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Stanford scored best American research university in research quality

STANFORD -- According to an analysis by the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia, Stanford placed in the top 10 in 17 out of 21 research fields, making it the top research university in the country.

Runners-up were Harvard, Yale, MIT, Caltech, University of California-Berkeley, University of Chicago, Cornell, Princeton and the University of Washington.

The basis for this ranking is a new and still somewhat controversial measure called citation impact, which is designed as a measure of science quality. Using its electronic database of major research journals, ISI compiles the number of times that articles published by faculty members at a given university or research institution are cited in the articles of fellow researchers. Then, to compensate for institutions' varying size, the number of citations is divided by the number of articles to obtain the average number of citations per paper.

"Citation impact is . . . a weighted measure that allows smaller producers of papers to compete fairly against larger universities that turn out reams of research reports," according to ISI.

For the purpose of this study, published in the October issue of ISI's newsletter ScienceWatch, citation impacts for the top 100 research universities in the United States were prepared in 21 different fields for the period between 1981 and 1993. The fields were agricultural sciences, astrophysics, biology and biochemistry, chemistry, clinical medicine, computer science, ecology/environment, economics and business, education, engineering, geosciences, immunology, law, materials science, mathematics, molecular biology and genetics, neuroscience, pharmacology, physics, plant and animal science, and psychology/psychiatry.

Stanford ranked in the top 10 in 17 fields. Harvard and Yale both placed in 13 fields and MIT in 12. If the top 10 of the top 10 ranking is viewed another way, by summing up an institution's individual rankings and dividing by the number of appearances, Harvard comes out on top, followed by Stanford, Princeton and the University of Chicago.

The following table lists the fields with Stanford's ranking:


Clinical Medicine 1



Ecology/Environ ment 2

Economics and Business 2

Education 2



Law 2



Materials Science 3





Psychology/Psyc hiatry 4

Chemistry 5

Computer Science 5

Molecular Biology and Genetics 8

Physics 8

Biology and Biochemistry 10

Agricultural Sciences Below 10


Below 10


Below 10

Plant and Animal Science Below 10

According to ISI analyst David Pendlebury, there is generally no significant difference between adjacent rankings - first and second, second and third, etc. - however, the difference is significant between ranks of one to 10 and 11 to 20.

Citation analysis has been used in the past as an objective measure of the quality of individual research papers or the contributions of individual scientists. In the last few years, however, ISI has extended this to assess individual institutions. Its efforts have been controversial, particularly when the rankings have elevated some universities unexpectedly or when those with strong reputations in certain fields place lower than expected.

ISI has taken several precautions to guard against conditions that might skew its analysis. To guard against the possibility that a small number of particularly heavily cited papers at a small university might boost its citation impact unduly, for example, ISI only ranked universities that produced more than a set number of papers in each field. Only institutions that produced more than 250 papers in ecology/environment or more than 1,000 papers in physics or chemistry were included.

"Citation analysis is just one measure of research quality, and shouldn't be looked at in isolation," says Pendlebury. "Several studies have shown that it has about a 60 or 70 percent correlation with ratings of peer esteem."


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