Geography of High-Quality Science

Nature publishing group introduced Nature Index at the end of 2014. This index is essentially a collection of author affiliations mentioned in the research papers published in 68 selected high-quality journals. Nature index can be used (and respective tools are provided in NPG website) to assess the high-quality scientific output by region, research institution and subject. Obviously Index by itself does not say anything about the quality level of an individual study or researcher. Nevertheless, it is quite useful to estimate general trends.

Nature Index can be accessed openly for 12-month rolling window. The current window discussed here includes data between 1 October 2013 and 30 September 2014 for 145 countries compiled from 60 thousand articles in 4 categories: Chemistry, Earth & Environmental Sciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences. Although scientific output can be estimated by sheer number of articles per country or institution (article count, AC), I prefer weighted fractional count (WFC) that down weight overrepresented articles in astronomy and astrophysics journals and takes into account how many authors from each institution are in each article. The latter is also represented in fractional count (FC) measure.

So all the following refers here to WFC. I will first overview scientific output by country and then by institution for all subjects and for chemistry. After mentioning leaders, I also give more details on countries where I have lived for a long time and on institutions where I have studied or worked.

Scientific Output by Country

The global leader in scientific output is the United States of America. The US has over three times more publications than the second best China. Germany as the third-strongest is the first in Europe. Its WFC is five times smaller than that of the US. The same trio (and in the same order) leads chemistry research.

The success of Germany is determined by strong scientific tradition, good funding, excellent research facilities and relatively high salaries. These factors attract best scientists from all over the world.

To put it into a perspective, Ukraine’s WFC is hundred times smaller than Germany’s WFC that places Ukraine at the 41st position between Slovenia and Thailand. It is still in the top half of the list. This score is astonishingly high taking into account miserable salaries at the universities, sweatshop working conditions in labs and general political and economic situation over last decades in the country.

All above has triggered substantial brain drain from Ukraine to better funded places. The latest shattering events in Ukraine will cause further drop in scientific output in the nearest future because of the shortage of research funding, but also due to direct damage for science caused by the war and annexation of Crimea.

WFCs associated with the USA, Germany, Russia and Ukraine: for all subjects, chemistry and physical sciences

WFCs associated with the USA, Germany, Russia and Ukraine: for all subjects, chemistry and physical sciences

Concerning Russia, its science enjoyed over last years reasonable funding and its scientific output for the current 12-month rolling window is ten times larger than Ukrainian, but it is still more than 50 times smaller than that of the US. Russia is located between Israel and Belgium at the 19th position when all subjects considered and at the 21st position between Denmark and Poland in chemistry. Ukrainian and Russian research profiles are quite similar, which originates from their common inheritance from the Soviet Union. Russia has got a larger piece of this inheritance.

Another informative measure can be scientific output per capita. Really, how Slovenia with its 2 million people can compete with the US that has over 320 million people? Thus, I list here all countries sorted according to their WFC per 1 million of inhabitants (WFCpm) together with the number of articles in high-quality journals published per 1 million (ACpm) for the current 12-month rolling window.

