Friday, July 23, 2010

The scientific track record of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has done much to popularise science and is widely acclaimed as a gifted scientific writer. He is sometimes introduced as a distinguished scientist. But is he? When they apply for jobs, grants, are nominated for prizes, or for membership of learned societies, scientists are evaluated almost exclusively on the quality and impact of their publications of original research in refereed scientific journals. One measure of a scientists contributions to the body of scientific knowledge is how often these publications are cited. Below, I give a summary of Dawkins' record.

Dawkins' CV with a complete publication list is available here (aside: the publication list on Wikipedia is incomplete). It seems to me that the last publication which actually involves original research in a refereed scientific journal is:

Dawkins, Richard; Brockmann, H.J. (1980). "Do digger wasps commit the concorde fallacy?". Animal Behaviour 28 (3): 892–896.

All other papers for the last thirty years seem to be either book chapters, book reviews in scientific journals, commentary on the research of others, philosophy, response to critics, .....

Citations of any scientists' papers can be accessed via the ISI Web of Science. One widely used measure of a scientists career influence is their h-index. If a scientist has N papers that have been cited N or more times then they have an h-index of N. According to the Web of Science, Dawkins appears to have an h-index of 17. (The raw data is here and here).

To put this in perspective, in the original paper proposing the index, Jorge Hirsch suggested that, for physicists, an h-index of about 10–12 might be appropriate to receive tenure at a major research university in the US. A value of about 18 might be appropriate for promotion to full professor, 15–20 could mean being elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. Election to the US National Academy of Sciences might require an h-index larger than 45. Hirsch noted that biologists tended to have higher h-indices than physicists. Specifically, he found that among 36 new inductees in the National Academy of Sciences in biological and biomedical sciences in 2005, the average h-index was 57.

2 comments:

  1. I mean, I'm not any kind of Dawkins fan, but his project seems to be to popularize work in his field more than anything else. This is often a thankless task, and I'll bet he has some regret that he isn't able to conduct more serious work because of it.

    If more theologians took the time to popularize, Dawkins might have more difficulty convincing nominal Christians.

    Just a thought.

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  2. It frustrates me no end when people speak outside their field, which is what I find RD do far too often. If there's one thing I learnt from my PhD, it's that it qualifies me to say almost nothing about anything except a few minor properties of graphene that most people could care less about.

    Nevertheless people do think you have some sort of authority outside your field. I was recently asked how hawk-eye works (in the cricket, not in M*A*S*H). And this is worrying. Two colleagues, just the other day, tried to convince me that it's unhealthy to drink very cold water. I'm not kidding. When we finally got to the bottom of it, their mum's had told them so. These are talented theoretical physicists!

    It's interesting to know his h-index, though I must say I'm surprised to see you, Ross, quoting it, in light of your views on what constitutes adequate justification for viewing it ;)

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