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FEATURED ANALYSIS, September/October 2008

India's New Millennium in Science
by Christopher King, Editor

After several consecutive years of minimal increase through the 1980s and 90s, India's output of scientific papers has risen sharply since 2000. Concurrently, the citation impact of the nation's published research in main fields has been trending upward in recent years.

To assess India-based science, Science Watch turned to the Thomson Reuters database National Science Indicators and its collection of publication and citation statistics. The first graph(1) records the number of papers indexed by Thomson Reuters for each year between 1985 and 2007 that listed at least one India-based institution among the author addresses. In 1985, the number was approximately 12,500, and for the next 15 years the total never much exceeded 14,000. Around the year 2000, however, the number began to tick upwards, rising to nearly 17,000 in 2001, reaching 20,000-plus in 2003, and winding up at more than 27,000 in 2007.

Flag of India

Currently, India's largest percent share of any main field indexed by Thomson Reuters is in the Multidisciplinary category (comprising papers published in the multidisciplinary journals Science, Nature, PNAS, etc.), with 5.47% of papers in that field indexed in the cumulative five-year period between 2003 and 2007. Close behind is Materials Science, in which India's 9,212 papers in the last five years constitute 5.45% of the field.

Materials Science, in fact, is the field in which India displays the steepest growth in representation during the period covered by National Science Indicators. In 1981, only 432 Thomson Reuters-indexed materials papers included an India institutional address—3.68% of the field. In 2007, nearly 2,300 papers with India-based authors were indexed, a share of 6.13%.

India's share of world papers, in the latest five-year period, was also comparatively high in Agricultural Sciences (5.17% of the database), Chemistry (5.04%), and Physics (3.88%).

Physics, as it happens, features prominently in the next set of graphs(2), which plot the nation's relative citation impact (that is, India's citations-per-paper average compared against the world average in each respective field) in 14 main fields in a series of overlapping periods from 1985 through 2007.

In the top graph(2), which covers the physical sciences, India's upward trend in Physics is clearly discernible. For the latest five-year period, ending in 2007, India's relative-impact score stands at 80% of the field average (3.13 cites per paper, versus the world mark of 3.96)—a substantial improvement over the 1985-89 period, when India's relative impact in Physics was at 40%, less than half the world average. In the same graph, India's impact in Engineering and in Chemistry are also trending upward and approaching parity with the world mark.

The other graphs tell a similar story: although the impact of India-based research lags the world average in the fields shown, the nation has been on a discernible upswing since roughly the year 2000, with notable gains in, for example, Geosciences(3), Neurosciences(4), and Biology & Biochemistry.

For another snapshot of India's current concentration in science, Science Watch consulted Thomson Reuters' Essential Science Indicators web resource and its unique database of Research Fronts—specialty areas defined by a "core" of foundational papers that have been frequently cited together by a group of subsequent reports.

Science Watch identified upwards of 250 Research Fronts in which India-based institutions figured among the core literature. The majority of these fronts, conforming to the trends noted above, fall within the physical sciences. As it happens, the Research Front displaying the highest proportion of Indian institutions among its core papers is devoted to black holes and related aspects involving entropy, supersymmetry, and string theory. An author whose name recurs among the core papers is Ashoke Sen of the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in Allahabad, who was interviewed in these pages last year (Science Watch, 18[3]: 3-4, May/June 2007). Sen's name also figures among the core authors in another of the most India-centric fronts—this one devoted to tachyon cosmology.

In sum, all but three of the top ten Research Fronts with the highest representation of India institutions concern high-energy or theoretical physics. The exceptions are one front dealing with the adsorptive removal of dyes and other hazardous materials from aqueous solutions (see Research Front Map 1), another devoted to the study of stress caused by water deficit and salinity in Catharanthus roseus and other plants (see Research Front Map 2), and a third centering on conducting polymers and their use in biosensors.

Still another aspect of India's progression since the early 1980s involves the nation's increasing presence in international science. In 1981, more than 95% of Thomson Reuters-indexed papers from India featured authors exclusively at India-based institutions, with no other nations listed. By 2007, the percentage of "India only" papers had fallen to 80%, indicating that, albeit gradually thus far, the nation is moving toward greater participation in world science.


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Christopher King is the Editor of the Science Watch® Newsletter, Thomson Reuters.

Keywords: India, science in India, research in India, Indian science, Ashoke Sen.



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