What science are we doing?

By Shaun Hendy 26/07/2010


What science are New Zealanders working on?  To help me answer this question, I have an intern from MIT here for her summer break.  Luckily for me, she hadn’t heard about Wellington’s winter.  (Not that our spring or summer are up to much either, although we can put on a decent autumn.)

She is a very bright cookie, and she mastered the ISI bibliometric database and our network analysis software in no time at all.  She is mainly studying the bibliometric performance of the Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs), but she has found time to look into other aspects of New Zealand’s bibliometric record.

Inspired by visualisations of the Twitter universe (such as trendsmap), last week we produced a ’tag cloud’ of subject areas Kiwis are publishing in across the main centres.  We picked the top five ISI subject areas in each of the main centres, scaling the text by how often it occurred (i.e. by the total volume of papers published in each subject area).  The 2009 cloud is shown below:

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In Auckland and Dunedin, pharmacology dominates, presumably due to their university medical schools.  In Christchurch and Hamilton, environmental science dominates; in Wellington, it is marine biology; and in Palmerston North, it is veterinary science.

The map clearly shows New Zealand’s strong specialisation in health sciences, the environment, and food and agriculture.  As I pointed out in a previous post, the proportion of articles that Kiwis publish in the health sciences is similar to the rest of the world.  Where we differ from the international norm is the high priority we give agricultural and environmental science and the low priority we assign to the physical sciences.


0 Responses to “What science are we doing?”

  • This is very interesting!

    Did you take into account different publishing rates in different fields? If so how? For example, it’s not uncommon for a mathematician to publish just one or two papers in a year, while in experimental physics they might expect to publish five or six. Could this compound the trend shown in the graph above (as most of the fields, excluding electrical engineering probably have similar publication expectations)?

    I’d also like to know about global influence. For example there is a world class atom optics group in Dunedin. So I’m a little surprised not to see them. Could this be due to biases in the different operating structures of labs and publication cultures between different fields?

    Would/ did you take into account things like citation rates and numbers for papers? I’d be interested to see if there was a difference between citation rates and numbers for citations from the rest of the world and from within New Zealand.

    Please don’t misunderstand me! I’m just very curious. I’d love to see something like this for other places too, e.g. Australia.

  • Hi Ben,

    thanks for your interest. The clouds just represent volume not quality or productivity. We used numbers of papers rather than citations, and we didn’t normalise for different publication rates in different fields. The map was just intended to be a snapshot of what is going on in New Zealand by volume.

    The publication rates may not be as different as you think though – an experimental physics paper will typically have more authors than a mathematics article so publications per person may work out about the same.

    And although the atom optics guys in Dunedin are certainly world class, they are quite small in scale compared to other research groups around the country, world class or otherwise.

    I like the idea of doing a map for Australia. I’ll have to talk nicely to my intern …