Monday, March 22, 2010

Publish or Publish? Or maybe Publish?

Thomson Reuter has raised some interesting data on the scientific activity in national comparison to "to inform policymakers about the changing landscape of the global research base." Shown below is the annual number of papers with at least one author address in the respective countries. The papers counted are all those indexed by Web of Science, covering most leading scientific journals. See China on the rise:



(Click to enlarge.) The USA is not on the above figure; their number of papers is about a factor 4 higher still: During the period shown the USA output increased from 265,000 to 340,000 publications. Note that Russia's output actually decreased during that period. The increase in the number of Chinese publications is even more dramatic when you normalize each curve to the 1982 level:



China's share on the number of world publication (in 2004-2008) is the largest in material science (20.83%), chemistry (16.90%), and physics (14.16%).

For details on the figures, download the full report on China here, and the report on Russia here.

38 comments:

Plato said...

I wonder if this analysis of contributions is based on a correlation to population numbers?

Best,

Bee said...

The data is not normalized to the country's total population in case that's what you mean.

Plato said...

Yes.

Hmmm....

Thinking of google's attempt to become a browser within China's culture. Wasn't being thwarted may contribute to the idea of, secularize the population to information within it's own borders, yet flexible enough to allow the contribution on a global scale?

Just wondering.

Bee said...

Yes. It's an unstable situation. Time will tell.

Plato said...

So the idea is that the greater the population the more contributions?

Does that sound feasible?

Bee said...

Well, there certainly is a correlation between the total population and the number of scientists and thus the number of articles published. We all know there's a lot of Chinese people on this planet in case that's what you want to say. But I suspect the increase you see is not proportional to the increase in population.

Bee said...

Okay, here's a figure for the population of China by year. Increase from 1999 to 2008 (years shown on the plot) is from 1,25 bill to 1,36 bill, certainly not a factor 4 or higher. As for the other countries, the ratio between Germany and France could roughly correspond to the ratio in population. Canada seems to be somewhat higher on output/person. Best,

B.

Plato said...

Just looking at factors that might contribute to the statistical analysis.

Taken at "surface value" one could conclude that any country by population numbers is somehow more productive then lets say some other culture.

Hence the need, to be more published, or perish? Indicative of a cultures ingenuity? That was just a quick assessment as to what "could contribute" from that analysis.

Rhetorically maybe, better to "publish well" and to see "no borders?":)

Best,

Bee said...

I think national competition and visibility also play an important role for this productivity.

Plato said...

For sure.

You might like to look at this experiment at some later time.

Best,

Steven Colyer said...

The Chinese have recently learned that introducing even small amounts of capitalism markedly increases the wealth of their citizens. These new rich can then afford to send their children to college and do. The children graduate/postdoc then write papers.

Aaron Sheldon said...

I still remain despondent over the quality of peer review literature.

Chitragupta said...

A even better analysis will count not only the number of papers but also the number of citations.

e.g., B.B. Goel's comment on this page:
here:

"

I managed ranking of countries based of total number of publication and quality of average publication.
So far quality is concerned; India comes at 177 (with 5.42 points), out of 229 countries, but for total number of publications India is ranked 12th with 3,40,553 publications (as of 2007, in all branches of science).

Highest in quality is Switzerland with 27.06 while US is close second with 26.06.

Countries like Chili, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Ghana has a better quality of average publication as compared to India."

and the link he leads to:

http://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php

Chitragupta said...

Hmm, interesting, the latter page that I posted:
http://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php shows that the average citations per Mathematics paper is much smaller than the average citations per Physics and Astronomy paper.

Endless games possible here. I guess the real question is are we advancing in any way?

Arun said...

Chitragupta is me,Arun.
Sorry for any confusion.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

This growth in China for scientific papers is simply phenomenal and certainly unexpected, particularly as where they had to begin. Most around here would be too young to remember, yet beginning back in 1966 Mao Zedong conceived an initiated a little something in China known asThe Cultural Revolution , which was to cast their intellectuals as the enemy, to then humiliate them, imprison and even have many killed. This was done as Mao being fearful that they would with their attitudes and teachings lead the people away from communism with more specifically ousting him from power.

Now in contrast we have this exponential growth rate of the intellectual community and I’m wondering if their current leaders are again worrying as having released the Genie if they will ever be be able to get it back into the bottle. That’s to say these numbers hold more significance for China’s people and their future than what it represents academically. I think the next few years will be very interesting times, with the feeling that also being a understatement.

“Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds, and endeavor to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do just the opposite: It must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic "authorities" and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.”

-Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966)

Best,

Phil

Andrew Thomas said...

When I was in university in the early 90s we had a lot of Chinese students who were some of the first to leave their country to study in the West. What we found is that they were all incredibly hard-working. They never went out in the evenings or weekends, they just stayed in and studied. So, yes, they produced a ton of papers.

However, what we also found was that they showed absolutely no initiative - they would do precisely what you told them and absolutely nothing more - they wouldn't come up with original ideas. And if you suggested to them that they should do more original work they would get terribly upset, and say "I did what you told me to do". They seemed to have a real problem with original thinking.

Also, if they were working with books & paper, as you walked past them they would always immediately shut their books as if to stop you looking, which I was told they all did in China as there were so many thought police around working for the government there. It was just a horrible scene, and they were all very screwed-up. But very hard-working and productive. Hopefully things have improved.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Thomas

I’ve always seen it as interesting that there is often a sharp distinction to be found between what our leaders say and what they would have to be done. I also find this curious as the ancient Greeks learned long ago there was a difference between rhetoric and reason. as to be minful as to be able to discern the difference.

”Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another. Questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences should be settled through free discussion in artistic and scientific circles and through practical work in these fields. They should not be settled in summary fashion.

-Mao Zedong (1957)-to be included to be found in what is known as “The Little Red BooK”

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

I'd be very surprised if in say 90 years the world's two largest superpowers aren't India and China, with the EU and USA fighting it out for number 3. India is a bit behind at the moment but gaining; within 5 years theirs should be the world's most populous country.

The economic war is on and in full swing with the momentum (Pauli liked momentum) going to the East over the West. China learned a harsh lesson recently that Americans don't always buy junk, not in a recession. We still buy it, we just buy less of it. So China will learn not to put as many eggs in the same basket.

The change from totalitarianism to democracy is never easy. Just read the histories of America, France, and England in that regard, it's in the books.

I have observed the same thing as you have Andrew, in America. The Chinese also feel themselves in competition with the Japanese, who set the bar for all-work no-play straight A's. The population pressure is immense in both countries. They go to private tutoring on Saturdays and summers as well. They are "having no life" when young to have a financially secure one later. Seems to work for them here.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

At the end of the day I would rather find that we all come to realize there is only one natural border and that being the one first recognized most poignantly by your own Neil Armstrong.

Best,

Phil.

Steven Colyer said...

That's right, Phil. The first thing those who go into orbit notice when they look at the Earth is how beautiful it is. The second thing is the lack of borders.

Not to worry, the Global Corps are working on making that 2nd one a reality down here as well.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

I find the greatest challenge that faces China today is what is seen as the opposite problem that the so called developed world has had lately; that being able to convince their people that more can be done with their money then anly have it to stuff their mattresses with,

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

The Chinese saving money is fine, Phil. That's a Japanese model as well.

The Chinese and Indians have invaded America's better communities. Welcome aboard, mates. America grows stronger with fresh blood, in fact that's its history.

I joke with my youngest daughter (3rd year high school) that she's the only non-Asian in her advanced academic program. Not true though; that's an exaggeration. Of the 17 in Advanced, 2 others are European-American. The rest are of 100% Indian or Chinese heritage, and they were all born here. Their parents were all born in India or China, and they have lots of money and many fine homes.

And Phil, rapid growth can be as painful as rapid decline. But in a good way. ;-)

Uncle Al said...

UC/Irvine traded its science library shelved 1100+ journal rotunda for a bunch of flat screens. Only the most diverse journals remain as dead tree editions.

Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health, published by the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Nobody can walk by that without a peek! Excerpt from 14(1) 85 (2010): "...the proximity of disgust ("eeuw") and fascination ("wow")..." What would we do without those parenthetical clarifications? (felch!)

Decrement the US publications list.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Yes the Japanese are great savers, yet they by and large put their money in banks and inveatments, while many of the Chinese actually do stuff it in their mattresses, especially the poorer ones. This stands as being a major difference as indicating the former trusting their government and system with their futures, with the latter not sharing the same confidence. There’s a lot of talk about the growth of China’s new middle class and yet little talk of the small percentage it represents as it relates to the whole and how wide the gulf there is between them and the general population in terms of education and wealth. While most on the outside are concerned with what this rapid growth in China’s intellectual prominence means in terms of the rest of us in the world, I’m more concerned with what it actually means for their people as the years progress.

