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Comparison of amount of biomedical research originating from the European Union and the United States

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7510.192 (Published 21 July 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:192

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  1. Elpidoforos S Soteriades, research fellow1,
  2. Matthew E Falagas, director (m.falagas{at}aibs.gr)2
  1. 1 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
  2. 2 Alfa Institute of Biomedical Sciences (AIBS), 9 Neapoleos Street, 15123 Marousi, Athens Greece
  1. Correspondence to: M E Falagas

    Abstract

    Objective To examine and compare the research productivity of the European Union, the four “candidate” countries (those currently waiting to join the EU), and the United States in several fields of biomedical sciences.

    Design A retrospective observational study—bibliometric analysis.

    Data sources Manuscripts published by authors from each country separately and from each group of countries for the period 1994 to 2004 and included in the Essential Science Indicators database of the Institute of Scientific Information.

    Main outcome measures Number of published articles and number of citations, adjusted for gross domestic product and population size.

    Results 1 485 749 articles were published by authors from the EU compared with 1 356 805 from the US. The research productivity of the first 15 countries to join the EU, adjusted for population, was lower (76%) than that of the US—and even lower (66%) when the 10 newest EU countries were included in the analysis.

    Conclusion The newest EU members and the EU candidate countries need further help and resources to increase their productivity, thereby improving the productivity of the EU as a whole.

    Introduction

    The European Union and the United States are the leading powers in biomedical research and publications, although the US is ahead of the EU in most scientific disciplines.1 2 The EU has been gradually closing this gap, but the union's future expansion might widen the gap again in favour of the US.3 4 We examined the biomedical research output of the EU's member countries and of four candidate countries for the EU, to compare the geographical distribution of output across Europe with the output in the US.

    Methods

    Our study covered the period 1994 to 2004. We examined data for the US plus three groups of European countries: (a) the first 15 states joining the EU (including three—Austria, Finland, Sweden—that did not join until January 1995); (b) the 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004; and (c) the four “candidate” countries waiting to join (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Turkey). We estimated the amount of research produced by each country separately and by each group, using the information included in the Essential Science Indicators database of the Institute for Scientific Information. A paper was attributed to any country (or countries) if an address for that country was given by one or more authors; therefore an article could be attributed to more than one country.


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    We focused our search on nine scientific fields: biology and biochemistry; clinical medicine; immunology; microbiology; molecular biology and genetics; multidisciplinary; neuroscience and behaviour; psychiatry and psychology; and pharmacology and toxicology.

    We used the online World Bank database to retrieve information on the average population size, the mean gross domestic product, and percentage of gross domestic product devoted to research and development.5

    Results

    We identified 1 485 749 articles published by authors from the European Union and the four candidate countries and 1 356 805 articles published by US authors. In the table we present raw and adjusted indicators for each country (adjusted for population size, gross domestic product, and percentage of gross domestic product devoted to research and development) and the average indicators for the different subgroups and the US. The research productivity for the group of original 15 member states of the EU, adjusted for population, was three quarters (76%) of the productivity of the US, but when the 10 newest members were also included, EU productivity declined to 66%, and when the four candidate countries were also included, EU productivity reduced further, to 55%. However, after adjustment for funds devoted to research and development, the number of published articles from the 25 EU member states plus the candidate countries is much higher than the number of published articles from the US.

    Biomedical research productivity in Europe and United States, 1994-2004

    View this table:

    Discussion

    The original 15 EU states have some of the strongest publication records, and their ranking individually within that group changes depending on the indicator used. For example, raw numbers favour the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy (the four most populous countries), whereas adjusted indicators favour the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. The research productivity of many of the original member countries, adjusted for population size or for funds devoted to research and development, far exceeds the productivity of the US, but productivity for the EU as a whole, adjusted for population, is only two thirds that for the US. Furthermore, some of the 10 newest EU states (Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, and the Czech Republic) have higher indicators than the lowest ranking countries of the original 15 EU states. The four candidate countries, in general, have lower indicators than the 10 newest EU states, with the exception of publications per billions of US dollars devoted to research and development, where they rank higher.

    The negative geographical gradient from north to south and west to east, evident by other indicators, is also present in the biomedical research within the European Union.6 Although the US leads the biomedical research race by most indicators, the original group of 15 EU states as a whole was not far behind. Moreover, US based journals are more heavily represented than European journals in the Institute for Scientific Information's databases,7 therefore affording the US an advantage not adjusted for in our comparison. However, the accession of the 10 newest EU states resulted in a substantial dilution of research indicators and a considerable increase in the publication gap in relation to the US, which is due to worsen with the planned accession of candidate countries, excluding the indicator adjusted for funds devoted to research and development.

    Given the importance of biomedical research in economic development, we urge the EU governing bodies, along with the scientific community, to further strengthen research networks of excellence in the EU and continue to increase funding opportunities in biomedical research (as has happened with the sixth framework programme in support of research in the EU and the candidate countries, as well as in some eastern European countries not in the EU).8 Furthermore, the newest EU members and the candidate countries need particular attention to increase their research productivity and improve their indicators, thus raising productivity for the EU as a whole.

    What is already known on this topic

    The European Union and the United States are the leading powers in biomedical research and publications, although the US is ahead of the EU in most scientific disciplines

    The EU has been gradually closing this gap, but the union's future expansion might widen the gap again in favour of the US

    What this study adds

    Research productivity for the EU as a whole, adjusted for population, is only two thirds that for the US and may dip further in relation to the US once the four candidate countries join the union

    Footnotes

    • We thank Ioannis A Bliziotis and Evi Papastamataki for their help with data collection and analysis.

    • Contributors ESS and MEF designed the study, supervised data collection and analysis, and wrote the report. MEF is the guarantor.

    • Funding None.

    • Competing interests None declared.

    • Ethical approval Not needed.

    References

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