Thursday, December 10, 2009

Take a Bow, Irish Researchers

I'm surprised that the Irish blogosphere has been silent about a report in the Independent about Ireland ranking "eighth in terms of the impact of research publication, ahead of China, Singapore and Australia." The article was based on a report commissioned by the Higher Education Authority comparing research in Ireland against 20 major countries (Canada is the significant omission). Good news deserves to be celebrated, particularly in these gloomy times. Scholars deserve a pat on the back for the hard work, but the study shows that much needs to be done across the spectrum if Ireland has to be competitive internationally.

Interesting bits from the HEA report are highlighted in blue:

Ireland typically takes a 0.3-0.4% share of world papers.  In biological sciences, where growth is strong, its share is higher (around 0.5%) and much higher in agriculture (0.6%) and agricultural biotechnology (1.5%). It also does well in computer science and electronic engineering...

It is important to note that the study only looks at journals in the Web of Science. This is a limited resource in the social sciences, particularly in fields like law where major journals are not included in that database. Accordingly, the study's conclusions may be more salient in some subject areas than in others because it is under-inclusive of relevant research outlets.

Ireland’s share of world citations is greater than its share of world papers (0.49% recently, 0.64% in 2007) so its output is cited more than average. Consequently, Ireland’s citation impact is good and improving. Whereas it ranks 18th by volume, it ranks 8th on citation impact overtaking Australia and Finland.

This is to be celebrated. Clearly, we are writing less junk than some of the other countries studied.

The research base is dominated by UCD (now similar in volume to QUB), TCD and UCC. Citation impact has increased for many HEIs. TCD has been a consistent leader, but UCD has improved by a greater margin, overtaking QUB, while RCSI and DIAS have exceptional profiles.

No surprises here, this just confirms what most people know already.

Ireland has more uncited papers than leading research economies but the modal cited group is above world average. It also has a good balance of excellence with 6.2% of papers cited more than four times as often as world average, which compares with 6.1% for the UK.

Total Research Output: 1998-2007

The level of national inter-institutional collaboration is relatively small. Collaboration between Ireland and Northern Ireland is very low, with QUB linking to around just 1% of output for UCD and about 2% of output for TCD.

The lack of intra-Ireland collaboration is not terribly surprising. However, given the small size of the research community, collaboration has to be seen as smart strategy rather than as hortative hope.

There has been substantial growth in the number of Irish authored social science papers over
the last ten years. From a very low base in 1998 (only 67 papers, or 0.27% of total world
output) Ireland produced 244 papers, or 0.7% of world output, in 2007. Within Ireland, social
science output has gone from being the lowest of the main research areas to the strongest in
terms of volume growth.

This is still small change. There is a clear gap in terms of where the field needs to be both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Ireland shows strong growth (73% increase in 2007 compared with the average 2002-06) in
terms of business research publications. This headline figure needs to be interpreted carefully
however, in the context of firstly a very low baseline (67 papers in 1998; 71 average 2002-06),
and secondly a possibly aberrant figure for 2007.

Business research is dominated by exceptional activity and a distinctive publishing and citation
culture in the USA. Irish economics and business research improved in terms of rates of
citation in the period 2005 – 2007. Overall performance is weak relative to the USA-centric
world average. Publications for all years over the period 1998 – 2007 (with the exception of
2006) achieved average citation rates which were lower than world average. Ireland’s ranking
within the comparator group has moved up to 8th, but this position reflects other poor
performances relative to world average by a number of comparator nations rather than any
great strength in Irish research.

The jump in 2007 is perplexing. Perhaps there is a simple explanation? In any event, given the huge disparity in business research between the US and the rest of the world, the data suggests an opportunity for Ireland to compete for best of the rest.

Indexed journal articles in social science research are dominated by the USA and UK, where
large and active communities extensively co-cite and hence elevate the world average.
Comparative citation rates for Irish social science research are well below that world average,
but so are average citation rates for other members of the comparator group. Even so
Ireland’s ranking at 12th out of the 19 nations is poor, ahead only of Australia and the Asian

I am not certain about what is meant by co-cite, or why this is implied to be a problem. It is true that the US and UK dominate research in this area, and for good reason. Resource differences offer a partial explanation and one can expect changes as social science research in emerging economies acquires greater scale and becomes more sophisticated.

Social Science Research at Irish Universities:

As the report notes, Irish academics in the social sciences need to take note of the shift in paradigm privileging journals over monographs. UCC and NUIM have declined during the study period, and the growth is modest at other universities despite the low baseline numbers. This must be an area of concern for the whole sector.

This chart shows citation impact across all fields:

Impact is an index of citations per paper compared with world averages. UCC, Limerick, DIT and Ulster have reason for concern.

This chart shows citation impact for social sciences:

The report summarizes the state of affairs in the social sciences succinctly: "The overall impression is that research across the system is not yet strong in global comparisons." Ouch.