When Helga Nowotny, former President of the European Research Council (ERC), was asked to describe what constitutes scientific excellence in Europe, she replied that one recognizes excellence by encountering it (Nowotny 2012: 13). Her saying reminds us of the fact that research of outstanding quality has to be validated and recognized by others in a peer review procedure. How scientists of high eminence communicate and judge their colleagues’ work and how their intellectual authority operates tells us a lot about what constitutes scientific ‘excellence’. What remains less clear in that description, however, is whether the recognition of excellence depends on a researcher’s scientific talent, performance and merit alone, or whether it results from having access to outstanding conditions of work.