For High-Impact Forensics, The Clues Point to Europe
Featured Analyses, July/August 2011
Human genetic material is stored at a laboratory in Munich, May 2011. REUTERS/Michael Dald.
by Christopher King
In the 16 years since Science Watch last surveyed the field of forensic science (January 1995), the technical and procedural intricacies of crime-scene investigation have become the basis of uncountable dramatic series on television. Now, albeit without the requisite TV trappings of rakish sunglasses, flashy editing, or a thudding rock soundtrack, we return for a look at the real of world of forensics as a scientific and academic discipline.
The table below in Tab 1 lists high-impact institutions in legal medicine and forensic science, according to total citations (left column) as well as citations per paper (or impact, at right), based on papers published and cited since 2001. High-impact authors are listed in Tab 2 below.
To identify these key players, Science Watch turned to the "legal medicine" journal-classification category employed in Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge®. Papers published in the category’s 11 specialty journals were augmented by pertinent reports that appeared in Science, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine, and other multidisciplinary and general-medicine journals. In all, some 15,000 papers published between 2001 and early 2011 were culled.
One striking bit of evidence is immediately discernible in the table of institutions: a preponderance of entities situated in Western Europe. Germany’s representation is particularly notable, with the universities of Münster, Hamburg, Bonn, Freiburg, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Mainz, and Kiel figuring prominently, along with the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, representing the joint efforts of the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Free University of Berlin.
The Iberian Peninsula also has its champions: the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and the University of Porto in Portugal.
The showing by the United States, meanwhile, is mostly confined to larger government institutions: the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and a municipal agency, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) of the City of New York. Only Harvard University stands as a private academic institution.
A woman works with human genetic material at a laboratory in Munich, May 2011. REUTERS/Michael Dald.
Despite the dominance of European institutions, a couple of U.S.-based authors make a respectable showing atop the author listing (on the basis of citations per paper). The NIST’s John M. Butler contributed to a 2003 report from the Journal of Forensic Science, "The development of reduced-size STR amplicons as tools for degraded DNA," 48: 1054-64, 2003; this paper has now been cited 100 times. ("STR," incidentally, stands for "short tandem repeat," denoting the patterns of repeating nucleotides that serve as the basis for much of the DNA profiling performed in forensics cases.)
Another U.S.-based author, Mechthild Prinz of the OCME in New York City, was among the coauthors on another highly cited report, "DNA Commission of the International Society of Forensic Genetics (ISFG): An update on the recommendations on the use of Y-STRs in forensic analysis" (Forensic Sci. Int., 157: 187-97, 2006), now cited 94 times. This paper also boosted the impact scores for several of the researchers featured here, including the paper’s first author, Leonor Gusmao, along with Manfred Kayser, Lutz Roewer, Niels Morling, and Peter M. Schneider.
All of those latter names, save for Morling, also contributed to another of the survey’s blockbuster reports, "Online reference database of European Y-chromosomal short tandem repeat (STR) haplotypes," (Forens. Sci. Int., 118: 106-13, 2001), now cited 112 times, with Cintia Alves, Angel Carracedo, Rudiger Lessig, Walther Parson, and Reinhard Szibor also among the coauthors.
Most cited of all is a 2003 report on "Virtopsy," an imaging method for "virtual autopsy" (M.J. Thali, et al., J. Forens. Sci., 48: 386-403, 2003), now cited 140 times. Kathrin Yen, Peter Vock, and Martin J. Sonnenschein were among the collaborators.
As a further evaluative metric, along with the authors’ paper counts and cites-per-paper scores, the listing includes each researcher’s "H-Index" for this specific selection of papers. The H-Index essentially represents a convergence of output and impact, conveying that the given author has x number of papers cited x or more times.
Among journals, Forensic Science International distinguishes itself as both the most prolific (4,258 reports during the roughly ten-year period) and the most cited (23,569). The Journal of Forensic Sciences is second in both categories, with 2,915 reports and 12,498 overall citations.
By the measure of impact (among journals publishing 25 or more papers), the Journal of Legal Medicine takes top honors, with 895 papers cited, on average, 8.61 times. And of the non-specialty journals whose pertinent papers were collected, the British Medical Journal was the most prolific in this regard, with 10 papers between 2001 and 2011.
And the ten most frequently occurring keywords, in descending order? "Forensic science," "identification," "DNA," "validation," "STR," "DNA typing," "urine," "drugs," "amplification," and, in a fitting conclusion, "death."
