The writers at Nature News recently put together a list of the 100 most highly cited papers of all time. There are a few surprises in here, including the fact that it takes no fewer than 12,119 citations to rank in the top 100.

The list, which was created by pulling data from the Science Citation Index (SCI), spans the last 100 years of scholarly publications. The sheer size of the literature — 58 million items — shows that the top 100 papers are true outliers; just three publications have more than 100,000 citations. Many of the world's most famous and influential papers didn't even make the cut.


To help put it all into perspective, Nature News put together a video (above) and this infographic (click to embiggen).

If the cumulative stack of all these papers were scaled to the size of Mount Kilimanjaro, then the 100 most-cited papers would represent just one centimeter at the peak. Only 14,499 papers — about a meter and a half's worth — have more than 1,000 citations. Roughly half of the items have only one citation.


So what's the most cited paper of all time? That distinction goes to a 1951 paper by U.S. biochemist Oliver Lowry and colleagues describing an assay to determine the amount of protein in a solution. To date, it has collect more than 305,000 citations. And no one's entirely sure why...

Here are the top five:

Sexy, right?

Shockingly, Watson and Crick's paper on the structure of DNA missed out (just 5,207 citations...what!?), along with many other historic breakthroughs (like the 1985 discovery of the ozone hole — just 1,871 citations). Instead, papers on methods and software dominate the list.

Here's a breakdown of the citations by category:

You can browse through the entire list here (.xls spreadsheet) or via Nature News's interactive graphic. And there's much more at the Nature News article.