The dominance of Western nations in scientific research may be coming to an end, according to a report from the UK’s Royal Society, in which research output is measured on the basis of the number of articles published in peer-reviewed journals. The periods 1993-2003 and 2004-2008 are compared.
The USA still carries out the greatest amount of scientific research but China replaces the UK in the number 2 position, with Germany, Japan, France and Canada following behind. However, some of the most striking increases in research activity have taken place in Brazil, India and South Korea. Other countries now doing more research include Iran, Tunisia and Turkey. Research in other parts of North Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia is also growing.
Elsewhere in the developing world, progress is patchy but Peru and Uganda, for example, increased their number of papers four-fold, comparing the two periods investigated in the report. (In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, research spending is still around 0.5% of GDP, with only South Africa close to the goal of 1% agreed by African presidents in 1980.)
Different countries tend to focus on research in different scientific areas. In China and India, for example, the focus is mainly on engineering. Brazil is notable for its agricultural and bioscience research. Most African research concerns agriculture and medicine.
The authors of the report note that their data comes from the main scientific bibliographic databases and therefore omits many articles in regional, national and local journals published in non-English-speaking countries. It may therefore underestimate the amount of research carried out in the developing world.
The report also notes that: “The scientific world is becoming increasingly interconnected, with international collaboration on the rise. Today over 35% of articles published in international journals are internationally collaborative, up from 25% 15 years ago”.
The Royal Society report is available in full online here.