For Mexican Science, Steady Progress
Featured Analyses, November/December 2011
Having last touched on Latin America in a survey of emergent juggernaut Brazil two years ago (July/August 2009), Science Watch now turns its attention to the region’s second-largest producer of scientific papers: Mexico.
The first graph (1) below tracks Mexico’s portion of world science—that is, its percent share of papers indexed by Thomson Reuters, representing all fields—for each year between 1996 and 2010. Also shown are corresponding figures for a selection of regional comparator nations: Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela.
From its share of just under 0.50% in 1996, Mexico has expanded its presence to upwards of 0.80% in 2010. In absolute numbers, Mexico increased its total output from 3,585 Thomson Reuters-indexed papers to nearly 9,200 in 2010.
When Science Watch surveyed Latin American nations a decade ago (September/October 2001), Mexico and Argentina were shown to be comparatively close in world share between 1981 and 2000. As the current graph illustrates, Mexico’s upswing continued into the new millennium, while Argentina’s share mostly dropped off after a peak in 2002.
It must also be acknowledged that, beginning four years ago, Thomson Reuters substantially expanded its coverage of Latin America-based journals, indexing a greater number of papers from Mexico and the other nations shown here, and accounting for at least part of the uptick discernible on the respective lines for the period 2007 to 2008.
The graph also suggests that, as of 2009, Mexico’s world share has reached a plateau—a trend that bears watching.
To give a sense of Mexico’s current scientific concentration, the table found in the tab below shows the country’s percentage of Thomson Reuters-indexed papers in 21 main subject areas. The fields are ranked according to Mexico’s share in a recent five-year period, 2006 to 2010 (third column), while the second column shows the comparable figure for an earlier period, 1996 to 2000.
As gauged by the percentage of papers indexed over the last five years, Mexico’s highest representation is in the field of plant & animal science, with the country’s tally of roughly 6,200 reports constituting just over 2% of world output in this broad specialty area. This field also accounts for Mexico’s greatest increase in share between the two successive five-year periods, as is shown in the right-hand column. Mexico’s increase in share was also notable in another of the table’s upper-most fields, agricultural sciences.
Of course, along with measures of output, another means of evaluation centers on the wider influence of published research as assessed by citations. Graph (2) at right takes Mexico’s top six fields in terms of world share and tracks "relative impact" in a series of overlapping five-year periods from 1992 through 2010. In this measure, for reports listing at least one Mexican institutional address, the impact figure (i.e., cites per paper) is compared against the field’s overall impact average (with the latter represented on the graph as "1.00" on the y axis).
Of the fields shown, physics ultimately tracks the highest in relative impact, with Mexico’s score for the latest five-year period exceeding the world average by 1%. Undoubtedly favoring the country’s performance by this measure was the well-placed presence of some Mexico-based scientists among the multiauthor, multinational teams that produce the regular "Review of particle physics" reports. These papers promptly and reliably rack up thousands of citations (and are, according to Thomson Reuters Essential Science IndicatorsSM, the country’s most-cited physics papers of the last decade).
Mexico’s impact has also trended generally upward in the other physical-science field shown here, space science, despite lagging the world average by just over 10%. The trajectory also seems promising in environment/ecology. The line for agricultural sciences descends sharply from the world average through the late 1990s but is currently pointing upward—not an uncommon pattern when a country progresses from a comparative handful of papers, in which one or two highly cited reports may cause an artificially high impact rate, to a more substantial output. Plant & animal science, too, is on the upswing, although the impact of Mexico-based research is 36% below the world average.
Microbiology, similarly, comes in 35% below the world mark for the latest five-year period. In fact, in life-sciences fields in general, including those not shown on the graph—biology & biochemistry, neuroscience & behavior, molecular biology & genetics—Mexico scores lower in relative impact, while physical-science fields such as geosciences, computer science, and engineering are currently closer to the world mark. In all for Mexican science, progress, but still a ways to go.
Mexico in World Science: 1996-2000 vs. 2006-2010
Based on percent share of Thomson Reuters-indexed papers in each of 21 main fields, listed by percentage in the latest five-year period, 2006-10, shown second from right.
|Field||% in 96-00||% in 96-10||Increase in %|
|Plant & Animal Science||1.10||2.02||0.92|
|Biology & Biochemistry||0.52||0.74||0.22|
|Pharmacology & Toxicology||0.56||0.70||0.14|
|Neuroscience & Behavior||0.45||0.66||0.21|
|Molecular Biology & Genetics||0.38||0.47||0.09|
|Economics & Business||0.27||0.42||0.15|
|Source: InCites™ Global Comparisons, Thomson Reuters|