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.
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.

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."End

Click tabs above to tables from article text.

Legal Medicine & Forensic Science, 2001 to 2011

(Left:listed by citations. Right: listed by citation impact)

Institution Citations
(>=35 papers)
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
FBI 1,309 Mainz University 14.51
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®

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