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Research Information:FOCUS ON NORTH AMERICA A world apart?


Brad Fenwick offers his thoughts on


what distinguishes the American character in scholarly publishing


I


n the world of research, the United States is set apart from most other nations by several characteristics that distinguish it from the volume and quality of knowledge produced, and the innovation that flows from it.


However, the current American technological, political and cultural landscape has exerted increasing influence on the state of scholarly publishing with mixed results. America is hyper-competitive in many areas. That sense of competition is fully evident in its research and is reflected in the calibre of the articles produced. The rivalry between academic peers and institutions that is part of the US research landscape, is not as common in the rest of the world. And, while the output volume of scholarly papers from 2010 to 2015 in the US (3.7 million) approaches that of all Europe combined (5.2 million), with rare exceptions, the US research landscape is not typically driven by a national agenda or government mandated imperatives. As a result US research is typically more diverse in topic and presentation, likely driven by the researcher’s or institution’s area of interest or funding source priorities. In looking at how each region breaks down in discipline, according to Scopus data the strengths of the US and European are fairly equal. Both have strong medical research capacity, with a fairly balanced cross-section of other disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, biochemistry, materials science, mathematical, earth and biological science. There are also strong collaborative ties between the two regions and the US is still the preferred partner for most European institutions.


From a business perspective, scholarly 8 Research Information JUNE/JULY 2016


publishing in the US can be viewed as more vibrant in nature. US institutions compete almost as much for corporate partners as for government grants, which translates into a research landscape that is marked by an entrepreneurial sensibility.


In Europe, while there is some corporate investment, academic research is typically driven by topic-specific provided public funds determined though periodic national assessment exercises. This channel of funding often motivates the more long-term basic research that is too costly for private enterprise. This, in turn, is reflected in the incidence of publication of scholarly work in the top 10 per cent of academic journals, at a rate of 26.8 perc ent for the US versus 19.8 per cent for all of Europe, with some individual nation exceptions.


But, with these vibrant characteristics come additional features that may ultimately limit US research competitiveness. For example, larger and more prosperous universities, with more effective development departments and correspondingly deeper cash resources, are able to garner an increasingly larger share of available public research dollars over time. As a result, we are seeing a consolidation of research output – and by logical extension intellectual capital –


towards big, influential universities, many located in urban areas. With this tip of the scales, over time the US may begin more closely to resemble Europe, with smaller schools doing less research. In addition, the impact of government funding is extremely variable. Overall the US is not as efficient at turning public funding into knowledge, with federal public policy itself often creating roadblocks to effective use of funds. The recent disarray within the federal government budget process and the occasional acrimony both over what is perceived as important research and what is thought of as frivolous in these


‘Scholarly publishing in the US can be viewed as more vibrant in nature’


times of austerity, has too often resulted in the incremental ‘starving’ of academic research programs before their full potential is realised. This is starting to reveal itself. According to Scopus data, in the past 20 years, US research output is starting to plateau, whereas Europe has maintained a steady increase. With US academia built on a growth model and not the government block grant funding


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