Credit: Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Reuters has today ranked the top 1,000 scientists shaping the climate change debate internationally. 'The Hot List' scores scientists based on the influence of their work, accounting for the number of papers published, and the number of citations in academia and in the wider press, social media and other public forums. It is a measure of relative impact over time, not who has produced the best work.

With that in mind, it accounts for any "one-hit wonders" and does not rank them highly. Likewise, lower-profile scientists who contributed to large studies get the recognition they deserve.

The list is the product of 18 months of work by lead reporter Maurice Tamman. Reuters worked with Dimensions, the academic research portal of technology company Digital Science, for the database.

We decided to write not just about the science, but the scientists.Maurice Tamman, Reuters

As part of the project, Reuters will this week also publish spotlight features on six scientists to show how climate change is being documented. According to Tamman, the initial idea was to stray away from the typical, pessimistic narrative associated with climate change.

"There's no shortage of stories about the horrors of climate change, I’ve written a lot of those myself," Tamman says.

"But what about the people behind the scenes, documenting these horrors? We decided to write not just about the science, but the scientists."

The first profile features Michael Oppenheimer, chronicling his long career as one of the world's pioneering climatologists. It reveals the triumphs and failures of his quest to wake the world up to climate change, including melting ice sheets and rising sea levels.

Readers will be surprised to see expletives and an optimistic tone in his story. The other five articles will feature prominent scientists Corinne Le Quéré, Ken Caldeira, Carlos Duarte, Julie Arblaster and Kaveh Madani. Topics range from climate solutions in Saudi Arabia to sexism in the field of climate science.

The list exposes the gender imbalance in the climate science field: one in seven of the top global scientists are women. Shining a light on scientists in developing countries was also a big drive for the project, according to Tamman.

"If I'm a scientist and I work in Bangladesh, my perspective on climate change is going to be very different from someone else working in a glass tower in Brussels," he explains.

"Being from a place that is affected in a specific way by climate change will affect what research is being done [there]. But if you cannot get funding, you are not going to stay in Bangladesh, you'll go to Brussels.

"We miss something if the vast majority of people who are doing the research are white men and from European backgrounds and it is one of the reasons we picked who we picked."

The list can act as an authoritative database of sources for other reporters. Punching in a few basic search terms will pull up the most reputable scientists in a country, of a particular gender, or in their institution. You can use it to run a check against a source of the study you are looking at.

Clicking on an individual name will bring up an overview of their career, showing their most active years and all manner of details from grants, patents and other works.

However, that was never the core ambition and is a "fringe benefit", according to Tamman. He warned that the list is naturally skewed in favour of older scientists and against those who have moved away from academia.

"I don't want to pretend it's a be-all and end-all,” says Tamman.

"It's just a useful tool to measure the influence that normal scientists - those who work five days a week in labs around the world - have, and don't usually show up on your TVs."

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