“What’s your Abel number?” was the big question being asked by pharmacologists this week at the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, DC. Members of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) were swept up in a game, akin to playing six degrees of separation, in which researchers compete to be the most closely related to the man regarded as the field’s founder: John J. Abel.
Abel pioneered the discipline of pharmacology in the late nineteenth century, forming departments at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, and founding ASPET. Most famous for his work isolating adrenaline, an important stress hormone, Abel published almost 100 papers during his career. These papers are shared with a total of 27 co-authors, who, in the new game, are assigned an ‘Abel number’ of 1. Those 27 scientists co-published with at least 278 individuals (who get an Abel number of 2), who in turn published with at least 3,000 more (Abel number 3s).
Bylund borrowed the idea from mathematicians, who define themselves with an Erdos number to see how close they are to the late and extremely prolific Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos.