New report maps the landscape of global brain research

Elsevier’s analysis reveals emerging trends, funding and collaboration patterns, top-publishing nations and more

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Brain Science coverThe awarding of this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine not only recognizes the achievement of three excellent neuroscientists; it stands as a tribute to the thriving field of brain research, a field that has seen impressive growth in the last decades. The proliferation of national funding initiatives has further strengthened brain and neuroscience research endeavors, promising to accelerate our understanding of the human brain for the benefit of mankind.

To support this research and promote international collaboration, Elsevier has done an in-depth study of the state of global brain research. The report – Brain Science: Mapping the Landscape of Brain and Neuroscience Research – will be formally presented at an event Saturday at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

The study was conducted with input from the European Commission, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), Human Brain Project (HBP), Kavli Foundation, and RIKEN Brain Science Institute (RIKEN BSI). It's intended to provide an initial benchmark from which all stakeholders can assess the effectiveness of current research and consider future investigative directions and funding priorities.

Global brain research

Using a unique semantic fingerprinting technique, the report analyzed nearly 2 million articles in brain and neuroscience research from the Scopus database over a 5-year period between 2009 and 2013, along with funded grant abstracts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the European Commission 7th Framework Programme (FP7) spanning the same five years.

The findings focus on brain science research output on the national and regional levels, and explore levels of collaboration within brain research, cross-disciplinary researcher mobility, and emerging trends and themes in brain research.

The report also features interviews with thought leaders in brain science:

  • Professor Monica Di Luca, PhD, President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS)
  • Nobel Laureate Professor Susumu Tonegawa, PhD, Director of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute
  • Professor Richard Frackowiak, MD, PhD, Chair, Medical Sciences Scientific Committee, Science Europe and Co-Director, Human Brain Project

The analyses offer the brain research and neuroscience community a new source of information for strategic assessment and the development of policy and funding strategies at the national and international levels.

Key findings

A key finding was the level of large collaborative partnerships formed by many countries around the world. These partnerships are able to leverage the vast range of interdisciplinary expertise needed to research the extraordinarily complex functions of the brain. These areas of expertise include anatomy and cognitive science along with computer science, psychology and ethics.

Also of interest, researchers from the European countries and the US together published more than 70% of the world's brain and neuroscience research in 2013, with the top five contributors in terms of publication volume being the US, UK, China, Germany and Japan. China showed the largest growth in research output.

Figure 1.4 — Overall number of articles and compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of articles for comparator countries, 2009–2013 (Source: Scopus)

Figure 1.5 — World article shares and compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the article share for comparator countries, 2009–2013 (Source: Scopus)

Other highlights:

  • Research output: 1.79 million articles fall within the area of brain and neuroscience research, representing approximately 16% of the world's output in this period. Researchers from the European countries and the US together published more than 70% of the research in 2013, with the top five contributors in terms of publication volume being the US, UK, China, Germany and Japan. China showed both the largest growth in research output and world article share at 11.6% and 7.5%, respectively.
  • Research impact: In 2013 the global citation impact in the field was 1.14 measured by the field-weighted citation impact (FWCI). This means authors publishing in brain research were cited 14% more than the world average across all subject areas.
  • Collaboration: The citation impact (FWCI) of the US's internationally co-authored articles was 56% more impactful than the US's intra-institutionally co-authored articles.
  • Cross-disciplinary mobility: Almost 60% brain and neuroscience researchers have published across multiple other disciplines such as: anatomy, cognitive science, computer science, psychology and ethics, with over 16% publishing in other disciplines for more than two years.
  • Emerging trends: Differences between ongoing popular topics ("top concepts") and rapid, trending topics ("burst concepts") revealed that the "burst concepts" were found to be related to methodologies, while the "top concepts" were related to brain diseases and drug development.
  • Funding analysis: For US NIH-funded research focus areas included substance abuse, and more specifically the impact of methamphetamine, nicotine and cannabis. In contrast, antipsychotic drugs that are mainly used to treat schizophrenia were high-focus areas in European Commission-funded research.

Figure 1.6 — Activity index for comparator countries in brain and neuroscience research, 2009-2013 (Source: Scopus)

Figure 2.3 — Correlation between international co-authorship share and FWCI of internationally co-authored articles in brain and neuroscience research for comparator countries, 2013. Size of circles is proportional to the number of international coauthored brain and neuroscience articles of the comparator country. The R2 value (or coefficient of determination 71) of linear regression is 0.5171, indicating that when we assume a simple linear model between international co-authorship share and the corresponding FWCI of international co-authored articles of a comparator country, the model accounts for 51.71% of the variance, suggesting a relationship between these two factors. (Source: Scopus)


The analyses in the report were done by Elsevier's Analytical Services team, part of the Research Management group that works on Elsevier Research Intelligence portfolio of products and services. The report includes both traditional bibliometrics assessments of subject-specific research output and impact, as well as many new measures of the global research effort, including types of collaboration and disciplinary mobility.

