Meet the New Science Superpower…Iran

Yeah, you read that right.  New Scientist noted that in the Royal Society’s recently released report Knowledge, Networks and Nations that Iran has the fastest rate of growth in scientific publication in the world.  I find that an interesting variation in the press coverage of the report, which is almost exclusively about how China is, once again, playing catch-up to the U.S. in scientific publishing.  Some projections have China passing the U.S. in numbers of scientific publications by the end of the decade (some as early as 2013).

For a report that has collaboration as a major theme, focusing on sheer numbers of publications, and making assumptions about rates of growth seems to be missing the authors’ point.

What’s worth remembering is that the volume of publications has its limitations.  For instance, looking at the impact factor numbers, China is much farther down the list compared to its performance in total numbers of publications.  I’ve not seen discussions about publications or citations per capita (not even whether it would be a decent metric), but I would anticipate China would not be as high on those lists either.

In any event, these numbers-focused discussions have a bad habit of devolving into narrow zero-sum game conversations focused on whether leading countries are losing or not.  Because collaboration is an important part of science, and that it tends to resist international tensions, having more publications, more scientists, and more quality researchers will help everyone.