Through the references under the world’s “most elite publications” in science, scholars have shown which countries provide the most background knowledge for the most cited papers in the scientific literature.
A nation’s scientific standing is traditionally determined by counting the number of times a scientific paper from that country has been cited in the literature over the course of a given time period. The impact factor of a scientific journal, a number that roughly indicates the mark of a journal’s scientific standing relative to the size of its scientific field, is also determined by counting its number of citations, averaging them over a two-year period.
Both of these measures tend to discount “citation classics”, those papers which are highly cited as a reference in the most highly cited literature.
A new study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, has sought to provide an alternative metric of one’s status within the scientific community. Authors from the Administrative Headquarters for the Max Planck Institute in Germany, The Ohio State University, and the University of Amsterdam aimed to turn the current view of national scientific standing on its head: instead of counting how many times a country’s papers were cited, they counted the number of references to a country’s past papers found in the most highly cited literature.
Using this backwards-citing-view, these scholars asked which countries contribute most to the scientific archives, through papers that are cited in the references of the most “elite publications.” Elite publications were defined as the 1% of articles with the most citations in the scientific literature – from 2004-2013, in the case of this study. In total, 21 countries were found to contribute to this 1%.
The most highly cited scientific articles (elite publications) published between 2004 and 2013 were indexed from the Web of Science (WoS). All the cited references from these articles were used as data, and country contributions were noted through the address lines of the articles cited. If an article was published by authors from more than one country, the country was counted fractionally (for instance, if the article had two authors from two different countries, each article counted as half a contribution for each country).
From these data, countries were initially ranked by the number of articles, fractionally counted, that they contributed to the 1% of the most cited articles indexed over the 9-year period. Then, they were ranked based on the number of references that they contributed to articles in the 1%.
It was found that the US and China topped the list of most cited articles. But while the US contributed 24.02% of the 1% of the most cited articles from 2009-2013, it contributed 44.1% of the references for the most cited articles. China, on the other hand, contributed 9.85% of the most cited articles, but only 4.24% of the references. However, when the data was weighted by publication volume (“broken down by each year of publication”), it was found that China’s contribution of references to the top scientific literature has been increasing, while the US’s contribution has been decreasing over the years.
Switzerland, the Netherlands, UK, and Sweden were also found to be high contributors to the “archives of knowledge”, with more references cited in the 1% of the most-cited literature than was expected based on the initial statistics.
Full tables and figures including all the data on the 21 countries analyzed in the study can be found here.
Although it wasn’t the first of its kind, studies like these provide an additional metric of national scientific standing, one that the authors say is indicative of reputation and prestige rather than research impact: number of cited references, rather than number of citations.
In the author’s words, studies like these “ask the question on which national ‘shoulders’ the world’s top-level research stands.”