Volume 15, Issue 7 e0234612 (2020)
We aimed to assess whether Nobel prizes (widely considered the most prestigious award in science) are clustering in work done in a few specific disciplines. We mapped the key Nobel prize-related publication of each laureate awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry (1995-2017). These key papers mapped in only narrow sub-regions of a 91,726-cluster map of science created from 63 million Scopus-indexed published items. For each key Nobel paper, a median of 435 (range 0 to 88383) other Scopus-indexed items were published within one year and were more heavily cited than the Nobel paper. Of the 114 high-level domains that science can be divided into, only 36 have had a Nobel prize. Five of the 114 domains (particle physics [14%], cell biology [12.1%], atomic physics [10.9%], neuroscience [10.1%], molecular chemistry [5.3%]) have the lion's share, accounting in total for 52.4% of the Nobel prizes. Using a more granular classification with 849 sub-domains shows that only 71 of these sub-domains (8.3%) have at least one Nobel-related paper. Similar clustering was seen when we mapped all the 40,819 Scopus-indexed publications representing the career-long output of all the Nobel laureates. In conclusion, work resulting in Nobel prizes is concentrated in a small minority of scientific disciplines.
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