The increasing internationalisation of research

Research is an international activity. Clear data to support this assertion have just been published in Nature, in an article by Jonathan Adams (unfortunately the article is pay-walled). In this analysis Adams looked at the extent to which journals articles are purely ‘domestic’, with only authors from a single nation, compared with those that have authors from two or more countries. The findings are startling:

over more than three decades, domestic output — papers that list only authors from the home country — has flatlined in the United States and in Western European countries. The rise in total annual output for each country is due to international collaboration. As a result, the percentage of papers that are entirely ‘home grown’ is falling. In emerging economies, by contrast, domestic output is rapidly expanding

For the UK, domestic papers accounted for more than 80% of the total in 1981; it’s less than 50% now. In keeping with previous studies, Adams also reports that the citation impact of articles with authors from different nations generally exceeds that of domestic articles.

These data demonstrate how important international collaboration is for the health of the research base, and, in my view, show that the UK performs well. Some may be concerned that the internationalization of research poses a problem in that it may make the benefits harder to harvest. As I have written before, this isn’t a real problem. Cross-national research generates the best outcomes that are there for everyone to exploit. It is other factors that determine how well research is exploited.