Digital Science’s Mike Taylor and Carlos Areia caught up with Garth Sundem, Communications Director at Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS). Mike is the Head of Data Insights and Carlos is a Data Scientist. They delved into using data science to identify Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and more in a podcast titled: Rising Stars, Hidden Jewels and Unicorn KOLs: Can We identify them and Is It Useful?

In the past, identifying a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) meant attending a conference such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology  (ASCO) Annual Meeting, for example, and making note of the main speakers. The digital version of this practice was to check platforms like PubMed and see who is the  most cited  on any given topic. But now we can look beyond these traditional sources of KOLs to discover the rising stars, hidden jewels and unicorn KOLs. How and why has this become possible?It’s down to data science. 


The challenge isn’t finding the next pool of 1000 opinion leaders, the challenge is sorting through them to identify  who you can interact with to drive your strategy. One way we can do this is by seeing who has relationships with senior researchers, such as the top 50 KOLS, particularly in the form of mentorship.

And this has been the area of focus for Mike and Carlos over the last few months. They have been developing an approach to investigate which of the 1000 have mentors in the top 50, as well as to evaluate each of the 1000 opinion leaders on their own merits.

Using the data available from Dimensions and Altmetric, Mike and Carlos want to define, automate and calculate a score for seniorship thereby indicating who could have mentors in the top 50 KOLs.

Rising Stars

When it comes to rising stars, we can use Digital Science solutions and make a prediction of people who are trying to build up their reputation.These individuals are typically less experienced than established KOLs, with perhaps five years of experience as opposed to 25. However, they have strong relationships with senior leaders and the idea is to analyze their connections and networks. 

Hidden Jewels

As opposed to rising stars, hidden jewels are those people who may not have a strong relationship with a senior researcher, for example, but are steadily building their research outputs.

For identifying hidden jewels, Mike and Carlos are creating a model for growth over the years, which is similar to identifying rising stars, but looks more closely at the individual outputs of the researcher.


A unicorn is someone who is both a KOL and a digital opinion leader (DOL). Mike and Carlos have identified with high probability that about 600,000 KOLs are active on Twitter. And we can track these researchers to their Twitter profiles. We know what they’re publishing, how people are talking about what they are publishing and who they co-author with. Moreover, we know who they’re recommending.

Listen to the podcast and learn how to use Dimensions and Altmetric to analyze networks of connected publishing, social spaces, influence, citations, and interactions to gain insights and predict who will be the KOL of tomorrow.