Thomson's Nobel predictions...Let the follies begin!

It's time for the annual Mocking of the Thomson session.

Check out my previous iterations of this amusing pastime: 2002, 2006, 2007a, 2007b, 2008.

Yes, I've been at this for a while, but to no avail. My main point in all this is to make clear that I don't believe that the Nobel prizes are chosen on the basis of citation count. Sure, there's going to be a correlation between the two, but the causation is extremely weak. Thomson's constant hawking of their "Citation Laureates" is, in my opinion, self-serving and wrong-headed.

And yes, they do get them right occasionally, but that's because there is some correlation. They also occasionally pick someone a few years before they actually win -- but that's bound to happen too. Over time they'll name as Citation Laureates a large number of scientists with big citation counts and over time since there is some correlation between citation counts and the Nobel, they're just going guess a few correctly.

So let's see what they've chosen this year for the list of Laureates:


  • Michael Grätzel
  • Jacqueline K. Barton, Bernd Giese and Gary B. Schuster
  • Benjamin List


  • Yakir Aharonov and Sir Michael V. Berry
  • Juan Ignacio Cirac and Peter Zoller
  • Sir John B. Pendry, Sheldon Schultz and David R. Smith

Physiology or Medicine

  • Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak
  • James E. Rothman and Randy Schekman
  • Seiji Ogawa


  • Ernst Fehr and Matthew J. Rabin
  • William D. Nordhaus and Martin L. Weitzman
  • John B. Taylor, Jordi Gali and Mark L. Gertler

Let's see how they do this year. I predict about the same as previous years, in other words, pretty random. Some of the people they pick based on citation counts will be picked in the year Thomson guesses, some won't. Some will get picked in a later year.

Twelve individual or group nominations for a total of 25 different people named. To be better than random, I'd say 25% of this year's citation nominees (either by group or individuals) need to be correct. I'll give half marks if some of this year's Nobelists were citation winners in previous years.

Thomson's Nobel home page is here and the list of their nominees here. Their not entirely convincing explanations and rationalizations on their methodology and results are here and here.

Once again, I would like to emphasize that I have nothing against the scholars whom Thomson has "nominated" and wish them well. I certainly don't mean to cast a negative light on their contributions to their fields at all. My beef is not with them, but with Thomson's misuse of their citation data.

2 responses so far

  • RobC says:

    In the text, they say all these authors rank in the top 0.1% of papers, which they evaluate, and come up with some names somehow. I'd say that being in the top 0.1% is a given for almost anyone who could win any prize (or even be well known in the community). Think about it-the top 0.1% of papers from every journal. There are a lot of papers. I think a top 0.1% paper would be necessary for tenure in top institutions.

    So from this generous pool, they name a bunch of their favorites. Strange they co-inside with the leaders in futures betting, other online pools, etc....

  • David Pendlebury says:

    Many in our lists rank much higher than the top .1%

    The reason others suggested the same names we have, in blogs and news stories, is that they have studied our selections in this and past years.

    By the way, Blackburn, Greider and Szostak won this morning, and were picked by us this year. Through citation analysis we focused on Blackburn as long ago as 1993:

    Note that this was before the receipt of the Gairdner Award (1998) and Lasker (2006).

    Again, not causality, just a strong correlation between citations and peer esteem.

    We don't disagree that Nobel Prizes are not chosen on the basis of citation counts.

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