As reported in the Aug. 3 Science, a recent NSF analysis of U.S. scientific publishing output during the time period 1988-2003 shows that the number of articles produced has remained fairly constant in all areas of science.
National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics. 2007. Changing U.S. Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003. NSF 07-320. Derek Hill, Alan I. Rapoport, Rolf F. Lehming, and Robert K. Bell. Arlington, VA.
Please also visit the site for access to numerous Tables and Figures:
About the Study
The research examined the research output of the top 200 universities in the U.S. in the following areas:
U.S. output was compared with the output from the EU-15, Japan, and East Asia-4.
The analysis was performed by the NSF largely from data derived from Thomson Scientific's citation database. [Note: Thomson Scientific data forms the basis for the Web of Science and Journal Citation Reports, the source of journal "Impact Factors".]
From the Executive Summary
In an unexpected development in the early 1990s, the absolute number of science and engineering (S&E) articles published by U.S.-based authors in the world's major peer-reviewed journals plateaued. This was a change from a rise in the number of publications over at least the two preceding decades. With some variation, this trend occurred across different categories of institutions, different institutional sectors, and different fields of research. It occurred despite continued increases in resource inputs, such as funds and personnel, that support research and development (R&D).
In other developed countries—a group of 15 members of the European Union (the EU-15) and Japan—the absolute number of articles continued to grow throughout most of the 1992–2003 period. During the mid- to late 1990s, the number of articles published by EU scientists surpassed those published by their U.S. counterparts, and the difference between Japanese and U.S. article output narrowed. Late in the period, growth in the number of articles produced in some of these developed countries showed signs of slowing.
On the whole, the U.S. share of the world's S&E articles remained relatively more robust in biomedical fields than in the physical sciences and engineering, ...
Although the U.S. share of the world's influential articles dropped substantially, the United States remained dominant in this area. At the end of the period studied, U.S. institutions were at least partially responsible for half of the world's influential articles; no other major publishing center approached this figure. Moreover, compared with other major publishing centers, a considerably higher percentage of total U.S. output was classified as influential.
The U.S. academic sector, which dominates U.S. article production, largely mirrored the overall U.S. trends, although its growth in article output over the entire period compared favorably with that of other sectors. The most prestigious academic institutions, however, experienced relatively slow output growth. The increase in collaboration across national, institutional, and sectoral boundaries, which is most fully documented in academic sector data, was perhaps the most striking trend in S&E research and publication during this period.
The cause of this flattening remains a mystery. Several hypotheses from the Science article...
... Two popular ones offered by the bibliometric community include an aging scientific work force that is growing less productive as it nears retirement and an emphasis on quality over quantity in hiring, promotion, and other rewards. Diana Hicks of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta argues strongly for a third reason: Governments around the world have been demanding greater productivity from their scientists as the price for continued support. Many Asian countries have enhanced that effort "to extract latent capacity" with additional funding, she notes. The resulting increased flow of papers has "pushed out some mediocre work" by U.S. authors, Hicks says. But the effect is so subtle, she adds, that U.S. scientists "don't think to blame anybody but themselves."
Lehming favors a fourth cause: the steep learning curve associated with collaborative research, an increasingly popular mode of operation.
Also released at the same time was a paper that summarizes the views expressed when the NSF sent it's staff out into the field to talk to experienced researchers, to obtain their views on this puzzling data. See:
This report, a working paper being released concomitantly with the present report, summarizes the views of experienced observers and practitioners in research universities about how the worlds of academic S&E research and publication changed during the 15-year period between 1988 and 2003. The qualitative data in this exploratory report cannot answer these causal questions. But, in discussing some of the changes that occurred in how research is performed and disseminated, how universities function, and how researchers in universities divide their time among their various activities, this exploratory report may suggest some causal hypotheses that warrant further examination.
Posted by Katie Newman at August 6, 2007 11:42 AM