Decline of British social science sets in

February 3, 1995

The international representation of United Kingdom-authored papers, articles, notes and reviews in social science has declined markedly since 1985, according to a bibliometric analysis by researchers at Sussex University.

The report, presented last week to the Science Policy Support Group, says that the average annual rate of citations of UK-authored papers fell after 1987. And although international collaboration by British researchers in social science rose between 1981 and 1987, it has since levelled off.

The study by Ben Martin, Walewska Lemoine and Nigel Ling of the Science Policy Research Unit at Sussex University, found that only about 40 per cent of papers analysed were articles, notes and reviews.

The rest consisted of publications which tend to have a rather low research content. Of those, half were book reviews and the rest were meetings' abstracts, editorials or letters. The unit's report says this suggests that books represent a much more important outlet for social scientists than for researchers in fields such as science and engineering.

The authors say that the findings also indicate that where social scientists do produce items for academic journals, "a very high proportion of them apparently have low content in terms of presenting original findings".

The unit also found that about 80 per cent of the UK-authored papers were published in British journals, and that UK papers in foreign journals as listed by the Economic and Social Research Council have declined over the past decade. The study found no growth in the UK world share for journals published and distributed in other countries. "This raises questions about how well integrated British social scientists are within the international community," says the report.

The impact of UK-authored papers was also found to be low. On average papers were cited around 0.2 times a year. The results suggest that "recent British social science research has had relatively little impact on the international scientific community", says the authors.

While collaboration with foreign colleagues accounted for 5 per cent of the papers published, the study found little evidence of prolonged growth except in economics and multi-disciplinary research. The report concludes that political moves toward closer European integration appear to have had little impact on the working habits of British social scientists, at least when it comes to choosing collaborative partners.

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