Nature presents the top 100 papers cited by others, a "paper mountain" of science's greatest hits.
The exercise revealed some surprises, not least that it takes a staggering 12,119 citations to rank in the top 100 — and that many of the world's most famous papers do not make the cut. A few that do, such as the first observation1 of carbon nanotubes (number 36) are indeed classic discoveries. But the vast majority describe experimental methods or software that have become essential in their fields.
… The colossal size of the scholarly literature means that the top-100 papers are extreme outliers. Thomson Reuter's Web of Science holds some 58 million items. If that corpus were scaled to Mount Kilimanjaro, then the 100 most-cited papers would represent just 1 centimetre at the peak. Only 14,499 papers — roughly a metre and a half's worth — have more than 1,000 citations (see 'The paper mountain'). Meanwhile, the foothills comprise works that have been cited only once, if at all — a group that encompasses roughly half of the items.
The most frequently-cited paper, with 305,148 citations, is "Protein measurement with the folin phenol reagent," by Lowry, Rosebrough, Farr and Randall. Be prepared for excitement!