Where Does Science Come From?

The “Physics arXiv” blog at Technology Review has an interesting report on a new look at the geographic distribution of scientific research [abstract, PDF available], carried out by Lutz Bornmann at the Max Planck Society in Munich and Loet Leydesdorff at the University of Amsterdam.  The two researchers started with bibliometric data, giving the number of times scientific papers were cited in other research work, and combined them in a “Mash-up” with Google Maps, giving a graphic display of where scientific innovation occurs (to the extent that the citation data captures this, of course)    They also compute a simple measure of the proportion of widely-cited papers (defined as the top decile in citations) to the total number of papers cited.  They have produced maps for papers in physics, chemistry, and psychology; dark green circles show locations with a high proportion of widely-cited papers relative to the total.  The size of the circle is proportional to the total number of papers.  (The initial view of these shows the whole world, which makes seeing details difficult, but they can be zoomed and panned, like any Google map.)

The results don’t reveal anything drastically different from what one might have expected.  There are some places, not especially large (e.g., Cambridge, England and Princeton, NJ) that produce a higher than expected proportion of widely-cited papers.  On the other hand, Moscow produces a lot of physics papers (big circle), but a lower than expected number of widely-cited ones (red circle).

The citation data, of course, is certainly not the last word on the relative importance of scientific research.  But it is interesting to see the data presented in this way.  If nothing else, it seems to suggest that the fear that the US and Europe are somehow “falling behind” in research is a bit overblown.

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