Sci & Engng Publication Output and the Research &Publication Environment in the US: NSF Reports

Andrew Norris's picture

Within the last two weeks the US National Science Foundation (NSF) published not one but two studies on (a) the attitudes of scientists and engineers to the changing world of publication, and (b) the relative global productibity of US science & engineering as measured by journal publication.    

These are not dense 500 page reports, but short, readable (10-15 min.).  I think iMechanica readers will find them relevant and interesting:

  1. The Changing Research and Publication Environment in American Research Universities
  2. Changing U.S. Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003

The first is descriptive - no figures, graphs or tables.  It is based on interviews with scientists & administrators at "nine universities in the upper tier of the American academic research universe".

The second report is far more quantitative - it deals with the big picture of US
science & engineering productivity as measured in journal
publications, and has 21 figures with tables etc.

Some quotes from the Executive Summary of the first report (Changing Research and Publication Environment):

Motivation: (emphasis added)

"The study was prompted by evidence that the growth in the number of U.S. articles, which had continued for more than two decades, began to slow in the 1990s even though research and development funds, research personnel, and similar research inputs continued to grow. At the same time, comparable evidence indicated that growth in article counts from leading research-producing countries in Europe and Asia continued unabated." 

Peer review remains dominant:

"Findings showed that peer-reviewed articles remain the major vehicle by which research findings are validated and scientists obtain credit for their contributions. Despite the rise of new forms of research output associated with advances in information technology, such as databases, software programs, and contributions to electronic archives, and new ways to disseminate findings electronically, there was little evidence to suggest that the validity of article and citation counts as output indicators was diminishing. According to those interviewed, data on article counts are unlikely to mask or distort real changes in scholarly output, except, possibly, in computer sciences. If U.S. researchers figure less prominently in the journal literature, the reason does not appear to be because they are reporting their findings in ways that bypass the journals."

The US is not metric:

"The U.S. researchers interviewed for this study perceive their universities and funding agencies as less attuned to quantitative measures of output and impact than their institutional counterparts in other countries. As a result, U.S. researchers may be less concerned with producing scholarly output in ways that score well on these measures."

From the Executive Summary of the second report (Output of Scientific Articles: 1988–2003):

"In an unexpected development in the early 1990s, the absolute number of science and engineering (S&E) articles published by U.S.-based authors in the world's major peer-reviewed journals plateaued. This was a change from a rise in the number of publications over at least the two preceding decades. ... It occurred despite continued increases in resource inputs, such as funds and personnel, that support research and development (R&D). ...
In other developed countries—a group of 15 members of the European Union (the EU-15) and Japan—the absolute number of articles continued to grow throughout most of the 1992–2003 period. During the mid- to late 1990s, the number of articles published by EU scientists surpassed those published by their U.S. counterparts. .....
The unprecedented plateau in the number of U.S. S&E articles should not be confused with a decades-long and familiar decline in the U.S. share of the world's S&E articles."

The report is replete with graphs and tables.  If you are in a hurry, just go straight to the 21 figures.

Here are two to give you an idea

fig 5

Fig. 5 : Decline in U.S. world share of S&E article output, by field: 1992–2003.

Figure 21

Fig. 21
: This shows the average number of authors/paper has increased by 50% in 15 years.


zhan-sheng guo's picture

thank you very much for

thank you very much for your collection

Thank you

This is useful .Thank You very Much 



Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats. ........Amos Bronson Alcott