biochemistry- Biotechnology disciplines of the SCISEARCH database, namely in a) the following 19 Excellent International Journals are present with Claudio Nicolini as first author for a total of 35 full length papers, and b) the following 22 Excellent International Journals are present with Claudio Nicolini as last author for a total of 62 full length papers.

In Table 5 are shown the results emerging from USA Temple University, Genova University in Italy and Fodazioneldwide. EL.B.A. Nicolini NanoWorld Institute worldwide. The objective Ranking of Leading Universities and Institutions is made evident by the Average Impact Factor per Year originating from the Best Articles as first author in 10 over 10 decili.


The data presented appear conclusive in showing the capacity in measuring excellence of this new criterion based on the number and the total impact factor of the very best papers published as first author in the top journals with impact factor included in the very top decile I (Table 1 and 4). This being true for both individual scientists (Table 3) and institutions (Table 5) in both side of the Ocean, as apparent in these preliminary data taken from web at the Institute Scientific Information and at the Google Scholar and from the correlated earlier published papers [3-5, 7-9].


The author wish to acknowledge the constant support from Prime Minister Giuliano Amato and earlier from Prime Minister Bettino Craxi since this type of analysis started in late 1986 during Craxi Cabinet as shown in the attached references. This project instead was supported later by a FIRB grant on Organic Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (RBNE01X3CE) and by International FIRB on Proteomics (RBIN04RXHS) both to Claudio Nicolini (NanoWorld Institute) from MIUR. The authors wish to acknowledge the support of MIUR annual grant to Fondazione EL.B.A. Nicolini since 1993.


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8. Nicolini C, Nozza F. 2008. Objective assessment of scientific performances world-wide. Scientometrics 76(3): 527-541. doi: 10.1007/s11192-007-1786-9

9. Nicolini C. 2015. Technology transfer and objective assessment of science and world priority, NanoWorld Journal 1(2): 71-72. doi: 10.17756/nwj.2015-e002

Correspondence to:

Professor Claudio Nicolini
President, Nanoworld Institute Fondazione
EL.B.A. Nicolini (FEN), Largo Redaelli 7
Pradalunga, Bergamo 24020, Italy
Tel/Fax: +39 035767215

Received: August 17, 2016
Accepted: October 14, 2016
Published: October 20, 2016

Citation: Nicolini C. 2016. How Bibliometric Indicators Should Be Used to Assess Excellence in Science and Technology. NanoWorld J 2(3): 35-40.

Copyright: © 2016 Nicolini. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY) ( which permits commercial use, including reproduction, adaptation, and distribution of the article provided the original author and source are credited.

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