News

doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.149 Published online 1 October 2012

India's scientific output on the rise: study

K. S. Jayaraman

India's Department of Science and Technology (DST) is upbeat over the finding of a latest bibliometric study that scientific publications from India have been increasing since 2002. The DST says it is evident from the report that India has started to regain the volume share of publications lost during 1980s.

India's global share of scientific publications was 3.1% in 1981 but it declined between 1981 and 1995. The latest study commissioned by DST to Thomson Reuters has put India's share at 3.5% ranking it 9th in the world in respect of publications in journals indexed by the Science Citation Index. The DST, which analyzed the report, predicts India gaining at least 5% global share by 2017 improving its relative ranking to the 5th or 6th position currently held by UK and France.

The DST says it was prompted to commission the "evidence-based" study by concerns expressed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last January over the competitiveness of Indian science and its losing the race with other Asian nations. The "evidence" report appears to have allayed such fears.

According to the report, the total number of publications from India, in all 21 disciplines of science analysed, increased from 106, 456 during 2001-05 to 177, 208 in 2006-10 — an increase of about 66% or about 13% per year. In the same period there was an 81% increase in publications in top 1% impact making journals — most of the increase coming from engineering, chemistry, clinical medicine and materials science disciplines. Citation impact of Indian papers also increased from 0.35 in 1981-85 to about 0.68 in 2006-10. DST says it will target a value of 1 by 2017.

The study reveals engineering discipline has gained the most during 2006-10. In the area of chemistry, India has gained fifth rank globally with respect to number of publications and has exceeded Japan in citation impact of publications in the area of engineering.

The Thomson Reuters report has come as a morale booster for the DST which says its observations are a proof that the Indian science and technology machinery is moving ahead with some credible pace and that DST's programmes during the last two five-year plans (2002-2012) "seem to have delivered results".

Nandula Raghuram, a biotechnology professor at the Indaprastha University in Delhi and a scientometrist himself, however, says it is too early to celebrate. "We have only recovered from 'decline' to 'stagnation', but the real 'growth' will only come if we keep up this momentum over many years," he told Nature India. He also wonders if this 'growth' is due to the growth of the databases themselves — from the print or CD-ROM based databases of the past to the 'online' databases over the last decade, due to which the overall pie has grown tremendously.

Gangan Pratap, director of National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources in New Delhi says India's publication performance in clinical medicine and life sciences is particularly disappointing, considering that most advanced countries have moved their research emphasis to precisely these disciplines. "And growth in those areas they have vacated, e.g. chemistry and materials science, is where we seem to have gained in strength. My own analysis is that this is by default rather than by design."

The evidence report admits that while publication activities in disciplines like material science seem to have maintained high growth rates, it is a matter of concern that global share of Indian publications in agriculture has been falling. Stagnancy of citation impact of research in immunology is disconcerting, it says. What is worrying the DST is the finding that almost half of the Indian papers remain non-cited.

The report also points out that India's volume share of 3.5% compares favourably with many other emerging economies but not China. Countries like Korea and Brazil are growing their research outputs at high rates and "could outperform Indian volume share in future, if India slackens in research and development effort and engagement".

The DST says the Thomson Reuters report has provided valuable data for development of national strategies for strengthening scientific publication activity. India, it says, should target 5% global share of publications by the end of 2017 and this would require, among other policy based actions, larger investments into R&D, expanding the number of full time research professionals and stimulating research in universities.


References

  1. DST, GOI, New Delhi. Bibliometric study of India’s scientific publication outputs during 2001-10. (2012)
  2. Jayaraman, K. S. Indian science in need of overhaul. doi: 10.1038/nature.2012.9750 (2012)