The names James Black, Gertrude Elion, and George Hitchings probably didn’t ring any bells for the general public when this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was announced. But among the scientific community this trio of pioneering pharmacologists is widely recognized. In fact, for decades now scientists have been paying their own kind of tribute to Black, Elion, and Hitchings by consistently citing their papers—and at levels far above average.

Sir James W Black, 64, King’s College Hospital Medical School in London, was singled out by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute for his formulation in the early 1960s of a beta-blocker drug (propranolol) that has become a mainstay in the treatment of high blood pressure and coronary disease. Of Black’s three most cited papers, the second and third (both published in The Lancet, volume II, page 311, 1962 [about 600 citations], and volume I, page 1080, 1964 [about 470 citations]),...

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