Tracking progress in US science and engineering

The NSF’s latest biennial report uses custom data from Elsevier’s Scopus database

For a global perspective on science and engineering research, the National Science Foundation used Scopus. (Photo of the National Science Foundation building in Arlington, Virginia, by NSF)

Analyzing 2.2 million peer-reviewed articles can reveal all sorts of interesting things about science and engineering around the world – and it’s something the National Science Foundation (NSF) does every two years. The latest report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2016, reveals that research is becoming more internationally collaborative, global investment in research and development is increasing and China is accelerating in its production of publications at a rate faster than any other country.

The report delves into topics such as education, academic and industry research and development, and public attitudes and understanding, giving a broad picture of what’s happening in science and engineering in the US and globally. This helps universities, funding bodies and policy makers make decisions to advance research and education.

For the first time, the report uses data from Scopus, Elsevier’s citation and indexing database. The report analyzes data from nearly 17,000 journals – a significant increase from the 5,087 included in the 2014 report.

Widely acknowledged as the definitive source of information on trends in US research, the Science and Engineering Indicators report provides vital information for universities and state governments in the US to use in their strategic planning and benchmarking. Mandated by Congress, the report is policy neutral and does not make recommendations, but the trends and information it reveals help policy makers.

The main findings

China is speeding ahead

The key finding is that China is outpacing other countries in its growth in research output. Of the 2.2 million articles analyzed from 2013, 412,542 (18.8 percent) came from the US and 401,435 (18.2 percent) from China. This is triple China’s global share in 2003.

The two countries may be almost on a the same level when it comes to annual output, but the growth rate is very different: between 2003 and 2013, the number of publications coming from the US increased by 3.2 percent annually, while those from China shot up by 18.9 percent.

As the report explains:

From the perspective of trends in international (science and engineering) publication, the key observation is that the publication output volume of China and other developing countries has increased much more rapidly than that of the United States and other developed countries in recent years. The crossover point, when China’s publications would exceed those of the United States, has long been anticipated and has nearly been reached.

Researchers are working across boundaries

Importantly, international collaboration continues to increase. In 2013, more than half of UK publications, one-third of US publications and about 15 percent of China’s publications had international co-authors. Globally, the percentage of publications with international authors increased from 13.2 percent in 2000 to 19.2 percent in 2013.

Slicing the data by discipline also reveals an interesting picture: geosciences, biological sciences and chemistry are very collaborative (with 25.9 percent, 24.9 percent and 19.5 percent of articles having authors from more than one country). But the standout discipline is astronomy, with more than half (52.7 percent) of all articles co-authored across national boundaries (sometimes with record numbers of authors).

Global R&D investment is increasing

Globally, the amount invested in research and development doubled in the decade since 2003, totaling $1.67 trillion in 2013.

East and Southeast Asia, North America and Europe are investing the most: $614 billion, $492 billion and $367 billion respectively.

For most countries, the majority of this expenditure comes from business, with government, higher education and private nonprofits contributing smaller proportions.

Why the move to Scopus?

The US may have led the world in research output for decades, but it’s long been thought that in time, developing countries would reach an equal footing in their combined number of publications. The NSF believes that point is coming closer, so it analyzed the global picture more closely for the 2016 report. This required greater global coverage in terms of bibliometric data – something Scopus could provide.

As NSF senior analyst Carol Robbins explained in Nature, the changes revealed by Scopus data show us a slightly more nuanced view of the world. We see more-rapid growth in China and India in publications.”

Previous reports used a subset of Thomson Reuters Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Science Citation Index (SSCI). The use of Scopus not only made the analysis more global, it made it much broader and provided data on books and conference proceedings, which had never been included before.

There was an open bid process to find the new data provider, and the NSF chose Elsevier as the primary data provider for the 2016 report. The change was recommended by reviewers and National Science Board members, and highlights the quality of the Scopus dataset.

Nick Fowler, PhDElsevier’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Nick Fowler said:

The international research landscape continues to evolve. Emerging and developing countries account for a growing proportion of research output. This means to get an accurate picture of the global context in which research is being done, it’s important to use global data. Scopus has the widest coverage of research outputs globally, so provides the most accurate basis upon which to analyze the changing dynamics of research.

Scopus data is primarily used in Chapter 5: Academic Research and Development. The report also features patent data from LexisNexis (owned by Elsevier’s parent company, RELX Group), mostly in Chapter 6: Industry, Technology, and the Global Marketplace.

About Scopus

Scopus is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature and has tools to track, analyze and visualize scholarly research. Its comprehensive database contains over 60 million items indexed from 22,000 titles from more than 5,000 publishers worldwide, ensuring broad interdisciplinary coverage in the fields of science, technology, medicine, social sciences and arts and humanities. Developed with input from researchers and librarians, Scopus features direct links to subscribed full-text articles, other library resources and interoperability with applications such as reference management software. It’s part of the Elsevier Research Intelligence portfolio, which includes the SciVal tools, the Pure system, rich data assets and custom Analytical Services.

About Elsevier Research Intelligence

Elsevier Research Intelligence is a comprehensive research information management portfolio that improves the ability to establish, execute and evaluate research strategies. The portfolio includes SciVal, the Pure system and Elsevier’s custom Analytical Services, as well as rich data assets like Scopus and the reference management technology of Mendeley. Elsevier Research Intelligence enables research organizations, funders, policymakers, and individual researchers to make better decisions, improve collaboration, attract investment, and optimize expenditure — all to enhance research strategy, execution and performance.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Brad Fenwick, DVM, PhDAs Senior VP of Global Strategic Alliances at Elsevier, Dr. Brad Fenwick is responsible for the development of strategic academic partnerships. He joined Elsevier in 2012 as Senior VP for Global Strategic Alliances. Previously, he held executive roles as Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, VP for Research and Intellectual Property at Virginia Tech, Chief Scientist for the US Department of Agriculture, and most recently Jefferson Fellow and Senior Science Advisor with the US Department of State.

He is a fellow with the American Council of Education, and in 2011, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for distinguished contributions in the field of veterinary and comparative medicine, scientific association leadership, editorial review, and research program development and administration. He holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and MS degrees from Kansas State University, and a PhD in comparative pathology from the University of California, Davis, where he is a distinguished alumnus, their highest honor.

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