An extensive body of research has consistently demonstrated that the US share of scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals has been in decline over the last decades (see Figure 1). This has typically been ascribed to the effect of the developing knowledge economies of China and the four Asian Tiger nations, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, and has not been considered a policy concern (1). However, since the 1990s the absolute number of articles published by US-based researchers has plateaued (see Figure 2).

This flattening of scholarly output has been confirmed by the “Science and Engineering Indicators” (SEI) 2008 (2), published in January by the US National Science Board. This biennial report contrasts this finding with strong annual growth in research funding in the US over the same period, from US$200 billion in 1997 to around US$340 billion (or 2.6% of GDP) in 2006. A companion policy statement, “Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy” (3), nevertheless calls for a “strong national response” by further increasing the level of US government funding for basic research.

Despite these trends in article output, the SEI 2008 report demonstrates that the US continues to produce the best-cited research in the world, as indicated by its dominant share of articles in the top 1% of cited articles across all fields. This finding is borne out by comparing the h-index of the US with those of selected world regions (see Figure 3).

By any measure, the US remains the world’s dominant scientific nation. The question facing government policymakers in the age of knowledge-based economies is: for how much longer?

Fig 1

Figure 1 – Share of world articles published by US researchers, 1997–2007.
Source: Scopus

Fig 2

Figure 2 – Number of articles published by US researchers (light blue) versus world (dark blue), 1997–2007.
Source: Scopus

Fig 3

Figure 3 – H-index of US versus selected global regions. Here, the h-index defines the number of documents published in the period 1996-2006 that receive the same or greater number of citations during the same period. Source: SCImago SJR – SCImago Journal & Country Rank

References:

(1) Hill, D., Rapoport, A.I., Lehming, R.F., and Bell, R.K. (2007) “Changing U.S. output of scientific articles: 1988–2003”, National Science Foundation special report.
(2) “Science and Engineering Indicators 2008”, National Science Board report.
(3) “Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy”, National Science Board report.
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