Science budget hike offers short cut to journal impact

Copyright: Carlos Spottorno/Panos

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  • In rich nations, publication in top journals rises with GDP
  • In developing nations, main correlation is with research spending
  • Finding could help poorer nations improve research impact

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Developing countries can take a short cut to improving the impact of their research by simply increasing national science budgets, a study finds.
A model developed by a team of researchers, which looked at publications in ecology, shows that the amount spent on research in developing countries directly correlates to the number of publications from these countries in top journals.
In rich nations, research output in such journals strongly relates to economic output as measured by GDP (gross domestic product), the research team says.

“The main ideology among policymakers is based around GDP, so to say that investment in research is the key is extremely positive ”

Shalene Jha


Shalene Jha, a biologist involved in the study, says this could give poorer nations an edge over their richer competitors, as raising research spending is relatively easy, while stimulating GDP growth is complex and slow.
“The main ideology among policymakers is based around GDP, so to say that investment in research is the key is extremely positive” for developing countries, she says.
The study, published in BioScience last week (13 January), analysed the output of more than 130 top ecology journals to determine the nationality of researchers who publish in these journals or sit on their editorial boards.
Developing world scientists authored just three per cent of papers in the journals and made up two per cent of academic review boards, showing that developed countries continue to dominate the field.
What challenged the conventional wisdom in the study is the importance of research spending for boosting scientific output in developing nations. It could be because low-income countries have less developed science systems, so they are much more adaptable and can choose to which fields funding goes much more readily than rich countries, the study says.
As developing countries are on the front line of some of the world’s greatest ecological challenges — climate change, food security and biodiversity loss for instance — the researchers hope their study will translate into more funding for ecology research and conservation, and more publications.
Although the paper focuses on ecology, increasing research investment for any scientific discipline should offer a similar publication boost, says Jha.
But Milena Holmgren, an ecologist from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, believes that presenting investment as a research panacea oversimplifies the issue. Her experiences throughout Latin America suggest that some countries focus less on publication. As a result, budding scientists are less likely to value such pursuits, she says.

Jha and her colleagues acknowledge that investment alone is not enough to boost publication rates. Instead, established Western research leaders could do more to reference and include authors from developing countries in their work, or share their results in open access and non-English language journals, they propose.
Increasing the number of international students and engaging in long-term collaboration will also help both developed and developing countries build a more equal research landscape, the study says.


George Livingston and others Perspectives on the global disparity in ecological science (BioScience, 13 January 2016)