# Country Population*, millions WFCpm ACpm
1 Vatican City State (Holy See) 0.001 238.38 13110.85
2 Switzerland 8.212 151.20 322.10
3 Singapore 5.470 98.69 167.10
4 United States of America (USA) 320.132 60.83 88.84
5 Israel 8.282 59.52 123.76
6 Denmark 5.656 57.20 183.00
7 Sweden 9.738 54.38 146.44
8 United Kingdom (UK) 64.106 52.76 121.19
9 Germany 80.783 50.95 108.98
10 Iceland 0.328 46.71 234.63
11 Canada 35.676 44.87 93.85
12 Netherlands 16.884 44.70 131.37
13 Australia 23.701 42.39 107.17
14 Austria 8.527 38.06 101.21
15 Finland 5.472 36.58 107.08
16 France 66.100 34.35 81.01
17 Belgium 11.233 30.77 93.65
18 Norway 5.156 28.46 81.26
19 Ireland 4.610 27.18 77.66
20 Japan 127.070 27.14 41.62
21 Spain 46.508 24.87 63.84
22 South Korea 50.424 23.48 39.35
23 Taiwan 23.425 22.32 39.74
24 New Zealand 4.553 21.71 62.60
25 Slovenia 2.065 20.33 55.68
26 Italy 60.782 17.38 50.77
27 Luxembourg 0.550 15.86 50.94
28 Estonia 1.316 14.74 67.64
29 Cyprus 0.858 12.84 38.46
30 Portugal 10.478 12.53 39.70
31 Greenland 0.056 11.72 88.82
32 Czech Republic 10.522 11.54 35.83
33 Greece 10.993 9.04 29.75
34 Hungary 9.879 8.34 29.15
35 Poland 38.496 6.00 18.47
36 Croatia 4.268 5.76 26.71
37 Bermuda 0.064 5.76 31.13
38 Chile 18.006 5.27 46.76
39 Lithuania 2.923 4.86 17.10
40 China 1367.510 4.32 6.23
41 Malta 0.416 3.41 16.82
42 Armenia 3.014 3.15 12.28
43 Monaco 0.037 2.98 27.06
44 Qatar 2.270 2.61 14.54
45 Russia 146.300 2.59 7.94
46 Serbia 7.147 2.52 7.84
47 Argentina 43.132 2.41 7.30
48 Uruguay 3.404 2.36 5.29
49 Saudi Arabia 31.521 2.31 11.36
50 Panama 3.713 2.24 9.96
51 Liechtenstein 0.037 2.15 26.93
52 Virgin Islands (British) 0.028 2.14 142.58
53 Slovakia 5.416 1.98 11.45
54 Tonga 0.103 1.65 9.69
55 South Africa 54.002 1.54 7.87
56 Latvia 1.990 1.23 5.03
57 Brazil 203.692 1.17 3.44
58 Romania 19.943 1.02 4.11
59 Bulgaria 7.246 1.02 8.28
60 United Arab Emirates 9.577 1.00 4.59
61 Kuwait 3.268 0.94 2.75
62 Turkey 76.668 0.93 3.03
63 Moldova 3.558 0.91 4.22
64 Iran 78.020 0.88 1.85
65 Ukraine 42.965 0.87 4.31
66 Belarus 9.475 0.81 2.74
67 Georgia 4.491 0.80 7.35
68 Lebanon 4.104 0.78 4.39
69 India 1264.990 0.75 1.22
70 Bhutan 0.756 0.74 3.97
71 Mexico 121.006 0.66 2.98
72 Cape Verde 0.518 0.64 1.93
73 Costa Rica 4.773 0.61 4.40
74 Mongolia 3.000 0.49 2.00
75 Oman 4.088 0.49 1.96
76 Malaysia 30.453 0.48 1.90
77 Macedonia 2.066 0.44 2.42
78 Montenegro 0.620 0.39 3.23
79 Thailand 64.871 0.39 1.45
80 Brunei 0.393 0.38 5.08
81 Gabon 1.751 0.35 3.43
82 Fiji 0.859 0.34 2.33
83 Trinidad and Tobago 1.328 0.29 1.51
84 Namibia 2.113 0.27 1.42
85 Cuba 11.210 0.27 1.34
86 Tunisia 10.983 0.25 1.37
87 Mauritius 1.261 0.24 1.59
88 Colombia 47.940 0.20 1.08
89 Ecuador 15.904 0.19 1.51
90 Peru 31.152 0.18 1.06
91 Swaziland 1.106 0.18 0.90
92 Botswana 2.025 0.17 1.48
93 Papua New Guinea 7.399 0.17 0.95
94 Gambia 1.882 0.16 2.12
95 Egypt 87.792 0.16 1.08
96 Palestine 4.550 0.14 1.10
97 Congo 4.671 0.13 1.28
98 Algeria 39.500 0.12 0.58
99 Kenya 46.749 0.12 0.58
100 Kazakhstan 17.397 0.12 0.46
101 Azerbaijan 9.553 0.12 0.73
102 Barbados 0.285 0.11 3.51
103 Bolivia 11.411 0.10 0.88
104 Vietnam 90.730 0.10 0.35
105 Jamaica 2.718 0.10 0.74
106 Morocco 33.486 0.09 0.66
107 Pakistan 188.611 0.08 0.28
108 Cambodia 15.405 0.08 0.32
109 Jordan 6.675 0.08 0.90
110 Sierra Leone 6.319 0.07 0.16
111 Venezuela 30.620 0.07 0.85
112 Bosnia and Herzegovina 3.792 0.07 0.26
113 Kyrgyzstan 5.777 0.06 0.35
114 Senegal 13.509 0.05 0.30
115 Sri Lanka 20.359 0.05 0.39
116 Nepal 28.038 0.05 0.25
117 Uganda 34.857 0.05 0.34
118 Cameroon 20.387 0.04 0.39
119 Libya 6.317 0.04 0.47
120 Madagascar 21.842 0.03 0.18
121 Burkina Faso 17.323 0.03 0.17
122 Benin 10.315 0.03 0.19
123 Tanzania 47.422 0.03 0.23
124 Uzbekistan 30.493 0.03 0.33
125 Iraq 36.005 0.03 0.39
126 Philippines 100.806 0.03 0.19
127 Niger 19.268 0.03 0.16
128 Indonesia 255.462 0.02 0.12
129 Zimbabwe 13.061 0.02 0.15
130 Ghana 27.043 0.02 0.18
131 Syria 22.265 0.01 0.13
132 Dominican Republic 10.378 0.01 0.10
133 Mali 16.259 0.01 0.12
134 Bangladesh 157.609 0.01 0.07
135 Malawi 16.310 0.01 0.18
136 Ethiopia 90.076 0.01 0.07
137 Myanmar 51.419 0.01 0.04
138 Sudan 38.435 0.01 0.08
139 Nigeria 183.523 0.01 0.05
140 Zambia 15.474 0.01 0.13
141 Ivory Coast 23.821 0.01 0.04
142 Mozambique 25.728 0.00 0.04
143 Guatemala 15.807 0.00 0.13
144 Tajikistan 8.161 0.00 0.25
145 Seychelles 0.090 0.00 11.12

