Estimating achievement from fame

I have read an interesting article in Significance Magazine and would like to share its some parts here. For the full text, please go to Significance Magazine Volume 8 Issue 1, March 2011 Issue.

Every schoolboy has heard of Einstein; fewer have heard of Antoine
Becquerel; almost nobody has heard of Nils Dalén. Yet they all won
Nobel Prizes for Physics. Can we gauge a scientist’s achievements
by his or her fame? If so, how? And how do fighter pilots help?
Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury look for the linkages.

“It was a famous victory.” We instinctively rank the
achievements of great men and women by how famous
they are. But is instinct enough? And how exactly does
a great man’s fame relate to the greatness of his achievement?
Some achievements are easy to quantify. Such
is the case with fighter pilots of the First World War.
Their achievements can be easily measured and ranked,
in terms of their victories – the number of enemy planes
they shot down. These aces achieved varying degrees of
fame, which have lasted down to the internet age. A few
years ago we compared the fame of First World War
fighter pilot aces (measured in Google hits) with their
achievement (measured in victories); and we found that
fame grows exponentially with achievement

Is the same true in other areas of excellence? Bagrow  et al. have 
studied the relationship between
achievement and fame for physicists. The relationship
they found was linear. The measure of achievement used
in that study was the number of papers the physicists had published.
However, in 2001–2002 popular French
TV presenters Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff published
five papers in a number of respectable journals
including Classical and Quantum Gravity
and Annals of Physics. The problem was that
their papers consisted of incoherent streams of
buzzwords from modern physics. Their affair
casts doubt on using the number of published
papers to measure scientific achievement. How,
then, can we measure it?
Some have used the number of citations
of the scientist’s papers as a true measure of
achievement. But in another study
we have shown that this measure is also questionable, 
since citations multiply by mere copying.
There is a cascade effect. If scientist A is cited
in paper B, then a third author citing B may
include in it a citation of A as well; and if our
third author gets cited in turn, D may cite not
only C but anything that C cites, including B
and A – even if he has not actually read A’s
paper at all. While the number of citations
may be increasing with the size of scientific
contribution made in the paper, the exact relation between these 
variables is not obvious. So
again, finding a measure of achievements of
physicists is a problem.
Here, we made the hypothesis that the
exponential relationship between fame and
achievement that we found for fighter pilots
holds also for people of other professions, such
as scientists. We can then use the scientists’
fame (measured in Google hits) to infer their
achievement. Let us emphasise that we do not
insist that web hit counts are preferable to
citation counts. These two measures of fame
are strongly correlated. We used web hits
because we used them for fighter pilots aces in
our earlier study. The point of this article is not
that one should use web hits, but that to make
an estimate of achievement one should take a
logarithm of fame.

read the rest of the article from here!!

(A lot of recent attention has been given to studies where statistical 
analysis of very
many non-expert opinions leads to estimates
that agree with reality as well as or better
than expert opinions. Every webpage about a
particular person expresses its creator’s opinion
of  the  worthiness  of  the  person  in  question.
Our estimate of achievements of Nobel Prize
winning physicists is similarly based on statistical analysis of 
numbers of web pages mentioning
them. The fact that our results agree fairly well
with Landau’s expert opinion may be another
demonstration of the wisdom of crowds.)

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