Legal Medicine & Forensic Science, 2001 to 2011
(Left:listed by citations. Right: listed by citation impact)
|Univ. Santiago de Compostela, Spain||1,954||University of Magdeburg||18.54|
|University of Münster||1,669||University of Vienna||18.03|
|Inst. Legal Medicine/Forensic Sci., Berlin||1,585||Natl. Inst. of Standards and Technology (U.S.)||17.83|
|Forensic Science Service (England, Wales)||1,283||University of Oslo||13.62|
|Innsbruck Medical University||1,261||Univ. Santiago de Compostela, Spain||13.20|
|Natl. Inst. of Standards and Technology (U.S.)||1,123||Inst. of Legal Medicine, Strasbourg||13.14|
|University of Porto, Portugal||1,120||University of Leipzig||12.85|
|University of Copenhagen||1,018||Inst. Legal Medicine/Forensic Sci., Berlin||12.78|
|University of Hamburg||995||Technical University of Dresden||12.70|
|University of Bern||939||University of Oxford||12.62|
|University of Bonn||850||Office of Chief Med. Examiner, NYC||12.60|
|University of Freiburg||849||Armed Forces Inst. of Pathology (U.S.)||12.25|
|University of Helsinki||830||Innsbruck Medical University||12.13|
|University of Leipzig||771||Ghent University||11.57|
|University of Lausanne||756||Forensic Science Service (England, Wales)||11.25|
|Harvard University||740||University of Copenhagen||10.83|
|University of Magdeburg||723||University of Cologne||10.67|
|Armed Forces Inst. of Pathology (U.S.)||686||Karolinska Institute||10.63|
|Inst. of Legal Medicine, Strasbourg||670||University of Porto, Portugal||10.37|
|Office of Chief Medical Examiner, NYC||668||University of Helsinki||10.12|
|University of Oslo||640||Linkoping University||9.70|
|University of Vienna||631||Kiel University||9.59|
|University of Technology, Sydney||628||University of Münster||9.48|
|Mainz University||624||University of Leicester||9.25|
|SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge®|
High-Impact Authors in Legal Medicine & Forensic Science, 2001 to 2011
(Listed by citations per paper, of authors who published >= 20 papers)
|Name||Institution||Papers||H-Index||Cites per paper|
|John M. Butler||Nat. Inst. of Standards & Technology, U.S.||36||17||27.8|
|Mechthild Prinz||Office of Chief Medical Examiner, NYC||24||14||26.0|
|Manfred Kayser||Erasmus University, Rotterdam||23||11||25.2|
|Peter Gill||University of Strathclyde, U.K.||39||17||23.1|
|Peter Vock||University of Bern||26||13||21.5|
|Lutz Roewer||Inst. Legal Med. & Forensic Sci., Berlin||36||14||21.3|
|Kathrin Yen||Ludwig Boltzmann Inst., Graz, Austria||24||13||20.7|
|Martin J. Sonnenschein||University of Bern||23||13||20.1|
|Peter M. Schneider||University of Cologne||44||17||19.8|
|Thomas J. Parsons||Int’l. Comm. on Missing Persons||30||11||18.5|
|Sandra Hering||Technical University of Dresden||24||10||18.2|
|Olaf H. Drummer||Monash University, Australia||24||9||17.3|
|Reinhard Szibor||University of Magdeburg||40||15||16.9|
|Michael D. Coble||Nat. Inst. of Standards & Technology, U.S.||21||8||16.5|
|Jeanett Edelmann||University of Leipzig||33||13||15.9|
|Pascal Kintz||Inst. of Legal Medicine, Strasbourg||37||16||15.8|
|Niels Morling||University of Copenhagen||50||14||15.5|
|Harald Niederstätter||Innsbruck Medical University||23||10||15.4|
|Richard Dirnhofer||University of Bern||53||15||15.4|
|Cintia Alves||University of Porto, Portugal||34||14||15.2|
|Ángel Carracedo||Univ. Santiago de Compostela, Spain||104||21||14.8|
|Walther Parson||Innsbruck Medical University||85||20||14.0|
|Rüdiger Lessig||University of Leipzig||22||8||13.8|
|Leonor Gusmao||University of Porto||75||18||13.2|
|Maria V. Lareu||University of Santiago de Compostela||39||13||12.9|
|SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge®|