Best,

Phil

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Hi everybody,

The fact is, more papers does not mean better bibliography available. Like Andrew pointed this out, producing papers too much and too fast may also mean that there is a trick going with this : to reproduce again and again principles, theorems and rules to all possible areas of a given subject, without considering a subject of special interest.

An important contribution should bear fruits for the future, which means it must be settled into a large piece of ground, and take time to grow up.

If this goes for ever so, I am afraid no one in the future will no longer be able to say whether a research has been done yet, or not, when prospecting for new research areas.

Does anyone have an opinion about this?

Regards,

Anonymous Snowboarder said...

Interesting.. US growth rate over the 9 years (1999-2008) works out to be 2.8%, quite in line with the consumer inflation!

Bee said...

Hi Jérôme,

I have said many times on this blog and elsewhere that the focus on scientific output as in numbers of papers or other similar measures is a poor indicator for promise in the very long run. Whether or not keeping track of numbers is useful depends to some extend on the field, or rather the stage the field is in. A rapid production of lots of papers is rarely a sign for creativity, but rather productivity. It's the same with artists. If they have to produce many paintings/songs/novels, they'll just repeat one theme over and over again. There's nothing actually wrong with it, just that it doesn't provide anything novel. In the long run, such productivity is doomed to dry out. Unless that is it becomes self-supporting. And that, I am afraid, is what's happening in science. People writing papers, citing other papers, refereeing these same papers, creating an upwards spiral of paper numbers with ever more limited relevance. Let's see how these numbers look in a decade or so. Best,

B.

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Hi Bee,

So, we are all okay to say that the science world has now become a complex dynamical system, of which one of the many dimensions is the number of papers published in a year, which may obey dynamical rules like the one you mentioned (upwards spiral). Professional researchers would then be like traders at Wall Street, I mean, fellows trying to have an influence on the course of the state of the art, which fluctuates, so as to turn it into an advantage with smart and rapid stock exchange transaction, i.e., their papers. In this view, to reference someone would be like buying, and to be referenced by someone is like selling.

The beautiful picture we bear on mind that a scientist is one thinking of Nature and trying to understand it by means of experiments, theories and philosophical inquiries is well an old-old stuff...

What a nice perspective it is :( Brrr... I'm sick of it.

Regards,

Bee said...

Hi Jérôme,

The problem is that people working within the system lack an awareness for what's going on. That their actions (on the personal level) might have consequences (on the aggregate level) that are hard to foresee and potentially not even in their own interest is something they should think about very carefully. Basically I think that we need a systematic study of the dynamics of knowledge discovery (much like of the economic system, say). One can bemoan that things are getting more complex every day and a century ago everything was much simpler, but that doesn't get us anywhere. We have to face reality, and in that reality the academic system has developed emergent trends that do de facto hinder progress. Instead of ignoring them, we should be looking for a - scientific - solution. Best,

B.

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Hi Bee,

I definitely agree with you. What you suggest is we create now the Science of Scientific Systems, which I already "proposed" in some other blog (I think it was yours or Steven's one)... But the fact is, studying economy rarely prevent the capitalist world from economical crisis, and it should be the same rule to be applied to such a science of scientific systems. To be knowing that things are going to get wrong is most of the time not sufficient for deciding to change things, as the decision process needs a hierarchy and a head. Who's the head of capitalism? Not a woman or a man : it's money, which does not decide anything. For the science world, you only have to turn "money" into "papers", and the rules mentioned in the case of the former apply to the latter without modification.

It's been for me a fight in the past with my lab supervisor to make him realize the French research system (the latter is heavily ruled by the Administration, which doesn't know anything about science), as he preferred bringing me back to the reality principle with irony, rather than say: "Yes, things must change!". It's a fight, and many are tired of fighting it even before it has begun.

Regards,

Steven Colyer said...

Who's the head of capitalism?

The head of ExxonMobil, who may be the CEO, CoB, or chief shareholder. Control Energy, control the World. (Except in Brazil where BioFuel is king. Expect great things from Brazil in the coming century, along with India and China. David Bohm went to right place, wrong century).

