Australian researchers ‘most productive’ in G20

New scorecards demonstrate the payoffs from international collaboration

June 25, 2019

Australia boasts the most fruitful researchers and the most efficient research spending of any G20 nation, a new report suggests.

But a steep increase in the country’s research output – the most pronounced of any large developed economy – is “levelling out” as the number of research papers written exclusively by domestic authors begins to dwindle.

The report, the first of an annual series, presents “scorecards” of the research performances of the 19 individual nations in the G20. Prepared by Clarivate Analytics ahead of June’s G20 summit in Osaka, it compares key metrics such as publications, citations, international collaboration and research funding.

The report suggests Australia is harnessing overseas partnerships to boost its impact, with 17.5 per cent of its internationally co-authored articles ranking among the most cited 10 per cent of papers in their respective disciplines.

This compares to a 17.4 per cent strike rate for the UK, 16.6 per cent for Canada and Italy, 16.5 per cent for the US and 16.2 per cent for Germany.

When papers written only by domestic researchers are included, 14 per cent of articles with Australian authors rank among the top 10 per cent for citations – second only to the UK’s 14.5 per cent.

The report says Australia generates about 0.75 Web of Science-indexed papers a year for every full-time researcher, ahead of South Africa’s 0.65 papers and Mexico’s 0.6, and well ahead of the UK’s 0.5 and the US’s 0.35.

Australia also extracts the most bang for its research buck of any G20 nation, putting each US$1 million (£790,000) of funds into about 3.5 research papers – ahead of the UK and South Africa with three each, and well ahead of the US’s one.

The report suggests Australia almost doubled its research output in just eight years, from around 40,000 papers in 2009 to nearly 80,000 in 2017, although there was no growth in 2018 – thanks to an accelerating decline in the number of papers with only Australian authors.

The scorecards show that international collaboration is paying dividends for the G20 members that embrace it. Most countries where more than half of research papers have international co-authors have impacts above G20 averages.

The sole exception, Indonesia, is rapidly improving its research efforts on the back of international partnerships. With more than 80 per cent of its research papers having foreign co-authors, the archipelago has tripled its research output in a decade – albeit from a low base.

The report suggests that countries which eschew international collaboration are paying a price. Conference host Japan, where less than one-third of papers have international co-authors, has barely increased its output of research papers over the past decade and has smaller proportions of highly cited papers than Indonesia.

South Korea, where fewer than 30 per cent of papers have international co-authors, also has a citation performance below the G20 average although its output has increased by more than 50 per cent over the past decade.

Report co-author Jonathan Adams, director of Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information, said the scorecards would “help policy-makers, observers and reporters to track, applaud and critique the research progress of the G20 member nations”.

In terms of overall output, Australia ranked 10th behind the US, China, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, Italy and India. The US produced over 4.4 million Web of Science-indexed papers over the decade compared to China’s 2.7 million, the UK’s 1.3 million and Australia’s 620,000.

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