These four journals publish the most Nobel Prize-winning papers in physics

And the winner is…

16 January 2020

Gemma Conroy

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Nobel Prize-winning research is not always published in the highest impact journals. A new study has found that specialized journals publish more Nobel-winning physics papers than higher impact journals such as Science and Nature.

Rasmus Bjørk, a physicist at the Technical University of Denmark, analyzed reference data from all scientific background documents for the Nobel Prize in Physics between 1995 and 2017, listed on the Nobel Foundation’s website.

The material includes both the Nobel laureates' award-winning research and papers relevant to that work.

Bjørk found that Physical Review Letters published by far the most award-winning research, accounting for 28.5% of the Nobel Prize-awarded papers, followed by The Astrophysical Journal (11.2%), Science (5.6%), and Nature (4.7%).

"This is contrary to the journals' respective impact factors, where Physical Review Letters and The Astrophysical Journal have much lower impact factors than Nature and Science," Bjørk writes.

Physical Review Letters also published more relevant works referenced in the background documents than any other journal, followed by Physical Review (which was split up into multiple journals in 1969), then The Astrophysical Journal, then Nature.

Papers by laureates in the top-ranked Nature and Science journals accounted for less than 10% of citations in the background documents, while Physical Review Letters garnered 40% of citations.

Bjørk writes that the reason novel and important works in physics are not preferentially published in the highest impact factor journals was "likely historical."

"Physical Review has traditionally been the journal where new discoveries in physics are published, and that remains true today," he says.

"This means that if the impact factor could be computed in a field-specific way, the physics-specific impact factor for Nature and Science would be much smaller than their general impact factors."

Although many researchers still use the journal impact factor to judge a journal’s prominence, the results show that this isn’t the only way to measure quality, says Bjørk.

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