The report, Bibliometric Evaluation and International Benchmarking of the UK’s Physics Research, compiled by Thomson Reuters company Evidence, indicates that while the average number of citations garnered by US-authored papers has held steady since 2001, that of Canada and the UK has risen sharply.
In 2010 both countries recorded a citation average of more than 170 per cent of the world average, compared to less than 130 per cent in 2001. The US figure is 160 per cent.
Brazil also saw a sharp rise in citation impact – from 71 to 110 per cent of the world average.
Canada ranks top for citation impact among the 12 countries surveyed for the report. It was also among only four nations that saw their global share of physics papers increase between 2001 and 2010. The others were India, South Korea and China. The latter’s share rose spectacularly, from 8.2 to 18.6 per cent.
China’s citation impact remained at just 66 per cent of the world average, but Sir Peter Knight, president of the Institute of Physics, told Times Higher Education that the figure masked an increasing number of highly cited Chinese researchers.
He predicted the country would “change the landscape” in the long term, but added that he was not worried because “I want physics to prosper, and physics is international”.
The US retains the highest global share of physics papers, but that share declined from 25 to 22 per cent over the decade.
The UK’s share declined from 7.1 to 6.4 per cent, making it the seventh-largest global contributor.
The UK’s share of papers also declined in chemistry, engineering and mathematics, but rose sharply in space science. Citation impact rose in all of those subjects except maths, whose impact fell from 143 per cent of the world average to 133.
Sir Peter said citation scores were a reliable indicator of quality when comparisons were made within the same field. He said the UK’s increased citation impact was “cause for celebration”, particularly given a sharp decline in the number of papers it produces that are never cited.
He said the improvements were partly a result of an “RAE [Research Assessment Exercise] effect”, which forced researchers to focus on quality, and partly the fruits of a decade of “sustained investment” by the government in the science base.
But he warned politicians not be complacent that such excellence could be maintained without continued sustained funding.
“If you turn the tap off no water comes out,” he said.