The average number of citations gained by British research papers is now almost as high as that gained by US papers, according to new figures.
The data, produced exclusively for Times Higher Education by Thomson Reuters, rank each of the G7 countries in 20 scientific subjects based on the average number of times each paper produced in that country was cited between 2005 and 2009. The UK is first in six subjects and is no lower than third in any. The US is top in 10 subjects, but its average rank is only slightly higher than the UK's. Japan is the lowest-ranked G7 country on average.
David Pendlebury, citation analyst at Thomson Reuters, said that if he were a British policymaker he would be encouraged by the results. "The UK has really improved in research performance in the past decade," he said.
In space science, the US ranked fourth behind Canada, the UK and Germany. This is no fluke, Mr Pendlebury said. Canada's researchers "collaborate on many big international research projects and it also has a number of institutes that produce more than their share of high-impact papers", he added.
Martin Barstow, professor of astrophysics and space science at the University of Leicester, said he was pleased to see his perception of the high quality of British research reinforced. "But basic citations are quite crude statistics since they take no account of the volume of activity in the subfield," he added.
Graham Woan, reader in astrophysics at the University of Glasgow, warned that citation statistics could be skewed: "The metric used to project the raw data on to a ranking does much to define the rank order, and it is maybe only loosely coupled to the true scientific vigour and quality of a country."