See further upon the giants: Quantifying intellectual lineage in science

Woo Seong Jo, Lu Liu*, Dashun Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Newton’s centuries-old wisdom of standing on the shoulders of giants raises a crucial yet underexplored question: Out of all the prior works cited by a discovery, which one is its giant? Here, we develop a discipline-independent method to identify the giant for any individual paper, allowing us to better understand the role and characteristics of giants in science. We find that across disciplines, about 95% of papers appear to stand on the shoulders of giants, yet the weight of scientific progress rests on relatively few shoulders. Defining a new measure of giant index, we find that, while papers with high citations are more likely to be giants, for papers with the same citations, their giant index sharply predicts a paper’s future impact and prize-winning probabilities. Giants tend to originate from both small and large teams, being either highly disruptive or highly developmental. Papers that did not have a giant tend to do poorly on average, yet interestingly, if such papers later became a giant for other papers, they tend to be home-run papers that are highly disruptive to science. Given the crucial importance of citation-based measures in science, the developed concept of giants may offer a useful dimension in assessing scientific impact that goes beyond sheer citation counts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-330
Number of pages12
JournalQuantitative Science Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 22 2022


  • citation network
  • cocitation
  • science of science
  • scientific impact

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analysis
  • Numerical Analysis
  • Cultural Studies
  • Library and Information Sciences


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