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SA’s collaboration with rest of Africa is rising quickly

South African co-authorship with other Africa-based researchers has risen rapidly in the last decade, but Europe and North America are still the partners of choice.

Radhamany Sooryamoorthy, a sociology professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, published data on co-authorship between South African researchers and researchers in other countries, including the rest of Africa, in the journal Scientometrics on 6 April.

He analysed all articles with South African authors indexed on the Web of Science from 1975-2015, a total of 160,000 publications. He then used publication and citation numbers at five-year intervals to track trends.

Between 1975 and 2005 South African collaboration with the rest of Africa was minimal. However, in 2010 and 2015 South Africa’s intra-Africa collaboration rose significantly. The same can be seen for Asian countries, Sooryamoorthy writes: “This is a reflection of changing geopolitics and alignment in the political sphere.”

However, this increase comes amid a general and sustained trend of South African authors collaborating more with foreigners. This is not surprising. During Apartheid academic sanctions hindered joint work, and collaborative science has risen globally.

In South Africa, publication numbers have grown rapidly since 2010, with annual total publication nearly doubling between then and 2015. The average number of authors on a paper has also skyrocketed, rising to 41 in 2015, more than ten times the average in 2000.

Bloated author numbers is another recent trend in South Africa, Sooryamoorthy writes. The highest number of authors for a single publication was close to 5,200 and over 100 papers involved more than 1,000 scientists.

“In recent years the need and relevance of big research teams, particularly in physics, astronomy and medicine, has grown substantially. This, as the data indicated, occurred more towards the end of apartheid and subsequently,” he writes.