Citations belie claims that pure research is best

November 5, 2009

There is "no evidence" that blue-skies work is more likely to produce highly cited papers than that with targeted funding, a study says.

The report published last week examined research papers arising from projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The research, conducted by the data-analysis firm Evidence Ltd and commissioned by the EPSRC, is based on a study of more than 7,000 publications.

The EPSRC Citations Study 2009 says that there is "no evidence for any significant difference in citation performance" for papers arising from responsive (blue skies) and directed-funding modes.

Normalised for field and year, the study states that blue-skies-funded work scored 1.62 citations per paper, compared with 1.65 for work with directed funding.

The results are compared with a normalised world average of one citation per paper.

There is a small difference in that 9.2 per cent of blue-skies papers were "highly cited" compared with 8.6 per cent of those produced via directed funding.

The report also shows that papers arising from larger grants had greater citation impact, and that EPSRC-funded work was more likely to be cited than that financed by other UK engineering and physical sciences research outputs.

The average normalised citation count for EPSRC work was 1.63 citations per paper, compared with 1.19 for non-EPSRC-funded studies.

Nearly one tenth of all the papers analysed were rated as "highly cited" - that is, more than four times the relevant world average.

The analysis was based on journal articles listed in final reports received during 2003-05.

An EPSRC spokesman said the council was pleased that the study found no significant difference between the two modes in citation terms.

He said: "There had been suggestions from some parts of the community that research deriving from the responsive mode was of a higher quality.

"The study supports conclusions from other work we have undertaken internally that provides strong, independent evidence that research excellence is present in both types."

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