In the nearly 128 years since the National Academy of Sciences was founded, its members generally have been regarded as constituting the elite of American science. The society, which at its inception numbered only 50 scientists, now includes 1,589 members, 83 members emeritus, and 271 foreign associates.

Election to the academy is a confidential process. Each year, a central nominating committee receives a ranked list of candidates from each of the academy's 25 sections. From these, a combined ballot is sent to members. Although from time to time selections have been criticized as "political" or based on favoritism, a comprehensive study of the membership surely would support a view of NAS as an organization essentially made up of the United States' scientific community's most notable "movers and shakers."

One way to assess the breadth and depth of a scientific investigator's impact is to examine the number of research papers he...

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