Does Canada really hit above its weight? Sci pubs by population

Found this list on Reddit via a Tweet from @ConradHackett. It lists the number of paper published as a function of population.

It looks like this is about a year old, which means that the data itself probably reflects the situation in Canada a couple of years earlier (given the delay between work being done and work being published), but it is still an interesting comparison.

Canada has a listed population of 34 million, with a per-capita publication rate of 1.432 papers per 1000 ppl, putting us at #11 on the list. Every country ahead of us has a lower population, so it could be argued that we are actually punching below our weight.

Let us consider, instead, the G8 countries and see where we fall compared to them.

  • Canada:11
  • United Kingdom: 12
  • Germany: 17
  • United States: 18
  • France:20
  • Italy: 24
  • Japan: 26
  • Russia: 33

and for fun let us look at some other "comparable" or notable countries:

  • Australia: 6
  • New Zealand: 9
  • China: 36
  • India: 40

So, if you look just at these raw numbers - forget "impact" factors or other similar measures - and it appears that (as of a year ago or so) Canada does indeed "punch above its weight." In fact, we lead the G8 countries in terms of papers per capita, and rate in the middle of the "5-eyes" countries.

And since we have the data, how about we look at "GDP per paper." I'll admit that it's hard to understand what this is telling us without knowing how much money each country is actually putting into science (i.e. how much each paper costs on average), but to zeroth order it might tell us about how (comparitively) much money we are putting into science as a whole.

(Note: Lower rankings indicate lower GDP/paper)

  • United Kingdom: 9
  • Canada:22
  • Germany: 25
  • Italy: 26
  • France:27
  • United States: 31
  • Japan: 38
  • Russia: 39

and

  • New Zealand: 5
  • Australia: 24
  • India: 30
  • China: 34

So, if I read this right, Canada is essentially spending comparitively less money to achieve higher output.

I have to admit that I'm not sure about that last conclusion, especially as I think we are missing information needed to really stand behind it.

Conclusion: I think we can safely say, however, that Canada does punch above its weight when it comes to producing scientific papers. This is refreshing for me as I have heard people say this for years but never had the evidence. Assuming that my data source has it right (and I don't see the sources for their data), now we have it.

Implications: I couldn't let this go. Since we are "spending" less of our GDP on each scientific paper, and we are pumping out more scientific papers than comparative nations, this suggests to me that Canadians are getting more "bang for their research buck" than many other nations. This begs the question of why the government felt that it had to totally screw up a successful system. Instead of killing a system that works well, why could we have not tried to augment that system with a similar one that would encourage innovation. I mean, we have the blueprint right there.

An open question: What would be equally interesting would be the trends - how is Canada doing w.r.t. the other countries as a function of time. And, especially, how the recent changes wrought by our political lords and masters are effecting this trend. Given that we have already seen reports that NRC, for example, is producing fewer papers, I cannot think that the changes are for the good.

But maybe, against all my spidey-senses, these metrics are getting better. We need the data - the evidence - to see if the changes are having overall positive effects. I wonder if we will ever get it.