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Britain doing well in biological sciences

New report shows UK scientists have higher impact in pre-clinical and biological research

By | March 23, 2006

British scientists are doing better on the world stage than the country's relatively low level of research spending might suggest, a new report shows. The latest figures from the study put UK researchers ahead of their counterparts in the US when it comes to the impact of their pre-clinical and biological research. "The UK produces 9% of the world's scientific papers and has a citation share of 12%, second only to the USA," said science minister David Sainsbury. "The study also shows that the UK continued to strengthen its share of the world's most influential papers, from 12.9% to 13.2%." The country has also experienced an improvement in the relative citation impact of UK research publications in biological sciences, the report says, culminating in a very good year in 2004. "The UK has now moved ahead of the USA on impact for preclinical and health biological sciences." "It's an area where the UK has been strong for some time," Jonathan Adams, director of Evidence Ltd, which conducted the report on behalf of the UK's Office of Science and Technology, told The Scientist. "The UK's position has been improving relative to [the rest of the] world for the past 10 years and the pattern goes beyond that." These improvements were achieved despite the fact that the UK's total government and industry investment in R&D is less than that of many competitors. The UK's total R&D spending is 1.8% of gross domestic product, which puts it 17th of a group of 21 comparable nations, the report shows. "I think that what we are seeing is fantastic efficiency on the university side," Adams said. One of the key factors driving that efficiency must be the UK's Research Assessment Exercise, he added, which has been focusing attention on research performance for some 20 years. The results were cheered by Diana Dunstan, the Medical Research Council's Director of Research Management, and Julia Goodfellow, head of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, who said they were a clear indication of the high impact of UK research. Still, Goodfellow warned against complacency. "It is important that both Government and private sector investment in research and development grows in the future and we invest in growing capacity in areas where we currently have skills shortages," she said. One area of potential future concern for the UK is maintaining a good supply of well motivated, qualified people, Adams noted. Britain is granting roughly the same number of PhDs as comparable countries, although Germany produces some 15% more relative to the size of its population. There is also much higher growth in this figure among some Southeast Asian countries, the report shows. On Wednesday (March 22), the British government offered some positive news on this front. The finance minister, Gordon Brown, announced in his budget statement some additional spending for science education, as well as other measures designed to boost science. Among other notable findings, this week's report showed that the US produces the most PhD students, and also has the biggest national share of global publications and citations for 2004. China's publication output now rivals France's, and the Asia-Pacific group -- also including Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore -- publishes more than any European country. The US and UK produced the highest and second-highest citation counts, respectively, in the areas of clinical sciences, pre-clinical and health-related sciences, biological sciences, and the environment. Evidence collected data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and from Thomson Scientific's journal databases. Stephen Pincock spincock@the-scientist.com Links within this article "PSA target metrics for the UK research base" http://www.ost.gov.uk/research/funding/psa_metrics_report.pdf S. Pincock, "US leads world science," The Scientist, 15 July, 2004. http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22291/ Evidence Ltd http://www.evidenceuk.com Press Association," Budget delivers science boost for schools," The Guardian, March 22, 2006. http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1736902,00.html
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