The research ecosystem is changing rapidly and profoundly, Elsevier/Ipsos MORI study shows

Amsterdam, February 14, 2019

In 10 years’ time, the academic world will see new funding models, methods of collaboration, and ways of conceptualizing research and measuring its impact – all driven by advances in technology, an empirical study, conducted by information analytics business Elsevier and market research organization Ipsos MORI, showed.

Tech advances are also likely to make research practice and publication faster, and more open. Researchers can expect to benefit from greater career flexibility, better feedback on their work and improved reproducibility.

These are some of the findings presented in the new report, “Research Futures - drivers and scenarios for the next decade. The report is the result of a year-long, scenario-planning study, drawing on the opinions of more than 2,000 researchers globally, interviews with more than 50 expert stakeholders around the world (including futurists, publishers, funders and technology experts), and a comprehensive review of published literature.

The report lays out three plausible future scenarios showing how the world of research could transform over the next decade. These are [full summaries of each scenario are at the end]:

  • “Brave open world” – considers the rise of open science;
  • “Tech titans” – examines the growing influence and dominance of technology and technology companies; and
  • “Eastern ascendance” – considers a fragmented world in which China plays a key role.

“We are on the cusp of a new era, one that will transform the research information system. All of us within the research ecosystem share responsibility for creating together an environment in which science and research can continue to thrive,” said Adrian Mulligan, Research Director of Customer Insights at Elsevier. “Our hope is that these scenarios based on empirical data will fuel considered decisions to help stakeholders navigate and prepare for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”

Sarah Castell, Ipsos MORI’s Head of Futures, said, “We can’t predict one single future, but the three scenarios we identified are each plausible, different and challenging to the status quo. All have their roots in innovations and cultural changes that we can see happening already. The way we produce knowledge through academic research is important to all of society. By carrying out this study, Elsevier and Ipsos MORI aim to put the research community in a better position to make decisions today and create a strong research ecosystem for tomorrow.”

The report will be launched during a panel discussion at the annual AAAS Conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday February 15, 2019. More details here.

The summary report containing the scenarios, the six accompanying essays and a range of the underlying study results are available at:

Technical note

The study involved:

  • Literature review, and 56 expert one-hour telephone interviews, jointly conducted by Elsevier and Ipsos MORI.
  • Survey of 2,055 researchers worldwide, conducted by Elsevier using a random selection of respondents from Elsevier’s Scopus database. The sample was profiled by country and subject specialty. Data were weighted to reflect the UNESCO distribution of researchers by geography.
  • Workshops with Ipsos MORI and Elsevier experts and invited research leaders from across the industry.

Scenario details

The three future scenarios featured in the report are more than just summaries of the main trends -- they are carefully-constructed, vivid stories, designed to help everyone in the research ecosystem anticipate the possible opportunities and challenges ahead.

Scenario “Brave open world”
Globally, state funders and philanthropic organizations have joined forces and pushed through the creation of platforms where the research they fund must be published open access. But the form of that OA varies by region; Europe is mostly gold open access, while North America and Asia Pacific are generally green open access. Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and technology mean these platforms are flourishing – they are interoperable, and content is easy to access and showcase.

Overall, global research and development (R&D) investment is holding stable. There have been regional shifts – intensity (i.e., R&D investment as a proportion of gross domestic product) has reduced slightly in North America. And although increases in R&D intensity in China have plateaued, overall R&D investment continues to rise as China’s gross domestic product grows steadily. Funders in China, the West and in emerging markets have come together to establish shared goals for both basic research and some major applied challenges (for example, climate change, energy and food), which are now the key focuses areas of national funding agencies and philanthropic organizations. Funding for exploratory blue-sky research has reduced; the emphasis is on rapid development of practical solutions.

Scenario “Tech titans”
Industry and philanthropic foundations are the principal research funders, with far-reaching consequences for the research community. Some are feeling this impact more than others, for example, academic institutions with a focus on life sciences struggle with funding. There have been significant advances in machine learning with sophisticated artificial intelligence products driving innovation. This has led to large technology and data analytics companies becoming the curators and distributors of knowledge.

A number of countries are leveraging sophisticated and successful machine learning products in their research programs to address their own priorities and challenges. However, some sectors and states are struggling to adapt. Developments in artificial intelligence are rapidly transferred to industry, e.g., automotive, aerospace and medical technology, resulting in advances, but at the cost of jobs. A significant proportion of research is also carried out by machines, funded by tech company investments. In some research areas, roles, and even teams, have been replaced by automated processes.

Not all aspects of research are open; for example, where industry is funding research, key research data is not always made available so companies can retain a competitive and financial advantage.

Scenario “Eastern ascendance”
China’s desire to transform into a knowledge-based economy has led to heavy public investment in research and development (R&D) and the systems and processes to capitalize on this in industrial and economic terms. As a result, China’s level of R&D funding is proportionally much higher than the West’s and continues to grow, changing the shape of scientific research. The sheer volume of investment by China, and other research nations in the region, has made the East a magnet for international researchers.

A lack of global alignment on grand challenges has resulted in inefficiencies in the international research system. Open science practices have been adopted in some countries and regions, but not all. Journal publishing is a mixed model of open access – gold and green – and subscription publishing. Individual research outputs can be accessed separately, but are always linked to the final article; for example, research findings, data and code.

Governments, industry and other research funders compete for scientific advantage through the controlled distribution and trading of data. When data is believed to hold no further commercial value, it is released so it can be linked back to its related research outputs.

In this world, alignment on tackling global societal problems proves difficult. Nations tend to tackle them in isolation, resulting in inefficiencies and a duplication of effort. Thanks to China’s investment in R&D, the country is now firmly established as the global powerhouse of research. The quality and citation impact of Chinese research output has surpassed the rest of the world. Beijing and other major Chinese cities are proving hugely attractive to Western researchers. Individual nations are under pressure to retain the results of their science and technology investments for themselves, which causes rifts between internationally-collaborating institutes. Prestigious institutes in the US respond by reducing the number of projects they do in partnership with European institutes that have strong relationships with China.


About Ipsos MORI
Ipsos MORI, one of the world’s largest and most innovative research agencies, works for a wide range of global businesses and many government departments and public bodies. It specializes in solving a range of challenges for its clients whether related to business, consumers, brands or society, with areas of expertise ranging from brand, communication, media, innovation and healthcare research through to customer experience, corporate reputation and social and political research.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps scientists and clinicians to find new answers, reshape human knowledge, and tackle the most urgent human crises. For 140 years, we have partnered with the research world to curate and verify scientific knowledge. Today, we’re committed to bringing that rigor to a new generation of platforms. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, 39,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers.

Media contact
Sacha Boucherie, Global Communications
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