Australian academics have doubled their output of research papers published in refereed journals over the past 20 years to more than 20,000 a year.
The average number of citations per paper has also risen from 2.6 to 4.2, according to Nancy Bayers, a senior analyst with the US information provider Thomson ISI.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, Ms Bayers said output hovered at about 2.5 per cent of the world's total throughout the 1980s, but grew in the 1990s to its current level of almost 3 per cent. In space science and geoscience, papers by Australian academics were cited well above international average rates, she said.
Between 1998 and 2002, Australia exceeded the world's impact in 12 out of 20 disciplines, was average in three and slightly below average in five.
The Thomson ISI database indexes more than 8,700 internationally peer-reviewed journals in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities.
"The papers in these journals represent the vast corpus of research conducted worldwide," Ms Bayers said. "By analysing these papers, their authors and the authors' institutional and national affiliations, one can obtain an objective picture."
Eight Australian universities are in the top 1 per cent in at least half the fields, with Adelaide, the Australian National University, Melbourne, Monash and Sydney dominant.