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Freedom of movement 'unlocks' scientific success

Nature study finds mobility gave researchers higher citation rates than those who remained in their homeland


When it comes to building a strong science base, international collaboration and mobility of researchers trumps R&D investment, according to new research.

Two separate studies published in Nature suggest that an open approach to science is beneficial to both individual scientists and the country they work in - and comes as scientists in the EU try to work out what the impact of the ongoing Brexit negotiations will be on their career potential and shortly after US president Donald Trump issued a third travel ban.

The first study by a team led by Cassidy Sugimoto of Indiana University concludes that research conducted by scientists who have swapped their country of residence is statistically more likely to be cited by others. Examining 14 million articles for nearly 16 million researchers worldwide, they found that the 4% of mobile researchers had citation rates around 40% higher than the 96% of individuals who remained in their home country.

It’s possible that only the most high-flying scientists have - or pursue - the opportunity to work overseas, but Sugimoto et al note that “isolationist” political actions such as the UK’s exit from the EU and US travel bans run the risk of “limiting the circulation of scholars [and damaging] the entire scientific system”.

The link between impact and mobility is backed up by a second study in Nature, conducted by Caroline Wagner of Ohio State University and Koen Jonkers, head data scientist at publishing house Elsevier.

Wagner and Jonkers examined publication and citation data for 36 nations and found that while spending on R&D correlated with the number of papers published, it did not result in a greater scientific impact for the body of work - once again measured by the number of citations.

What did correlate was a country’s scientific ‘openness’ - in other words scientists who collaborate with their international colleagues and move between countries tend to publish research with greater impact.

The EU’s performance in recent years is particularly interesting, as it has seen a steady increase in impact and now outperforms the US in terms of the publication of highly-cited papers, publishing 40% of the top 10% of the most-cited papers compared to the US’s 35%.

That finding provides further evidence that maintaining close scientific links with EU countries will be essential post-Brexit - something that is well recognised by the UK life sciences sector which has ranked migration and access to foreign employee talent among its top four challenges along with the regulatory framework, R&D funding, and trade/market access issues.

“Just as industries make 'build or buy' decisions, so governments must make 'link or sink' decisions about research investment,” write Wagner and Jonkers.

Article by
Phil Taylor

10th October 2017

From: Research



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