Brussels, 15 Jul 2004
After the US, the UK is the second most productive country in the world when it comes to publishing scientific papers, according to a global analysis conducted by Sir David King, the UK government's chief scientific adviser. The combined effort of EU15 countries in this area outranks the US performance, he also found.
The analysis, based on data from US company Thomson ISI, showed that between 1997 and 2001, the US produced almost 35 per cent of all scientific papers, almost four times the number produced by second placed UK, with 9.43 per cent. Next came Japan with 9.23 per cent; followed by Germany (8.76 per cent); France (6.39 per cent); Canada (4.58 per cent) and Italy (4.05 per cent).
The survey also demonstrated that the combined effort of the 15 countries of the pre-enlargement EU represented 37.12 per cent of all scientific publications, putting it ahead of its American competitors.
Thomson ISI catalogues the world's research journals and assesses the impact of each paper according to the number of times it is cited by other academics.
Drawing on a study of 8000 journals from 31 countries for his research, Sir David noted that those 31 nations produced almost the entire top one per cent of most cited publications. Other countries to feature in this top tier include Switzerland, Israel, South Africa - the only African representative - and Iran, the sole Islamic nation.
Sir David's analysis also showed that the UK produced 12.8 per cent of the world's most cited papers, followed by Germany with 10.4 per cent and Japan with 6.9 per cent. The US produced 63 per cent of all high impact papers. However, analysis shows that that the US has lost almost three percentage points since the period 1993-97.
The top eight countries in the citation classification accounted for 84.5 per cent of the top one per cent of the world's most often cited scientific articles in the period from 1993 to 2001.
'There is a stark disparity between the first and second divisions in the scientific impact of nations,' wrote Sir David in the journal Nature, where the survey was published. 'Moreover, although my analysis includes only 31 of the world's 193 countries, these produce 97.5% of the world's most cited papers.'
The political implications of this state of affairs are 'difficult to exaggerate' he added. 'My key point in response to these statistics is that sustainable economic development in highly competitive world markets requires a direct engagement in the generation of knowledge.'
Sir David's study also showed that different countries have different strengths and weaknesses in the scientific field.
For example, the survey showed that France stood out in mathematics while the UK was strong in medicine and life and environmental sciences, but weak in physical sciences. China and India were shown to have developed their scientific base swiftly and successfully over a short period of time.
When output figures were related to the amount spent on research, the survey showed that the UK had the leadership in scientific productivity, ahead of the US, due to the significant cutbacks in private spending on research between 1980 and 1995, explained Sir David.
'Although many UK scientists campaigned against these cuts, they encouraged a level of resourcefulness among researchers, and approaches to industry and the EU that are now bearing fruit. Now that the present UK government is increasing funding and rebuilding infrastructure, the pruned plant of UK science is re-growing vigorously,' Sir David concluded.