Research Evaluation & Funding

What’s your country’s research personality?

New book highlights output, impact, collaboration, innovation and researcher migration in 77 countries

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Editor's Note: This book is no longer available.

<strong>Brain gain vs. brain drain. </strong>The countries in green have brain gain (more researchers come in than leave), and those in red have brain drain (more researchers leave than come in). This map shows data for countries with more than 170 sedentary researchers. (Source: <em>World of Research 2015</em>)Did you know that Qatar is one of the world’s most attractive destinations for researchers? Or that Norway’s research strength comes from its collaboration with other countries?

When you travel, you notice countries’ unique characteristics – the people, the language, the weather and even the fashion. Each country also has unique qualities when it comes to research; understanding a country’s scientific culture can show you its strengths and areas of expertise, the impact of its research output and whether academics are queuing up to work there. This knowledge can help you navigate in academia similar to how understanding a country’s language and infrastructure can help when you travel there.

About the book

World of Research 2015World of Research 2015 provides key statistics of the world’s top 77 research nations. Produced by Elsevier Analytical Services, the 350-page hardback book gives a snapshot of essential research indicators for the most prolific countries and regions in the world. It contains national profiles, general statistics and graphs along with analyses and interpretations.

To collect these insights, we analyzed data from the world’s most prolific countries for research output and collated it into 77 country profiles, published in the World of Research 2015. The results were revealing – and sometimes surprising.

We found lots of interesting patterns in the data. For example, northern European countries generally have a strong focus on medicine, South American and African countries focus more on agriculture, and Asia Pacific and Eastern European countries lean towards engineering and technology. We also noted that it’s the English-speaking and former commonwealth countries and regions that are most focused on humanities and social sciences.

Finding connections

This is a good start – when you’re faced with a huge amount of data, one way to make sense of it is to look for patterns and connections. We selected more than 20 indicators of research performance data for the 77 countries that have the highest scholarly output. This gave us some information on their research funding, output, impact, human capital, collaboration, mobility and innovation – a challenging mix of data to work with.

In addition to looking at specific features in each country profile, we wanted to get a broader picture by grouping the countries that have similar characteristics. We established five groups:

Field-Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) is a country’s actual citation count relative to the expected world citation count. It takes into account the differences in research behavior across disciplines. It is particularly useful as an indicator of impact that combines a number of different fields, or when comparing impact between fields. Further details can be found in the Snowball Metrics Recipe Book.

  • The Key Players
  • The Up and Coming
  • The Internationally Dependent
  • The Smallest Science Footprint
  • The Attractive Destinations

These groups are not fixed, and over time, countries could move from one to the other. But the picture our data painted gave us a clear indication of what connects countries in these groups.

The Key Players

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Key Players, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have relatively large research bases. They are highly productive in terms of their research output, producing a large number of peer-reviewed publications every year. Those publications also tend to be high impact, shown by their high field-weighted citation impact (FWCI). The Key Players collaborate internationally, and their researchers tend to be mobile, with an average of 70 percent spending some time abroad to publish research.

The Up and Coming

<strong>The US is the most research intensive country in the world.</strong> In 2014, the US spent $465 million, or 2.8% of its GDP, on research and development. Although the country accounts for 4.48% of the world's population, it produced 22.43% of the world's publications, amassed 38.07% of the world's citations and 28.53% of the world's downloads, and was responsible for 30.97% of the world's most highly cited articles. Moreover, nearly 1 in every 5 patents filed or granted in the world came from a US inventor.In contrast, the Up and Coming are much more static in terms of researcher movement and collaboration, with an average of 60 percent of researchers never having published with an institutional affiliation outside the country. Countries in this group, which include Brazil and India, are less productive and have lower FCWI, but their research output is growing fast. On average, the Up and Coming countries have a research base that’s close to the global median.

Internationally Dependent

Countries like Norway and Spain, though, have smaller research bases, and sitting in the Internationally Dependent group, they tend to have higher levels of international collaboration. In fact, for these countries, the biggest impact comes from their international connections: researchers coming to work in the country, visiting scholars and international collaboration.

