Fifty years ago, Eugene Garfield published the Science Citation Index (SCI), the first systematic effort to track citations in the scientific literature. Nature’s news team wondered which were the most highly-cited papers of all time, so asked Thomson Reuters and Google for their top 100. They are not what you might think. Watson and Crick on DNA structure misses out, along with many other historic discoveries. Instead, methods and software papers dominate the lists.
Find out more at nature.com/top100
The discovery of high-temperature superconductors, the determination of DNA’s double-helix structure, the first observations that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating — all of these breakthroughs won Nobel prizes and international acclaim. Yet none of the papers that announced them comes anywhere close to ranking among the 100 most highly cited papers of all time.
It takes a staggering 12,119 citations to rank in the top 100 — and that many of the world’s most famous papers do not make the cut.
The most cited work in history, for example, is a 1951 paper describing an assay to determine the amount of protein in a solution. It has now gathered more than 305,000 citations — a recognition that always puzzled its lead author...