Who supports autism research?

Data provided by Thomson Reuters from its Essential Science Indicators, August 2008-April 2011

May 12, 2011

In August 2008, Thomson Reuters began to record funding acknowledgements from the papers it indexes for its Web of Science database. In addition to the name of the organisation listed as a source of support, grant numbers (if given) are also captured, as well as the acknowledgement paratext that provides further details of financial and other types of assistance.

The presence of funding acknowledgements in the database allows research inputs (financial support) to be linked, at the paper level, with research outputs (publications) and their impacts (measured by citation counts). The analysis of such linkages is complicated for several reasons: papers may and often do mention multiple funders, and different papers may acknowledge the same grant from the same funder. Also, authors who receive a grant may neglect to acknowledge this funding source in their papers. Despite these complexities, various analyses are now possible that could not be attempted previously, since one-by-one, manual look-ups were typically needed to obtain the input-output data at the paper level.

An example of what formerly could not be produced in a practical way appears above. A search of the Web of Science for research papers on autism identified 7,984 journal articles indexed since August 2008. The table above lists the top 20 funders acknowledged on those papers. The US National Institutes of Health is clearly the world leader in funding autism research. (Some of the acknowledgements captured fail to mention a specific NIH institute.) Other major governmental support comes from the UK’s Medical Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the US National Science Foundation and the European Union. Strongly present, as well, are a number of charitable organisations, among them the Wellcome Trust, the Simons Foundation and the disease-specific organisation Autism Speaks. It should be noted that the National Alliance for Autism Research and the Cure Autism Now Foundation were merged with Autism Speaks in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

A comprehensive analysis of the impact for each funding agency in terms of citations to the papers they supported is probably premature because there has not been sufficient time for these publications to attract enough citations to assure a credible result, especially for those published in the past year. In a year or two, however, such a study will be possible. Of course, papers should be evaluated by the fields they represent because different fields exhibit different citation averages.

The first fruits of funding acknowledgement analysis are beginning to appear in the literature. Jue Wang and Philip Shapira have undertaken analyses of the funding of nanotechnology research through a survey of some 61,300 papers in this field in the papers “Follow the money: what was the impact of the nanotechnology funding boom of the past ten years?” (Nature, 468: 6-628, 2 December 2010) and “Funding acknowledgement analysis: An enhanced tool to investigate research sponsorship impacts: the case of nanotechnology” (forth­coming in Scientometrics at http://www.springerlink.com/content/r7l53t0187516176/). John Rigby has also produced a working paper on the possibilities and challenges for such analyses, “Systematic grant and funding body acknowledgement data for publications: an examination of new dimensions and new controversies for bibliometrics” (Manchester Business School, Working Paper no 611 http://www.mbs.ac.uk/cgi/apps/research/working-papers/view/?wId=221).

For more information on funding acknowledgement data in the Web of Science, see: http://wokinfo.com/products_tools/multidisciplinary/webofscience/fundingsearch/

Top 20 funding agencies acknowledged on journal articles
 Funding agency Papers%
1National Institutes of Health (US) (institute not specified)3794.75
2National Institute of Mental Health (US )2212.77
3Autism Speaks (US)1081.35
4National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (US)1061.33
5Medical Research Council (UK)780.98
6Canadian Institutes of Health Research 750.94
7National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (US)690.86
8Wellcome Trust (UK)670.84
9Simons Foundation (US)570.71
10National Science Foundation (US)550.69
11European Union/European Community 520.65
12Cure Autism Now Foundation (US)420.53
13National Alliance for Autism Research (US)410.51
14German Research Foundation 340.43
15Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan)320.40
16National Centre for Research Resources (US)260.33
17Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation (US)210.26
%3D18Genome Canada200.25
%3D18Economic and Social Research Council (UK)200.25
20Inserm (France)190.24

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