WASHINGTON—When Robert Coleman took the phone call, the University of California at Berkeley mathematician thought the official-sounding voice was a sales man. When he heard the words "MacArthur Foundation," he expected to be asked for a donation. But when program director Kenneth Hope told Coleman that he was one of 32 new MacArthur fellows and that he would receive $215,000 over the next five years, the message finally got through.

By at least one measure, how ever, the 32-year-old Coleman was justified in being surprised at his selection for what has been labeled the "genius award." Last year only two of his papers were cited a total of five times in papers by other re searchers, the lowest citation rate of any of this year's 16 scientists chosen by the foundation. But un like recipients of most other prestigious awards, MacArthur fellows do not always have the most distinguished publishing...

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