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UK overtakes US in physics citations

The UK has boosted the average number of citations on its physics papers in the past decade and has even surpassed the US in recent years, a report has found.

The study, ‘Bibliometric evaluation and international benchmarking of the UK’s physics research’, was commissioned by the Institute of Physics and carried out by the Thomson Reuters firm Evidence.

The report, focusing on physics papers between 2001 and 2010, looks at individual countries’ share of world papers and their average citation count per paper for each year. It found that the UK boosted its citation impact from 1.24 to 1.72 over the decade, surpassing the US, up from 1.58 in 2001 to 1.60 in 2010.

The only country with higher impact than the UK in 2010 was Canada, at 1.75.

However, the report found that UK’s share of the world’s physics papers dropped from 7.1 per cent in 2001 to 6.4 per cent in 2010. This placed it seventh place in terms of quantity of papers, lagging behind both Germany (10.5 per cent) and France (7.6 per cent).

“The really neat thing for physics is how well we’re doing in terms of the citation impact compared with our share,” Peter Knight, president of the IoP, told Research Fortnight.

Knight attributes the UK’s success to several factors. One, he argues, is that the UK has benefited from more than a decade of “quite good funding” in both universities and from the research councils: “The lesson I would draw from it is that sustained investment has had a pay-off.”

Knight also cites the impact of the Research Assessment Exercise.

“In the RAE you’re told ‘Don’t tell me how many papers you’ve published, tell me your most important papers’,” he says. “It’s really focused people’s minds working on things that are important.”

Knight says he is not worried about the overall drop in percentage share of world papers, which he said was a consequence of China’s dramatically increased share, from 8.2 per cent in 2001 to 18.6 in 2010.

Other countries expanding their share include India, which boosted its percentage from 2 per cent in 2001 to 4.6 per cent in 2010. South Korea increased its share from 3.4 per cent to 4.8 per cent in the same period. However, most of these up and coming countries still have a comparatively low citation impact. India, China, South Korea and Russia all have citation impact below 1, while Brazil is at 1.10.