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Russian Research in Scopus and WoS: Refusing to Sacrifice Quality for Quantity

April 11, 2019

How highly is Russian science rated by the international academic community, and is there evidence that government support has been an important driver behind an increase in Russian universities’ publication output? A brief study of the Scopus and Web of Science (WoS) abstract and citation databases provides an answer.

To assess a country’s global academic standing in terms of its universities’ research activity, one can look at the number of publications in sources indexed by the international Scopus and WoS databases.

At the end of March 2019, Russian scientists authored over 98,000 publications in Scopus-indexed titles and over 75,800 publications in WoS-indexed ones.

Russia has been gradually improving its positions in Scopus over the past 15 years. The number of publications by Russian scientists included in the database rose fr om 36,650 in 2003 to 49,702 in 2013 (when Project 5-100 was launched to support the country’s leading universities) to 89,449 in 2017. They were most numerous in such subject areas as physics and astronomy, engineering, materials sciences, chemistry and mathematics. Publications dealing with quarks, neutrinos and air conditioning and ventilation had the highest citation index (FWCI) value.

Joint publications by Russian researchers and their international collaborators in Scopus have a FWCI higher (sometimes markedly so) than the world average. In 2017, its value was 2.56, 3.47 and 3.53 for papers produced in collaboration with US, UK and Chinese researchers, respectively. In 2018, internationally authored articles on which Russian researchers had collaborated made up 23.7% of all Russian publications in Scopus.

Some stimulus has been provided by theNational Project for Science which aims, among other things, to put Russia into fifth position in the world by the number of research publications in international journals and databases. A further impetus has come from Project 5-100 that seeks to make leading Russian universities more competitive internationally. As this project is now in its final stages, its contribution to expanding the country’s global research footprint can be assessed. In a nutshell, its 21 participating universities have outperformed the Russian average on Scopus metrics.

For a start, their researchers have been better at getting their articles into first-quartile journals (exceeding the Russian average by approximately seven percentage points). Secondly, they cooperate more frequently with overseas colleagues, with up to 30% of their publications resulting from international collaboration. Finally, their average citation index is higher. With the number of their publications that ranked in the top 1% and top 10% most highly cited papers worldwide increasing fivefold between 2012 and 2018 (SciVal data), the Project 5-100 universities accounted for close to 50% of the most widely cited Russian publications from the tenth and over 50% from the first percentile..

According to Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) data in InCites Benchmarking & Analytics (retrieved on March 11, 2019), Russian researchers published 382,935 papers in 2013-2018. This makes up 2.4% of a total of 16,051,825 major academic publications in WoS-indexed natural sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities journals and puts Russia in 15th place among 223 countries.

In 2013-2018, the most popular research areas worldwide were electrical and electronic engineering (1,097,680 publications), multidisciplinary materials science (749,256), multidisciplinary chemistry (573,685), cancer research (560,751) and applied physics (538,860). Russian researchers were best represented in applied physics (31,105 papers), multidisciplinary materials science (23,386) and electrical and electronic engineering (21,594).

While Russia’s positions in medical sciences and healthcare are more modest than in natural and social sciences wh ere it is a world leader in several fields, it has increased its medical research publication output by 50% over the past decade.

Between 2013 and 2018, more than 40% of Russian research publications originated from institutions affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Significant was the role played by the Project 5-100 universities, which supplied 30% of the total.

The government’s plans to create a network of world-class science and education hubs are bound further to improve the international standing of Russian science. Project 5-100 has clearly shown that by supporting even a limited number of universities the government can boost research activity, ensuring thereby that many more superior-quality papers find their way into indexed titles. Since the project was launched in 2013 the number of Russian-authored articles in Scopus and WoS has increased dramatically.

A consistent focus on providing comprehensive support to a sel ect group of higher education institutions has yielded good results, not least in terms of their publication activity. Also, both individual scientists and research teams fr om Project 5-100 universities have actively engaged in the world’s largest scientific projects, joining such prestigious international collaborations as the CMS and ATLAS experiments and contributing to breakthrough research conducted at facilities like the LHC, DESY, FAIR, IceCube, ITER, KEK, NICA and RHIC. Thus, government support has allowed Russia’s leading universities to pursue a cutting-edge research agenda and develop innovative R&D partnerships.