* Population is taken from the Wikipedia article’s version with ID 641244702 as is. It is a good estimate, but can obviously have deviations from real numbers.

Surprise! The best country is Vatican! The reason is that Vatican supports Observatory, scientists of which co-authored 11 papers. Still, very good for Vatican’s contribution to the science. As for other, larger countries, then absolute leader is Switzerland that provides a platform for excellent research and where “one million of people” published 322 scientific articles. Speaking figuratively, in Switzerland, each small town with 3 thousand people produces a high-quality research paper. Singapore is another country with high-density science output followed by excellent result of the US with 89 papers per million (61 WFCpm). Germany has even higher number of 109 ACpm, but a bit smaller WFCpm (51). China and Russia have similar productivity with 2 to 4 WFCpm (6 to 8 ACpm). Ukraine produces 4 articles per million (~1.0 WFCpm).

The quality or rather bad quality of research can be also judged in a different complementary way. A month ago one study projected geographically suspected plagiarism based on the preprint archive data analysis. Their results indicate that the least amount of plagiarism is expected from such countries as the US and Germany, a bit larger portion of plagiarism is expected from Ukraine, Russia and China (the same range and in the very first version of the published map only boundaries of the Soviet Union were shown), while the largest plagiarism rate is expected for instance from Bulgaria.

Scientific Output by Institution

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is leading globally by its total WFC followed by Harvard University and French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). Max Planck Society is on the fourth position followed by Stanford University and MIT. One needs to remember, that CAS and Max Planck Society have large number of individual research institutions, but they are example of excellent hosts for scientific research.

In comparison, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU) hosting many other institutions is at the 542 position. My first University—National Technical University of Ukraine Kiev Polytechnic Institute (NTUU KPI)—is at the 4735th position and the best among other Ukrainian universities, while my second alma mater—University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU)—is at 158th. I know personally that excellent research is done by talented scientists at the NTUU “KPI”, but it is hard to compete with other universities, when while being one of the largest and best Ukrainian universities NTUU “KPI” has not a single NMR spectrometer, because it’s simply too expensive! Still, my colleagues there manage to publish their research even in Science and Nature Chemistry.

On this note, you may be lucky to belong to one of the best research institutions or countries, but irrespective of your current position you must remember that it is you, who is responsible for the quality of your own research!

Note

 

As Nature Index is published for the rolling 12-month window under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), this analysis can be used under the same conditions.

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4 comments on “Geography of High-Quality Science
  1. Felix Rudolphi says:

    The population of Namibia is 2.1 Mio, not 10,000.

  2. Rasmus Persson says:

    One interesting plot would be the GDP of each country versus its “research output” (be it WFC or AC or what have you). The extent to which these do not correlate (to some extent they obviously do) may be taken to imply the exten to which “research” is unnecessary for the economical development of a country. On a personal note, I have never, ever, found a paper in Science or Nature that I found interesting to read. To be quite frank, I see these two publications as “science for the masses” (and Nature, at least, started out as a popular science magazine, not introducing peer review until the 60s and not changing their mission statement [putting focus on research rather than popular science] until the early 2000s) in a small, easily digestible format without too many formulas.

    • Pavlo Dral says:

      Yes, you are right, GDP vs “research output” would be definitely interesting to plot. AC, FC and WFC do not collect only papers from Science or Nature, but from many other journals, like JACS and Angew. Chemie. See the full list in a link given above.

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