Let's Get Publishing

Sep 02, 2007

Angie Drakulich
When it comes to research, the United States scientific community is still way ahead of the game, but we're not sharing our findings as often as we should. According to a new National Science Foundation (NSF) report, the number of science and engineering articles by US-based authors published in major peer-reviewed journals has plateaued.

The report, Changing US Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003, examined data from Thomson Scientific, which tracks more than 5000 internationally recognized journals, including an index of 15 million citations tied to those journals. Topics reviewed included chemistry, physics, biomedical research, mathematics, biology, clinical medicine, earth–space sciences, social sciences, engineering–technology, and psychology.

The percentage of US articles in these fields dropped from 38% in 1973 to 28% in 2003; its highly influential articles (those with the top 5% of citations) dropped from 56% in 1996 to 50% in 2003. This decrease occurred despite increases in funding and staff resources for research and development.

"When paired with trends in patenting, licensing, research and development expenditures, and advanced training of personnel, publication trends may be viewed as a factor affecting a nation's ability to spur technological innovation," said an NSF release about the report.

Scienctific articles from China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan grew by 15.9% annually between 1992 and 2003; by 3.1% in Japan; and by 2.8% in the European Union, compared with 0.6% in the US. Collaboration on articles with peers abroad (i.e., coauthorship) did not signifcantly affect the results.

The good news is that American publications are cited much more often than those of other countries, demonstrating a higher level of quality. In addition, the US share of the world's influential articles is above 50%. "The United States has been the world's leading scientific nation for decades," stated the report's authors. So researchers, pick up your pens—let's work to keep that title.

Angie Drakulich is the managing editor of Pharmaceutical Technology,