November 17, 2010 | Michael Smart
Story Highlights
  • Keith Crandall was recognized as one of the 250 most-cited scholars in his field.
  • His studies on topics ranging from HIV to crayfish have been cited more than 19,000 times.
  • Scholars at top institutions use citation counts to measure the quality of their research. 
As recognized by ISI's "Highly Cited" web site

A Brigham Young University professor has been designated a “Highly Cited” researcher, a distinction reserved for the top one-half of 1 percent of all publishing scholars.

Keith A. Crandall, chair of the Department of Biology, was recognized because he is among the 250 most-cited researchers in the category of “Ecology/Environment” as rated by ISI’s Web of Knowledge database. 

A citation occurs when researchers reference a previous publication as having informed their new work.

“One of the best measures of the influence of scientists’ work is the frequency of citations of their papers in the publications of other scientists,” said Rod Brown, Crandall’s dean in the College of Life Sciences.

Brown just completed a four-year tenure on the selection committee for the National Medal of Science and said the evaluation process for that honor begins by checking a nominee’s status on the “Highly Cited” list.

Crandall, a population geneticist, has 21 papers that have been cited more than 100 times each on subjects ranging from the evolution of HIV to the biogeography of Australian crayfish.

C. Arden Pope, the noted BYU air pollution researcher whose seminal papers are among the most cited in his field, said, “Academics, even at the most prestigious places, follow these citation counts and care about them.”

“What (Crandall) has accomplished is just massive – this is a very legitimate honor,” Pope continued. “And it’s all the more impressive that he’s done it relatively early in his career.”

Crandall arrived at BYU in 1996 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas.

“I never set out to do research where I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be highly cited,’” Crandall said. “I thought of it as something that was useful. It turns out that a lot of other people find it useful, too.”

For perspective, his 1997 paper in Nature, one of the top two journals in the world, has earned “only” 30 citations (a number that would thrill most researchers). That’s good for 45th on his list of most-cited works. One of his papers with the most appeal to the general public, on the genetic origins of the domestic dog published in Science in 1997, has 305 citations.

But his most-cited work didn’t appear in a high-profile journal. It is a two-page note published in 1998 in the journal Bioinformatics. It has more than 10,000 citations and is still adding more than 1,000 per year. Co-authored with Crandall’s then-Ph.D. candidate David Posada, the piece describes a method for selecting among alternative models of molecular evolution when calculating genetic relationships between organisms.

Crandall continues to publish 10-15 papers a year while living up to the standard expectation at BYU to teach undergraduates. Now in his fifth year as department chair, he teaches two courses each semester, including Biology 100 once a year. It’s helped, he said, to arrange his schedule so his classes and most of his meetings are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which allows him to focus on research the other days.

“I encourage younger faculty to focus on quality research publications early in their careers so they can establish their reputations within their fields,” he said. “Then they can attract quality graduate students to help increase quantity later in their careers when other responsibilities arise.”

Here’s more on some of Crandall’s publications:

Sequencing the virus behind the common cold

Improving DNA barcoding 

Getting inside humans’ HIV hideout

Crayfish species less endangered than thought


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