Smallest Science Footprint

Countries in the Smallest Science Footprint group, which include Malaysia and Mexico, also have higher levels of international collaboration, and their output is often focused on a particular discipline rather than being broad like the other groups. Because of geographic or language barriers, they also tend to have more limited networks of influence, for example with citations coming from countries nearby. And although there are a moderate number of researchers moving in and out of these countries, they have the lowest FWCI of all the groups.

Attractive Destinations

The Attractive Destinations, on the other hand, have a characteristically high inflow of researchers and a highly mobile research population – an average of 81 percent publish research abroad, the highest of all the groups. The researchers who stay in these countries, which include Qatar and Singapore, have the highest FWCI of all the groups.

How groupings can help

These groupings could help countries develop their strengths: a Key Player could look to an Attractive Destination for ideas on how to increase the number of researchers coming into the country, for example. Such ideas can inform strategic collaboration choices and form the basis for higher education and research policy. We hope that policymakers and many others will find the insights useful for strengthening their research capacity and output.

Our method of analysis

The cluster analysis we used is rather novel. We used a method of clustering that enabled us to find natural groupings and interpret the complex data we had from 77 distinct country profiles.

Take researcher mobility, for example. We had data covering 18 indicators of researcher mobility, including the number of active researchers in each country or region, the percentage of sedentary researchers in the country or region, or the field-weighted citation impact of its transitory researchers. In our quest to find countries with similar researcher mobility structures and patterns, we used an algorithm called k-means clustering to group the countries into k clusters. All the countries were assigned to a cluster with the nearest mean data values.

There is, of course, variance within each cluster, so we used the elbow method to pick the right number of clusters to limit this variance. It turned out that five clusters was best to account for more than 50 percent of the variance that came out of the k-means clustering.

The result is a clear grouping of 77 countries into five clusters that can give us a useful and practical insight into the scientific characteristics of different countries and regions around the world.

Data sources

The World of Research is based on data from the following sources:

  • SciVal – Elsevier’s research management tool that provides access to the research performance of 4,600 research institutions and 220 countries worldwide.
  • Scopus – Elsevier’s abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, covering 57 million documents published in 22,000+ journals, book series and conference proceedings by about 5,000 international publishers.
  • ScienceDirect – Elsevier’s full-text platform for 2,500 journals and 33,000 books.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – An international economic representing 34 member countries. The OECD collects internationally comparable data on research and development, available in the Main Science and Technology Indicators database. Indicators cover the resources devoted to research and development, patent families, technology balance of payments, and international trade in R&D-intensive industries.
  • UN Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics – The official UN statistical agency for the international collection of data in S&T and the lead UN agency for elaborating statistical standards for developing countries, particularly in science, technology, and innovation.
  • World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) – A specialized agency of the United Nations that administers the intellectual property and provides the world’s largest database of 30 million patent documents, including 2.2 million published international patent applications.

Elsevier Analytical Services

Elsevier’s Analytical Services team provides unbiased analysis on research performance by combining high quality data sources with technical and research metrics expertise. They prepare reports for policy makers, funders and academic and corporate research institutions around the world. Offerings range from simple, targeted reports to comprehensive multidimensional studies, as well as data delivery and web integration services for customers’ research management needs.

Read more about them in the Elsevier Connect article “Telling stories with big data: Elsevier’s Analytical Services team.”

Elsevier Connect Contributors

Sarah HuggettSarah Huggett is Analytical Services Product Manager for Research Intelligence at Elsevier. Her role involves preparing reports on research performance for institutions, governments and funding bodies. Sarah’s first job at Elsevier in Research & Academic Relations gave her an understanding of how bibliometrics can be used to inform strategic planning. She has a particular interest in new developments in research evaluation, such as measures of attention and engagement.

After completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Grenoble (France), Sarah moved to the UK to teach French at the University of Oxford before joining Elsevier in 2006 and relocating to Singapore in 2014 to focus on the APAC region.

Lucy Goodchild-van
  HiltenAfter a few accidents, Lucy Goodchild van Hilten discovered that she’s a much better writer than a scientist. Following an MSc in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology at Imperial College London, she became Assistant Editor of Microbiology Today. A stint in the press office at Imperial saw her stories on the front pages, and she moved to Amsterdam to work at Elsevier as Senior Marketing Communications Manager for Life Sciences. She’s now a freelance writer at Tell Lucy. Tweet her @LucyGoodchild.

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