The team used novel methods to identify, compare – and visualize – emerging trends in the brain and neuroscience research literature and funded research, an approach that has potentially broad applications for assessing research priorities and gaps in various settings. The report is part of Elsevier's efforts to continuously develop and apply innovative analytical methodologies to answer complex and dynamic questions of relevance to the research community.

The Elsevier Fingerprinting Engine

The Elsevier Fingerprinting Engine is a software system that mines the text of scientific documents – publication abstracts, funding announcements and awards, project summaries, patents, proposals/applications, and other sources – to create an index of weighted terms which defines the text, known as a fingerprint visualization. Elsevier is using the fingerprinting technology for various products for Academic and Government Institutional Markets, including Pure Experts, an expertise profiling system and research networking tool, and SciVal Funding, which helps researchers find funding sources and helps funding agencies find researchers to review grant applications.

Source: Elsevier Research Intelligence

Launch event at Neuroscience 2014

On Saturday, members of Elsevier's Global Academic Relations and Analytical Services teams will be joined by a panel of distinguished brain research experts from different sectors in the US, European Union and Japan to share their thoughts about the current state of global brain research and new directions. Read more about the event on Elsevier Connect.


The Report Team: Key Contributors

Georgin Lau, MS, Content & Analytics Product Manager (Singapore)
Judith Kamalski, PhD, Head of Analytical Services (Amsterdam)
Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhD, VP, Global Academic & Research Relations (Chicago)
Stephane Berghmans, DVM, PhD, VP, Global Academic & Research Relations (Brussels)
Anders Karlsson, PhD, VP, Global Academic Relations (Tokyo)
Ludivine Allagnat, MA, Strategy Analyst, Global Academic Relations (Tokyo)
Jesse Mudrick, Strategy Analyst, Global Academic Relations (New York)
Jeroen Baas, MSc, Head of Technical Analytical Services (Amsterdam)
Marius Doornenbal, PhD, Head of Natural Language Processing (Amsterdam)
Katja Brose, PhD, Editor, Neuron (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
George Lan, MS, Content & Analytics Product Manager (New York)
Stacey C. Tobin, PhD, ELS, The Tobin Touch (Chicago)

Elsevier Connect Contributors

Georgin Lau, MSGeorgin Lau, Content & Analytics Product Manager for Elsevier APAC, is based in Singapore and focuses on the Asia-Pacific Analytics market. She works closely with universities, governments and funding bodies to identify analysis needs and recommend analytical approaches. She holds a Masters in statistics from the National University of Singapore and is a visualization enthusiast who seeks to present data in the most understandable way. Prior to joining Elsevier, she worked on many Singapore and overseas government projects as a consultant.

Stephane Berghmans, DVM, PhDHolly J. Falk-Krzesinski, PhDAs VP of Academic & Research Relations, European Union, for Elsevier, Dr. Stephane Berghmans (@StefEurope) oversees EU strategic initiatives, partnerships, and stakeholder needs. He is a Doctor in Veterinary Medicine with a PhD in genetics and molecular biology. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, where he studied cancer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He moved to the drug discovery biotech sector in 2004, first in Cambridge (UK) and then Portland, Oregon, as Director of Biology at Znomics Inc. He joined the European Science Foundation in 2009 to head the Biomedical Sciences Unit, managing the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC) and focusing on science policy and strategy. He joined the Global Academic & Research Relations team at Elsevier in 2013.

Dr. Holly J. Falk-Krzesinski (@hfalk14) is VP of Global Academic & Research Relations for Elsevier, where she focuses on how insight from data and analytics guide strategic planning for the research enterprise. Her engagement activities emphasize building new relationships and strategic alliances around important issues for research and research training, such as those related to research analytics and strategic planning; economic development; early career researcher development; scholarly communication and open access/open data; research and faculty information management; expertise discovery and collaboration; and research metrics and impact.

Through her leadership with the Annual International Science of Team Science Conference, Dr. Falk-Krzesinski has been instrumental in developing a strong community of practice for team science and interdisciplinary research. She is also involved in broadly promoting women in STEM and gender in research.

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