Nuclear proliferation research ‘low on cross-border working’

Figures from Elsevier's Scopus database suggest study into topic has unusually low rate of collaboration

October 4, 2017
Korean newspaper
Source: Getty

With every day seemingly bringing an escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula, the academic field of international relations and study of nuclear weapons proliferation is as important as ever.

But a new analysis of bibliometric data suggests that research output on this particular issue has been falling across the world in recent years and has a very low rate of academic cross-border collaboration.

According to the figures, produced for Times Higher Education by publisher Elsevier from its Scopus database, worldwide publications featuring nuclear proliferation as a key topic fell from 322 in 2012 to 52 in 2016 while the international collaboration rate for such research last year was just 3.9 per cent.

Across the five years, universities in the US produced by far the most research on nuclear proliferation, with Stanford University and Georgetown University leading the way. However, China and South Korea – driven by research from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology – are also notable by their appearance among nations with the most scholarship on the issue.


Top institutions for publications featuring nuclear proliferation as a key topic 

Institution Publications (2012 to 2016) Field-Weighted Citation Impact
Stanford University 9 1.52
Georgetown University 7 3.95
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6 3.88
Texas A&M University 6 3.33
Princeton University 6 0.69
Harvard University 5 1.86
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology 5 1.17
King's College London 5 0.53
George Washington University 4 3.49
University of California, San Diego 4 3.47
University of California, Irvine 4 2.37
University of Minnesota 4 2.37
University of Texas at Austin 4 1.83
Yale University 4 1.33
University of Warwick 4 0.48
Source: Elsevier/Scopus

According to Elsevier data scientist Thomas Gurney, who conducted the data analysis, the international collaboration rate for research featuring nuclear proliferation as a key phrase was “unusually low”.

The 2016 rate of 3.9 per cent was not a blip either – in 2012 the rate was 6.7 per cent and it did not climb above 10 per cent in the intervening years.

“On average, international collaboration shares across all subject areas in the world are 18 per cent,” said Dr Gurney. “International collaboration in social sciences is 11.5 per cent. It’s interesting that nuclear proliferation, a global issue, has such low international collaboration.”

James Johnson, an expert on weapons proliferation and honorary fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester, said he had "mulled over for some time" the reasons why there was such poor cross-border collaboration on the issue.

He believed one factor was that non-proliferation debates in the UK had tended to be "siloed off" from those surrounding the US, where topics focused more on themes like the country's missile technology and dealing with North Korea and Iran. "In contrast, debates in the UK centre on Trident, nuclear energy, and the need for a nuclear deterrent in the context of Nato, a revanchist Russia, and to a lesser extent Iran," he said. 

Dr Johnson added that he and colleagues "had made efforts to deepen the level of collaboration between UK scholars and our US partners" however, including through academic conferences organised under the British International Studies Association.  

In terms of international relations and political science research generally, the US and UK again lead the world for the most publications produced: more than 23,000 pieces of research were produced by the countries between 2012 to 2016, more than the combined output of the next 12 nations. Three UK universities – the University of Oxford, London School of Economics and King’s College London – had the highest output over the period.


Top institutions for publications in international relations and political science

Institution Country Publications  (2012 to 2016)
University of Oxford United Kingdom 708
London School of Economics United Kingdom 617
King's College London United Kingdom 603
Harvard University United States 508
CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) France 463
Australian National University Australia 458
University of Cambridge United Kingdom 439
Jawaharlal Nehru University India 372
Columbia University United States 335
University of Amsterdam Netherlands 334
Source: Elsevier/Scopus

Meanwhile, a keyword analysis of the field shows how China and India have been the major focus of study for scholars over the past five years. Aside from “politics” as a key phrase, the nations are the top two most occurring words in the subject, with the European Union also making the top 10.


Top 10 key phrases for research in international relations and political science

Keyphrase Relevance (max value = 1) (% growth in scholarly output, 2012 to 2016)
China 1 19.6
politics 0.73 26.7
India 0.62 23.3
security 0.59 14.6
war 0.54 6.4
party 0.54 28.6
European Union 0.54 9.3
democracy 0.53 -1.8
EU 0.53 28
conflict 0.52 32.9
Source: Elsevier/Scopus

North Korea does not make the top 50 as a key phrase, Dr Gurney said, although the period covered was before this year’s crisis.

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