Are Nobel Laureates Smarter than APA Distinguished Scientist Award Winners?
Who doesn’t Bask In Reflected Glory (known, in social psychological circles, as BIRGing), from time to time, by mentioning our connection to others who have succeeded in their pursuits, righted a wrong, or generally done something good? By the way, did I mention that my advisor at the University of Illinois, Ed Diener, won the American Psychological Association’s highest award last year: The Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. Congratulations, Ed!
The news came my way on November 17th, 2011, not long after the Nobel Foundation announced the 2011 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science. This year’s winners were Thomas J. Sargent of New York University, and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University. Even if you don’t read the newspaper much, you probably heard about these two economists. The New York Times featured them in multiple stories. So did US Today, Financial Times, and BBC News. The news about the Nobel Prize in Economics was everywhere. I even saw them in my favorite Japanese newspaper, Asahi.
The news of Ed Diener’s accomplishments did not travel so fast or so far. Entering “Thomas Sargent, Nobel” in Google Search results in 16,600 hits between October 9th and November 8th. “Ed Diener, APA distinguished scientist” yielded 221 hits between November 15th and December 14th. But, the close inspection of Google’s 221 hits showed that the announcement of Ed winning this prestigious award was only made by the University of Illinois’ psychology department website. That is, whereas the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Economics was covered in every media outlet world-wide, the announcement of the APA distinguished scientist award was made only by the department website of Illinois (not even by the News Gazette, the local newspaper in Champaign). The news coverage of these two awards is literally night and day.
So my question is this: Is winning a Nobel Prize in economics more than 16,000 times newsworthy than winning an APA distinguished scientist award? Also more generally, are Nobel Laureate economists really smarter than the winners of APA’s distinguished scientific contribution award? What do you think?
I think that 99.9% of the general public will surely think so. Why? Because the general public believe that Nobel Laureates are geniuses! Nobel Laureates evoke the image of Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, and James Watson. I do think that these economists who won the Nobel are geniuses. But, I happen to think that the APA distinguished scientist award winners (at least some) are in the same genius category as those Nobel Laureates. Let me tell you why.
Between 1969 and 2011, 69 individuals were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Science. During the same period, 139 individuals were awarded APA’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. The size of economics and psychology departments are roughly the same (at UVA, there are 31 full-time econ professors vs. 38 full-time psychology professors), though in some universities the econ department is far larger (e.g., Princeton and Harvard econ departments have roughly 60 full-time professors vs. 30 full-time psychology professors). Although there are lots of economists in business schools and government agencies, and elsewhere, there are lots of clinical psychologists everywhere. So, my guess is that the base number of economists and psychologists is roughly a ratio of 1:1 to 2:1. If this assumption is right, then winning the Nobel Prize in Economics is roughly twice to four times as hard as winning the APA’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award-far from 16,000 times in the media coverage.
But, beyond the selection rate (competitiveness), it is also important to look at the impact that APA distinguished scientist award winners and Nobel laureate economists had. After all, the Nobel foundation awards these economists for the lasting impact they made. To get an idea of their impact, I looked at Harzing’s Publish or Perish on February 20, 2012. As you see in the table below, social-personality psychologists who won the distinguished award are comparable, or better than Nobel winning economists in both total citations and h-index (the number of papers, “h” that the author published that have been cited at least “h” times; e.g., an h-index of 20 means this person published 20 papers that are each cited at least 20 times; an h-index of 100 means this person published 100 papers that are each cited at least 100 times).
Data Retrieved on February 20, 2012
Winners of the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award
Year Name # of Papers Total # of Times Cited H-Index
2012 Ed Diener 360 52,355 98
2011 Dan Wegner 179 17,172 53
2011 Carol Dweck 173 27,589 61
2010 Susan Fiske 310 31,045 75
2009 Alice Eagly 240 31,913 65
Winners of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science
Year Name # of Papers Total # of Times Cited H-Index
2011 Thomas J. Sargent 433 27,116 70
2011 Christopher A. Sims 270 26,026 55
2010 Peter A. Diamond 241 18,380 48
2010 Dale T. Mortensen 134 11,494 36
2010 Christopher A. Pissarides 135 13,899 43
Here is the statistical comparison between the last 5 social-personality psychologists who won the APA distinguished scientist award and the last 5 economists who won the Nobel. In terms of the number of papers published, they are dead even (Mpsychologist = 252.40, SD = 81.76 vs. Meconomist = 242.60, SD = 122.86), t (8) = .15, p = .88. However, in terms of total citations, these psychologists surpass the economists on average by 12,000! Mpsychologist = 32,014.80, SD = 12,792.29 vs. Meconomist = 19,383.00, SD = 7022.20, t (8) = 1.94, p = .09. Furthermore, these psychologists also have a higher h-index than these Nobel Laureates by 20! Mpsychologist = 70.40, SD = 17.34 vs. Meconomist = 50.40, SD = 12.97, t (8) = 2.07, p < .05.
It is hard to compare these numbers across different disciplines, of course. So, I would not take these numbers at the face value. But, it seems that top psychologists are making as much impact as the top economists on social and behavioral sciences. Why wouldn’t New York Times run the headline “Ed Diener, a happiness researcher, wins this year’s APA distinguished scientist award”?
I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day APA distinguished scientists will be able to join hands with Nobel laureate economists. I have a dream that one day the announcement of the APA distinguished scientist award winners will be covered, along side with the announcement of the Nobel prize winners.
Daniel Kahneman, who won both awards (1982 APA, 2002 Nobel) has 363 papers. Total citation is 129,273 (1 digit above the rest). H-index = 91. Wow!