Straight from the source: Accounting for scientific success

Erin Leahey, Cindy L. Cain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


How do highly cited scientists account for their success? A number of approaches have been used to explain scientific success, but none incorporates scientists' own understandings, which are critical to a complete, process-oriented explanation. We remedy this oversight by incorporating scientists' own descriptions of the value of their work, as reflected in essays written by authors of highly cited articles ('Citation Classics'). As cultural objects, these essays reveal not only factors perceived to be associated with success but also reflect narrative conventions, and thereby elucidate the culture surrounding success. We enlist Charles Ragin's Qualitative Comparative Analysis to analyze how factors mentioned in these accounts work in conjunction. Our results show that three ingredients - relationships, usefulness to others, and overcoming challenges - are found in a large majority of scientific success stories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-951
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • citations
  • narrative accounts
  • scientific scholarship
  • scientific success

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Straight from the source: Accounting for scientific success'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this