India’s science output growing fast, confirms report

Indian biology papers are well cited, but agricultural engineering publications fair poorly Copyright: Flickr/CIMMYT

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[CHENNAI/NEW DELHI] India still contributes less than three per cent of global research output, lagging behind many less populous but more developed countries. But its research output is growing rapidly, according to a study commissioned by Research Councils UK.

In particular, India’s citation impact — a measure of how often papers are referred to by other scientists — doubled during the 27-year period covered by the study, similar to the situation in other emerging economies such as Brazil and China.

The study, which was released last month (27 July), compared the number of publications, international collaborations and citations of Indian research papers between 1981 and 2008, with that of Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom and United States.

"Both India’s share of global research papers and its citation impact are low compared to other nations across all subject areas," the study said.

Indian scientists published 38,750 papers compared, for example, to 91,273 by UK researchers.

But the survey also found that, despite India’s recent low share of global research output, high growth in recent years suggests that output will become increasingly important to the global research base and research collaborations with India will increase.

The study confirms that joint international collaborative papers tend to have a higher-than-average citation impact. India–UK collaborative papers in the physical sciences, for example, are cited four times the world average, while medical, health and biological sciences also account for a substantial number of well-cited papers.

But papers in fields considered India’s traditional strengths, such as tropical medicine, textiles and agricultural engineering are not cited often. Also, compared to the UK, where one in five published papers is never cited, in India one in three papers never gets cited.

Subbiah Arunachalam, a former editor of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research journals, told SciDev.Net such evaluations concentrate only on publishable research.

The danger is that such analysis "turns a blind eye" to development-oriented science. "Science is a wide spectrum; peer reviewed publications is but one [part] in the spectrum," he said. "Research relevant to India will be shown poorly by this yardstick," he added.

The report analyses data up to 2008, and India’s science funding has risen dramatically since then. In 2009 government spending on research and development rose by 17 per cent over 2008. "It follows that India’s citation output has the potential to increase dramatically over the next decade," the report concludes.

Link to ‘Bibliometric Study of India’s Research Output and International Collaboration’ report