Pakistan and Egypt had highest rises in research output in 2018

Global production of scientific papers hit an all-time high this year, estimates show, with emerging economies rising fastest.

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Students look at books between shelves in a university library in Cairo

Things are looking up for Egypt's publications.Credit: Barry Iverson/Alamy

Emerging economies showed some of the largest increases in research output in 2018, according to estimates from the publishing-services company Clarivate Analytics. Pakistan and Egypt topped the list in percentage terms, with rises of 21% and 15.9%, respectively.

China’s publications rose by about 15%, and India, Brazil, Mexico and Iran all saw their output grow by more than 8% compared with 2017 (see ‘Countries with biggest rises in research output’).

Globally, research output rose by around 5% in 2018, to an estimated 1,620,731 papers listed in a vast science-citation database Web of Science, the highest ever (see ‘Research output rose again in 2018’).

Data: Web of ScienceAnalysis: Institute for Scientific Information, Clarivate Analytics

This diversification of players in science is a phenomenal success, says Caroline Wagner, a science and technology policy analyst at Ohio State University, and a former adviser to the US government.

“In 1980, only 5 countries did 90% of all science — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan,” she says. “Now there are 20 countries within the top producing group.”

Data: Web of ScienceAnalysis: Institute for Scientific Information, Clarivate Analytics

The estimates were compiled for Nature by Clarivate, which owns Web of Science, and the analysis focused on 40 countries that have at least 10,000 papers in the database. The whole-year projections are based on the number of research and review papers published between January and August, because there is a time lag between papers being published and them appearing in the database.

Joshua Schnell, a senior adviser at Clarivate based in Rockville, Maryland, says that the results are comparable to annual increases over the past few years, and that the trend is expected to continue into 2019.

Rising in the ranks

It’s not yet clear what has driven the strong gains by Egypt and Pakistan. One reason could be that both countries started from a low base — near the bottom of the list of top 40 countries in overall numbers of papers, says Robert Tijssen, head of science and innovation studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The figures might also reflect changes in how the database is curated, which has added more local or national journals to the mix. But some geographical regions, notably in Africa, are still under-represented, says Tijssen.

Increases in funding and international collaborations might also have boosted the rise in publications in Egypt and Pakistan, say Tijssen and Wagner.

In China, the gains follow two decades of strong policy-driven growth in science and higher education, says Tijssen.

Wagner also expects that China might soon overtake the United States to become the largest producer of publications — it is now only about 35,000 papers short. By some measures, China has already overtaken the United States.

The quality of China’s science in terms of citations is also increasing, says Wagner. But for this to continue, the country will need to remain open to global influences, she says. China’s censorship of Internet sources has left scientists complaining of blocked databases and limited Internet searches, she notes.

“As you become more [globally] engaged, you also know what’s at the leading edges of science,” says Wagner. “And that is so important in order to catch the really top-level citations.”

Updates & Corrections

  • Correction 27 December 2018: An earlier version of this article mistakenly mixed up the 2018 rises in research output in Egypt and Pakistan. The text and headline have been amended.

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