New bibliometric study reveals that federal researchers making significant contribution to Canada's scientific output

Guest Contributor
May 26, 2000

Researchers in the federal government are making a huge contribution to the advancement of Canadian science, but years of shrinking budgets are severely compromising its output, according to a recent study of bibliometric data. Produced by Benoit Godin and Yves Gingras of Quebec's Observatoire des sciences et des technologies (OST), the report contains a wealth of detail on how federal researchers contribute their expertise, who they interact with and how budget cuts are taking their toll.

Although it is beyond the report's scope to offer an opinion on what areas of science the federal government should be involved in, its conclusions should provide ammunition for the renewed push for increased federal science capacity expected this year.

"The data presented in this study show beyond any doubt the major importance of the federal government's contribution to the advancement of Canadian science," it states. "Over the course of the last 18 years, however, the heavy budgetary restrictions imposed upon federal R&D have, as we have seen, compromised its scientific production. ... We may well wonder, then, what effect the current regime's ongoing austerity measures will have not only upon federal science, but upon Canadian science in general."

Benoit and Gingras demonstrate a near perfect correlation between federal intramural R&D expenditures and scientific output by examining the data of 100 specialties in eight major disciplinary fields between 1980 and 1997 (see box). As federal R&D as a share of the Canadian total declined, the share of output by its researchers also dropped, even though the quantity of publication output increased modestly. Between 1980 and 1997, federal R&D dropped from 22% to 12% of the Canadian total, while publications dropped from 15.6% to 12.4%.

By delving into areas of specialization, the report reveals that federal researchers have a remarkable track record in the 20 areas considered most important to the federal government. In the area of oceanography and limnology, for instance, federal publications account for 51.1% of the total over the full 18-year period. In the areas of agriculture and food science meteorological and atmospheric science, entomology and environmental science, the federal share exceeds 40%.

The report also finds that the largest federal producers of publications also tend to be those departments and agencies that invest the most in intramural research. The National Research Council and Agriculture & AgriFood Canada account for nearly 60% of all scientific publications between 1980 and 1997, followed by Natural Resources Canada (12%), department of Fisheries and Oceans (11%) and Environment Canada (9%). Health Canada ranks next with approximately 7% even though it is not a major recipient of R&D funds, while the Canadian Space Agency produces less than 0.5% of publications output and receives 3.4% of federal intramural R&D dollars.

Collaborative research more than doubles

The OST data also capture the dramatic increase in collaborative research, both within and outside of government. The proportion of publications for which federal researchers co-signed with Canadian partners increased from 19% to 42.3% between 1980 and 1997, with the majority between government and university.

Collaboration with international partners increased during the same period from 12.4% to 30.8%. The largest foreign collaborators in descending order are: United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and Italy.



Biomedical Research11.4%
Clinical Medicine8.2%
Earth and Space21.6%
Engineering & Technology7.3%

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