Nature Index: Japan’s R&D Performance Strong But Declining

Although still one of the world’s elite in R&D, Japan might risk losing its spot if it can’t resolve the downward trend in research productivity, report says.

AsianScientist (Mar. 24, 2017) – According to the Nature Index, a database tracking the output of high-quality research publications, Japan’s scientific output has failed to keep pace with other leading nations over the past decade.

These findings are featured in the Nature Index 2017 Japan supplement, which looks closely at Japan’s recent research performance. It uses data from the Nature Index, which tracks the high-quality research of more than 8,000 global institutions.

Japan’s share of high-quality papers included in the Nature Index dropped by 6 percent between 2012 and 2016. Furthermore, while China’s rapid growth has meant that other leading nations—including the US—have also experienced a relative decline, Japan’s output has also fallen in absolute terms. Publications by its authors in high-quality natural science journals, as defined by the index, fell by 8.3 percent over the last five years.

Japan’s share of high quality papers included in the Nature Index (magenta) dropped between 2012 and 2016, as did the United States’ share (cream). China (light purple) and the United Kingdom’s (brown) share grew over that time. Credit: Nature Index.

Data from Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science and Elsevier’s Scopus database, also featured in the supplement, further illustrate a downward trend in performance. The WOS shows that in 11 of 14 fields, Japan published fewer articles in 2015 than 2005. In materials science and engineering, strong areas for Japan historically, its publications fell by more than 10 percent. The most acute decline was in computer science, where output fell by 37.7 percent.

In three fields however—medicine, mathematics and astronomy—Japan did publish more papers than it did ten years ago. While the total number of articles in the Scopus database, which tracks peer-reviewed literature, increased by approximately 80 percent between 2005 and 2015, Japan’s output grew by only 14 percent and its share of global output fell from about 7.4 percent to 4.7 percent.

This downturn has led to a challenging situation in Japan for early-career researchers, with full-time research positions becoming less common. While government R&D spending is among the world’s highest, it has remained essentially flat since 2001, while other nations—such as Germany, China and South Korea—have significantly increased their spending.

Over this period the Japanese government has reduced funding for universities to pay staff salaries. As a result, universities have scaled-back the number of permanent positions and shifted towards contracting researchers, according to the Japan Association of National Universities. The number of research associates under 40 and on contracts more than doubled between 2007 and 2013.

“Japan has long been a world leader in scientific research. However, this supplement’s data, from the Nature Index and our partners, illustrate the scale of Japan’s challenge in the coming decade,” said Mr. David Swinbanks, Founder of Nature Index.

“While science budgets have risen elsewhere, there has been a period of under-investment since 2001 that has hindered Japan’s institutions’ ability to produce high-quality research. To the government’s credit, university reform has become one of its top priorities, as it seeks to spur innovation and growth. Plans to increase by 10 percent the number of university researchers under 40 by 2020 by supporting more permanent positions should certainly be welcomed.”

The top ten leading Japanese institutions for high-quality science is the University of Tokyo, a global heavyweight in its own right. Kyoto, Osaka and Tohoku Universities place second, third and fourth respectively. RIKEN, Japan’s premier research institute, is fifth, followed by Tokyo Institute of Technology (sixth), Nagoya University (seventh), Kyushu University (eight) and Hokkaido University (ninth). The National Institute for Materials Science is tenth.


Source: Nature Index; Photo: Shutterstock.
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