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Africa expands footprint in highly-cited researcher list

Image: Finn Årup Nielsen [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Africa has improved its presence in a global list of highly-cited researchers. But finding an Africa-based researcher in the throng is still an arduous task.

The list of 6,000 researchers, published on 27 November, contains only 15 primarily based in Africa. There are universities in other countries that house more highly-cited researchers than the whole continent.  

However, the 2018 tally is still a marked improvement on 2016, when only five researchers primarily based in Africa made the list.  

Ten of the researchers are based in South Africa, three in Egypt and one each in Nigeria and Kenya. The Africa-based researchers are almost all men. 

Coming up with the list of names is no simple matter. Research data company Clarivate Analytics first looked at citation data between 2006 and 2016. Researchers who appear in the top 1 per cent of citations are sorted into 21 different categories. For each category a threshold number is selected based on the number of authors and papers. To qualify as highly-cited for a subject, researchers must have more papers than that threshold. 

The 2018 list has been expanded by thousands of names from previous years, however, courtesy largely of a new “cross-field category”. This category adds highly cited papers in different research areas together, thus including researchers who would fall below thresholds in single disciplines.  

Eight of the Africa-based researchers fall into the cross-field category.  

Familiar faces in SA 

The South African contingent contains many familiar names.  

They include Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, famous for his palaeontology discoveries, and two HIV researchers: microbiologist Lynn Morris, also from Wits, and epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim from the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa in Durban.  

Three university of Cape Town researchers make the list, all in the cross-field category. They are pulmonologist Eric Bateman, ecologist William Bond, and psychiatry professor Dan Stein. 

Two University of Pretoria researchers made their mark in the plant and animal science category: Michael Wingfield and Bernard Slippers.  

The two remaining South Africa-based highly-cited researchers are from Stellenbosch University: ecologist Steven Chown was included in the cross-field category and David Mark Richardson in the environment and ecology section. 

Another researcher with a strong South African connection, albeit not as a primary affiliation, is Vinod Gupta, who is affiliated with the University of Johannesburg but is primarily based at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. He features in three categories: chemistry, engineering, and environment and ecology.  

Northern lights 

As has been seen elsewhere, North Africaand Egypt in particularis improving in many research indicators. Three Egypt-based researchers are on the highly cited list in 2018. Two mathematicians are in the cross-field category: Samer Ezz-Eldien from New Valley University and Eid H. Doha from Cairo University. 

Ali Bhrawy from Beni Suef University makes the grade in the pure mathematics category. 

Outside Egypt and South Africa, only Kenya and Nigeria house highly-cited researchers on the continent. Philip Thornton is based at the International Livestock Research Institute and is included in the cross-field category. Oye Gureje from the University of Ibadan was influential in the psychiatry and phycology category.  

The United States dominates the list with more than 2,600 researchers, dwarfing the second-placed United Kingdom, which has almost 550. These two plus China, Germany and Australia host 70 per cent of the highly-cited researchers.  

Harvard hosts the most researchers per institution with 186. Outside the US the top institution is the Chinese Academy of Sciences with 99.