Science is serious business. Governments, companies and charities invest hundreds of billions to fuel research efforts worldwide. The results, they hope, will increase knowledge, drive economic growth, improve lives and create new possibilities for people in the future.
But which science matters most and who’s doing it? Those are the questions underlying a new list of the world’s top researchers compiled by the data and media company Thomson Reuters.
Roughly 3,200 names appear on the list, which represents the company’s best estimate of who is making the biggest impact in science worldwide.
The effort is driven by a growing interest among universities to assess their faculty and prospective hires and among funding agencies to compare and quantify the impact of the science they support.
Yet hidden within the global list lies a fascinating and unvarnished glimpse at Canada’s role in the scientific enterprise. It highlights where public investments are making the biggest impact and raises questions about how Canada’s modest resources can best be used to foster scientific excellence.
“Much of science occurs at the expense of taxpayers,” says Basil Moftah, president of Thomson Reuters’ intellectual property and science division. “We think it’s important that people know how well that money is being spent and how much result it’s creating for society.”
Experts are quick to point out that numbers aren’t everything, especially when it comes to assessing the quality of an individual scientist or of a country’s overall contribution. But numbers do have meaning, and they can play a role in shaping national science policy.
With this in mind, The Globe and Mail has taken a deep dive into the Thomson Reuters data to see what it says about Canada’s scientific footprint.
Salim Yusuf, a cardiologist and director of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute, is Canada’s most influential scientist, based on citations. In recent years, nine of his studies, which involve large-scale clinical trials across countries and population groups, have been among the research world’s top 0.1 per cent.
Dr. Yusuf is well known as a pioneer in his field and his efforts this year earned him a Gairdner Award, generally regarded as Canada’s most prestigious prize in biomedical science.
“To me he represents McMaster, period,” says John Kelton, vice-president of the university’s faculty of health sciences. “We’re an upstart medical school, 40 years old, but we have always been considered, to our knowledge, one of the most innovative.”
The numbers seems to bear this out. Dr. Yusuf is not an isolated success but merely the tallest spire within a cluster of the world’s most highly cited clinical researchers at McMaster. Among Canada’s top 10 scientists across all fields, four are based there.
The country’s second-most cited scientist, Marco Marra, who is director of the Genome Sciences Centre and a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia, sits at the core of a similarly high-performing cluster.
He and a colleague, bioinformaticist Steven Jones, both make Canada’s top-10 list. Two others, Joseph Connors and Randy Gascoyne, are in the top 20.
The group has lately become known for its groundbreaking work applying the tools of genomics to study tumour cells. The work involves “a heavy element of discovery,” Dr. Marra says.
“We’re learning a huge amount about the genes that drive the cancers.”
Despite the cutting-edge nature of his science, Dr. Marra adds, the groundwork that ultimately brought him and Dr. Jones to UBC was laid two decades ago, when others saw the need and value of creating a centre for genomics research in cancer.
“This is a really key, important point,” Dr. Marra says. “It’s not that I’m working harder than other folks, it’s that I’ve had the benefit of this previous investment.”
See the full article at the Globe and Mail