Forecasting who will walk away with the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology is hardly a precise science. Yet there are at least two indicators that have consistently pointed to prize-winning potential. One is a scientist's citation ranking; there is an unusually high correlation between citation frequency and Nobel recognition. The second indicator is the winning of one of the so-called predictor prizes that traditionally anticipate Nobel committee selections.

As Columbia University sociologist Harriet Zuckerman writes in her book, Scientific Elite (New York: Free Press, 1977, page 188), a study of American science laureates, "Citation analysis of the work of prospective laureates on the eve of their awards confirms what any scientist knows. Nobel prizes do not go to unknowns."

Last year's winners are an example. J. Michael Bishop and Harold E. Varmus, both of the University of California, San Francisco, are citation superstars. (Indeed, both were included in The...

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