Brain Science Mapping the Landscape of Brain and Neuroscience Research

Elsevier's Analytical Services and Global Academic Relations teams worked to examine trends in brain and neuroscience research from 2009 - 2013. The report focuses on brain science research output on a national level, levels of collaboration within brain research, cross-disciplinary researcher mobility, and emerging trends and themes in brain research. Experts from around the world were consulted for interviews on developments in brain science research.

To generate this report, Elsevier's Analytical Services identified a set of relevant and specific neuroscience concepts and terms, defined as a semantic fingerprint. We then applied this semantic fingerprint to the Scopus database to identify all published articles related to brain and neuroscience research.

The resulting set of articles was then analyzed to describe the state of brain and neuroscience research, in terms of research output, impact, collaboration, and quality, as well as the extent of cross-disciplinary research, emerging and highly active areas of research, and the state of research funding. Members of the Global Academic Relations team conducted interviews with leaders in brain science around the world, whose responses are included in the report.

The core findings

The report presents developments in four main areas over the past 5 years (2009 – 2013):

1. Collaboration

  • Collaboration types (international, national, within a single institution, and single authorship) differed from country to country. Rates of international collaboration (which is associated with higher citation impacts) were quite high, with the highest 2013 rate belonging to Switzerland (65.5%). As the leading Asian nations in brain and neuroscience research, China and Japan had international collaboration rates of 24.6% and 21.6% in 2013, falling into the lower quartile of comparator countries. Network mapping indicated a clear "core" of well-connected, highly productive countries that also produced highly cited international co-authored articles. The US was a collaborative partner to most countries and appeared to be the main broker between Asia and the EU. The network within the EU itself was strong and dense.
  • In our cross-sector collaboration analysis, although academic-corporate collaborations accounted for a small percentage of each country's total output in brain and neuroscience research, they were associated with higher impact articles compared to other cross-sector collaboration types (academic-government and academic-medical).
Figure 2.1 - Level of international collaboration for comparator countries, in terms of percentage of internationally collaborated articles in brain and neuroscience research, 2009-2013.
Figure 2.1 - Level of international collaboration for comparator countries, in terms of percentage of internationally collaborated articles in brain and neuroscience research, 2009-2013. Source: Scopus.
Figure 2.5 - International collaboration network map in brain and neuroscience research, 2009-2013
Figure 2.5 - International collaboration network map in brain and neuroscience research, 2009-2013. Node size is proportional to overall international co-authored output for each country. Node color is the field-weighted citation impact (FWCI) of the overall international co-authored articiles from the country (on a scale from red - minimum value amongst comparators - to yellow - average - to blue - highest amongst comparators). Edges are weighted by Salton's Index (all edges used for layout, only country pairs with at least 1000 co-authored articles are shown after filtering). Edge color is the FWCI of co-authored articles between each country pair (on a scale from red - below 1.0 - to green - above 1.0 - with amber equal to the world average - 1.0). Data were visualized with Gephi using ForceAtlas2 layout algorithm.

2. Cross-Disciplinary Researcher Mobility

  • We tracked brain and neuroscience researcher mobility into and out of various disciplines based on journal classification. More than half (59.5%) of the 1.73 million active brain and neuroscience researchers were classified as multidisciplinary (defined here as publishing in the area of brain and neuroscience research for fewer than two years at any given time) and only 5.8% did not publish outside of the area of brain and neuroscience throughout their research career. Researchers published most often in the areas of medicine, biochemistry, and genetics and molecular biology, but the fields of engineering and computer science were also included among the top 20 disciplines in which active brain and neuroscience researchers published. These findings reflect a state of flux in the area of brain and neuroscience research, where researchers continuously push across disciplinary boundaries to make innovative discoveries.
  • Figure 2.8 - Cross-disciplinary researcher mobility for 1.73 million active researchers in the area of brain and neuroscience research (BNR), with mobility out of the area of BNR, 1996 onwards.
    Figure 2.8 - Cross-disciplinary researcher mobility for 1.73 million active researchers in the area of brain and neuroscience research (BNR), with mobility out of the area of BNR, 1996 onwards. Source: Scopus.

3. Emerging and highly active areas of research

  • Analyzing the frequency of specific terms or concepts in the brain and neuroscience research document set, we identified and organized top concepts by overall theme (semantic group). The most highly recurring concepts in the theme of disorders were "Stroke," "Depression," "Neoplasms," and "Alzheimer Disease," while the most common concepts for anatomy were "Brain," "Eye," and "Neurons."

4. State of Research Funding

  • We compared the top concepts within the document set against those in abstracts from grant awards funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As expected, broad concepts such as "Brain," "Neurons," "Seizures," and "Brain Neoplasms" appeared with similar frequency in the published articles and the NIH-funded grant abstracts. However, topics such as "Eye," "Pain," and "Stress, Psychological" were more highly represented in published articles than in NIH-funded abstracts, suggesting a divergence from funding to publication. Not surprisingly, NIH-funded abstracts more often contained disease-related concepts, consistent with the NIH's focus on areas of research with perceived high societal impact.
  • When we compared concepts across published articles, NIH-funded abstracts, and European Commission (EC)-funded grant abstracts, the top shared concepts across all three document sets included "Alzheimer Disease," "Parkinson Disease," "Schizophrenia," "Dementia," "Mental Health," and "Neurodegenerative Diseases," confirming the shared international focus on the research of brain-related disorders.
  • Compared to the research funded by the EC, US research was focused on the concepts "Glioma," "Child Development Disorders, Pervasive," and "Bipolar Disorder." Conversely, concepts such as "Memory Disorders," "Vision Disorders," "Myasthenia Gravis," "Hearing Loss," and "Alkalosis" appeared more frequently in the EC-funded research compared to the US, suggesting a different emphasis in research relating to disorders in brain and neuroscience. In the US, drugs related to substance abuse were highly researched, with the appearance of concepts such as "Methamphetamine," "Nicotine," and "Cannabis." In contrast, antipsychotic drugs that are mainly used to treat schizophrenia were high areas of focus in the EC-funded research.

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