It's a fight, and many are tired of fighting it even before it has begun.

If you really have that attitude, here's a tip: never go to South Africa, Australia, or especially Ireland. Or the New World version of Ireland: New York City (Boston doubly so). They love to fight there. It's a tradition, sort of like entertainment. Gives you something to confess to come Saturday. :-)

Seriously, you must fight for what you believe in. In your young 30's you are at the top of your world. You have the optimal combination of intelligence, knowledge, wealth and health. My Dad is 87, and when he dreams, he is 32. Always has been since that year. Why Dad, why I said, why 32? I dunno son, Dad said. Just seems like an optimal age. In short, NOW is the time to take on the powers that be. You may not win your first battle, or your first few ones, but do persevere.

Most people don't persevere, alas. Well, they're lousy fighters, they give up too easily. Be like Paul Newman's character fighting George Kennedy's in the film: "Cool Hand Luke." Keep fighting no matter how bloodied you are. You may not win, but your odds of winning are zero if you don't try, and while people do notice winners, they also notice persistence and effort.
Everyone likes the underdog.

Plato said...

Just throwing it out there for consideration and thought.

When you lose control of the public service, and move to privatization you are in essence contributing to centralization of power eventually direct toward the 1%?

The majority of the population then support that existing structure?

This is not to cause division between countries but to transcend borders in the idea of how to "better manage" for the public benefit?

Water, as a commodity and not as a inherent right?

Best,

Plato said...

Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan investing in private, for-profit water services in Chile

It is how the money can be used?

Bee said...

Hi Jerome,

Yes, that's what this is all about. Meanwhile I know like maybe 2 dozens of people who share our point of view: that we need a scientific approach to understand the academic system. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to convert this likemindedness into action. When push comes to shove people have other things to do, so it's all talk and nothing happening. Meanwhile I'm getting somewhat frustrated. Some people have argued it's too early for the idea, but I don't think so. What I think is the matter is the typical interdisciplinary topic problem, that nobody wants to make a commitment. Not to mention that a proposal I filed in with the NSF was declined. Why? Because I haven't worked in the field before. Ironically my proposal pointed out that the reliance on previous experience in a particular field leads to overspecialization and hinders progress in a number of ways. Either way, it's a chicken and egg problem. I'd need money and people, for which I need money and people. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

HI Bee,

Either way, it's a chicken and egg problem. I'd need money and people, for which I need money and people

I couldn’t help but notice your response to Jérôme, where you once again talk about your ideas regarding the Lightcone Institute. You also mentioned a proposal you made to the NSF being rejected, which I don’t find all that surprising, as it’s like asking a compulsive gambler for money and time tp help reduce the incidence and damaged ensued by compulsive gambling.

That’s to suggest that perhaps this means that rather then it being a chicken and egg problem, your simply going to the wrong places to get your eggs and chickens. I then see you have one of two alternatives and that’s either have this become a grass roots movement, where you derive your funding and support from a broad base or rather appeal to philanthropy to secure both. To be honest I’m cynical about the grass roots approach, as most people have little idea about what science entails or how its carried out, further handicapped by most being more suspicious of it then supportive.

This then leaves you with the philanthropists, with two possible candidates first coming tp mind with the first being the Bill Gates Foundation. with its motto about sustainability only being found in teaching people how to fish, rather than stuck with endlessly needing to provide them with fish. I would make argument that to be most effective we should be looking into how best to catch fish in the first place, before we even consider to offering instruction. The other candidate would be Google, whose motto is to do no evil, as to have it reminded this is not good enough to have the world better itself, as it has no motivation for seeking to do good, as it being framed only in the negative rather then the positive which it needs to be to invoke action. Either way I’m of the firm belief that one can only have your vision extended by people of vision, with the two here mentioned most assuredly having that.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

It probably won't surprise you to hear that I've tried a couple of foundations, to no avail. I've come to conclude if you don't know anybody who has connections who'll back up your proposal, it's pointless to submit it. They'll receive thousands of proposals per year. In addition, I'm not thinking of a charity organization, which makes matters a little more difficult. That the NSF declined my proposal had nothing to do with the actual content. In fact, I got 5 reports and they all said it's a great topic. It was declined because some of the referees had doubts that I (and my co-PI) were qualified for the project, since neither of us had previous experience in exactly that area of research. Best,

B.