Do elite scientists play a key role in the genesis of transformative research of “sparking type”? An investigation in the science of science

Main Article Content

Fangjie Xi
Ronald Rousseau
Xiaojun Hu


The purpose of this study is to explore if elite scientists play a key role in the genesis of transformative research. As there exist different types of transformative research, this paper focuses on one type of work, i.e. under-cited influential work,referred to as “sparking” articles. A comparative study between the h-indices of authors citing Nobel Prize-winning papers of sparking type and those of authors citing ordinary ones is conducted, focusing on the first author and the corresponding author of each paper. The results show that the citers of the Top 1% or Top 10% Citations Sets in the sparking group have much higher h-indices than those in the ordinary group. These findings imply that elite scientists, operationalized as those with a high h-index in the corresponding fields, are more sensitive to sparking work and, as such play a pivotal role in the genesis of transformative research. This investigation provides new insight into the study of detecting transformative research, and hence, contributes to the science of science.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Xi, F., Rousseau, R., & Hu, X. (2022). Do elite scientists play a key role in the genesis of transformative research of “sparking type”? An investigation in the science of science. Malaysian Journal of Library and Information Science, 27(2), 1–18.


Bornmann, L. 2013. How to analyze percentile citation impact data meaningfully in bibliometrics: The statistical analysis of distributions, percentile rank classes, and top-cited papers. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol.64, no.3: 587-595.

Chai, S. and Menon, A. 2019. Breakthrough recognition: Bias against novelty and competition for attention. Research Policy, Vol.48, no.3: 733-747.

Cole, S. 1970. Professional standing and the reception of scientific discoveries. American Journal of Sociology, Vol.76, no.2, 286-306.

Du, J., Li, P.X., Haunschild, R., Sun, Y.N. and Tang, X.L. 2020. Paper-patent citation linkages as early signs for predicting delayed recognized knowledge: Macro and micro evidence. Journal of Informetrics, Vol.14, no.2.

Egghe, L. and Rousseau, R. 2021. The h-index formalism. Scientometrics, Vol.126, no.7: 6137-6145.

Hirsch, J.E. 2005. An index to quantify an individual's scientific research output. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol.102, no.46: 16569-16572.

Hu, X.J., Hu, X.Y., Zhang, Y.N. and Rousseau, R. 2018. Hibernators, their awakeners and the roles of subsequent elite citers. Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science, Vol.23, no.1: 103-113.

Hu, X.J., Luo, J.H. and Rousseau, R. 2018. A warning for Chinese academic evaluation systems: short-term bibliometric measures misjudge the value of pioneering contributions. Journal of Zhejiang University-Science B, Vol.19, no.1:1-5.

Hu, X.J. and Rousseau, R. 2016. Scientific influence is not always visible: The phenomenon of under-cited influential publications. Journal of Informetrics, Vol.10, no.4: 1079-1091.

Hu, X.J. and Rousseau, R. 2017. Nobel Prize winners 2016: Igniting or sparking foundational publications? Scientometrics, Vol.110, no.2: 1053-1063.

Hu, X.J. and Rousseau, R. 2019. Do citation chimeras exist? The case of under-cited influential articles suffering delayed recognition. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, Vol.70, no.5: 499-508.

Hu, X.J., Rousseau, R. and Chen, J. 2010. In those fields where multiple authorship is the rule, the h-index should be supplemented by role-based h-indices. Journal of Information Science, Vol.36, no.1: 73-85.

Hu, X.J., Rousseau, R. and Chen, J. 2011. On the definition of forward and backward citation generations. Journal of Informetrics, Vol.5, no.1: 27-36.

Huang, Y.-H., Hsu, C.-N. and Lerman, K. 2013. Identifying transformative scientific research. Paper presented at the IEEE 13th International Conference on Data Mining, December 2013, at Dallas, TX.

Koshland, D.E. 2007. Philosophy of science - The cha-cha-cha theory of scientific discovery. Science, Vol.317, no.5839: 761-762.

