The UK's share of world research outputs: an investigation

Added by Sarah on 19 June 2009 16:03

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A new RIN report explains how the differences in the figures for the UK’s percentage share of the global production of scientific publications arise, and the implications for policy-makers.

News release - 18 June 2009

Bibliometrics have come to play an increasing role in assessing the performance of researchers in the UK, as indeed in other parts of the world. But the complexities of both the data sources and the methods of analysis used are little understood by many of those who wish to make use of the results.

Even the relatively simple matter of measuring the UK’s share of the global production of scientific publications is much more complex than appears at first sight, with traps for the unwary and huge differences in the published figures. The Research Information Network’s new report, The UK’s share of world research outputs: an investigation of different data sources and time trends highlights important issues both for those who produce bibliometric analyses of research performance, and for those who commission and make use of such work.

The figures given in different published reports for the UK’s percentage share in world science vary by as much as 40%: figures between 6.5% and 9.1% have been reported for the year of 2002 for example, and there is not even agreement if the UK’s share is rising or falling from year to year. With such major differences, it is difficult for policy-makers and others concerned with the health of the UK research base to get a clear picture of how well it is performing.

The RIN report explains how these difference arise, and reflects on the implications for the measurement of UK scientific performance. It highlights that producers and publishers of bibliometric data must make much more transparent the choices they have made as to data sources and methodology, and the implications of those choices. Policy-makers and others interested in the health of the UK research base must also take greater care to interrogate the figures that they use and to present them accurately. Otherwise the risk is that policy and related decisions will be made on the basis of false assessments.

The report is available at:



Sarah Gentleman - Communications Officer - Research Information Network

Tel 020 7412 7241, email

Notes for editors

  • This report is the result of work undertaken by Grant Lewison and colleagues in the CIBER group at University College London.
  • The report analyses the sources and methods used in seven reports that give figures for the UK’s percentage presence in world science: Evidence Ltd, Forskningsradet (Research Council of Norway), National Science Foundation, Observatoire des Science and Technologies, SCImago, the European Commission and the Wellcome Trust.
  • The Research Information Network was set up in 2005 by the four UK higher education funding bodies, the seven research councils and the three national libraries. Our role is to enhance and broaden understanding of the information resources and services available to researchers, and how they use them; and to promote the innovation and development of effective policies and strategies for the benefit of the UK research community.

© Research Information Network 2005–2009