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Do great minds appear in batches?


  • Ho Fai Chan

    (Queensland University of Technology)

  • Benno Torgler

    () (Queensland University of Technology
    Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA))


Despite much scholarly fascination with the question of whether great minds appear in cycles, together with some empirical evidence that historical cycles exist, prior studies mostly disregard the “great minds” hypothesis as it relates to scientists. Rather, researchers assume a linear relation based on the argument that science is allied with the development of technology. To probe this issue further, this study uses a ranking of over 5600 scientists based on number of appearances in Google Books over a period of 200 years (1800–2000). The results point to several peak periods, particularly for scientists born in the 1850–1859, 1897–1906, or 1900–1909 periods, suggesting overall cycles of around 8 years and a positive trend in distinction that lasts around 100 years. Nevertheless, a non-parametric test to determine whether randomness can be rejected indicates that non-randomness is less apparent, although once we analyse the greatest minds overall, rejection is more likely.

Suggested Citation

  • Ho Fai Chan & Benno Torgler, 2015. "Do great minds appear in batches?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 104(2), pages 475-488, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:104:y:2015:i:2:d:10.1007_s11192-015-1620-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-015-1620-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David W. Johnston & Marco Piatti & Benno Torgler, 2013. "Citation success over time: theory or empirics?," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 95(3), pages 1023-1029, June.
    2. McDowell, John M, 1982. "Obsolescence of Knowledge and Career Publication Profiles: Some Evidence of Differences among Fields in Costs of Interrupted Careers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(4), pages 752-768, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ho Fai Chan & Franklin G. Mixon & Benno Torgler, 2019. "Fame in the sciences: a culturomics approach," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 118(2), pages 605-615, February.
    2. Ho F. Chan & Franklin G. Mixon & Benno Torgler, 2018. "Relation of early career performance and recognition to the probability of winning the Nobel Prize in economics," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 114(3), pages 1069-1086, March.
    3. Philipp Korom, 2018. "Does scientific eminence endure? Making sense of the most cited economists, psychologists and sociologists in textbooks (1970–2010)," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 116(2), pages 909-939, August.

    More about this item


    Great minds; Genius; Fame; Scientists; Cycles; Two centuries;


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