Lewison, G., Rippon, I. and Wooding, S. 2005. Tracking knowledge diffusion through citations. Research Evaluation, Vol.14, no.1: 5-14.

Li, J.C., Yin, Y., Fortunato, S. and Wang, D.S. 2019. A dataset of publication records for Nobel laureates. Scientific Data, Vol.6, no.1: 33.

Liu, W.L., Dogan, R.I., Kim, S., Comeau, D.C., Kim, W., Yeganova, L., Lu, Z.Y. and Wilbur, W.J. 2014. Author name disambiguation for PubMed. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, Vol.65, no.4: 765-781.

Liu, Y.X. and Rousseau, R. 2010. Knowledge diffusion through publications and citations: A case study using ESI-fields as unit of diffusion. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol.61, no.2: 340-351.

Marx, W. 2014. The Shockley-Queisser paper - A notable example of a scientific sleeping beauty. Annalen Der Physik, Vol.526, no.5-6: A41-A45.

Min, C., Bu, Y. and Sun, J.J. 2021. Predicting scientific breakthroughs based on knowledge structure variations. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol.164. Available at:

Min, C., Bu, Y., Wu, D., Ding, Y. and Zhang, Y. 2021. Identifying citation patterns of scientific breakthroughs: A perspective of dynamic citation process. Information Processing & Management, Vol.58, no.1. Available at:

Min, C., Ding, Y., Li, J., Bu, Y., Pei, L. and Sun, J.J. 2018. Innovation or imitation: The diffusion of citations. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, Vol.69, no.10: 1271-82.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine. 2016. Fostering transformative research in the geographical sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Science Board. 2012. Science and engineering indicators 2012. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation.

Petersen, A.M., Fortunato, S., Pan, R.K., Kaski, K., Penner, O., Rungi, A., Riccaboni, M., Stanley, H.E. and Pammolli, F. 2014. Reputation and impact in academic careers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol.111, no.43:15316-15321.

Ponomarev, I.V., Williams, D.E., Hackett, C.J., Schnell, J.D. and Haak, L.L. 2014. Predicting highly cited papers: A method for early detection of candidate breakthroughs. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol.81: 49-55.

Prabhakaran, T., Lathabai, H.H. and Changat, M. 2015. Detection of paradigm shifts and emerging fields using scientific network: A case study of Information Technology for Engineering. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol.91: 124-145.

Rousseau, R. 2014. Skewness for journal citation curves. In E. Noyons (Ed.)., Context counts: Pathways to master big and little data. Proceedings of the STI conference 2014 Leiden, 498–501.

Rousseau, R., Egghe, L. and Guns, R. 2018. Becoming metric-wise. A bibliometric guide for researchers. Chandos Elsevier: Kidlington.

Savov, P., Jatowt, A. and Nielek, R. 2020. Identifying breakthrough scientific papers. Information Processing & Management, Vol.57, no.2: 102168.

Seglen, P. O. 1992. The skewness of science. Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Vol.43, no.9: 628–638.

Sinha, A., Shen, Z.H., Song, Y., Ma, H., Eide, D., Hsu, B.J. and Wang, K.S. 2015. An overview of Microsoft Academic Service (MAS) and applications. Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, May 2015 Florence, 243-246.

Trevors, J.T., Pollack, G.H., Saier, M.H. and Masson, L. 2012. Transformative research: definitions, approaches and consequences. Theory in Biosciences, Vol.131, no.2: 117-123.

Winnink, J.J., Tijssen, R.J.W. and van Raan, A.F.J. 2019. Searching for new breakthroughs in science: How effective are computerised detection algorithms? Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol.146: 673-686.

Wuestman, M., Hoekman, J. and Frenken, K. 2020. A typology of scientific breakthroughs. Quantitative Science Studies, Vol.1, no.3: 1203-1222.

Xi, F.J., Rousseau, R. and Hu, X.J. 2021. “Sparking” and “Igniting” Key Publications of 2020 Nobel Prize Laureates. Journal of Data and Information Science, Vol.6, no.2: 28-40.

Most read articles by the same author(s)