Who has the most bioinformatics scientists?

By Grant Jacobs 27/07/2010

Every day I receive a number of marketing emails, including those advertising research databases.

Today I received one from a regular source* that offered this table as an example of it’s contents:

Top 10 Countries for Bioinformatics Research (ranked by number of senior Bioinformatics researchers)

United States Of America (44,561)

Japan (4,269)

Germany (4,076)

United Kingdom (3,901)

France (2,677)

Canada (2,262)

Italy (1,833)

Australia (1,022)

Spain (999)

China (991)

New Zealand is indicated to have 125 senior bioinformatics scientists.

These results are taken from a database formed from collecting information of institutional websites and parsing the contents for information, natural text mining. Bear that in mind when considering the accuracy of the numbers shown.

My (strong) suspicion is that these data will include a number of senior scientists whose work includes bioinformatics somewhere in it, along with those who specialise in bioinformatics, with the effect that the counts of ‘senior bioinformatics researchers’ are too high. Bearing this in mind, these data may still give a general reflection of the extent to which bioinformatics is practiced in different nations and has the mindset of senior scientists.

I’m not surprised to see the USA top the list, the data are absolute counts after all. Germany and England come as no surprise either, as these two countries have traditionally been strong in bioinformatics, being leaders in the field from the 1980s and earlier. Canada doesn’t surprise me that much; their government have put a lot of money into genomics over the past few years.

What caught me slightly off-guard were Japan, France, Italy and in particular Australia. In fact, the latter is what prompted me to write this article. I expected Japan to do well, but not for it to rank second. Australia is doing particularly well when you bear in mind the populations of the countries.

Below I’ve reworked these data as per million of the respective national population using wikipedia’s list of countries by population. (To compound problems with the data, the population figures come from different years…) For good measure I’ve added New Zealand:

USA 143.8

Canada 66.2

UK 62.9

Germany 49.9

Australia 45.6

France 40.9

Japan 33.5

Italy 30.4

New Zealand 28.5

Spain 21.3

China 0.8

Compared on a population basis, Japan falls to something more like what I would have intuitively expected whereas Australia remains strong, ranking close to the expected leaders. China, of course, drops dramatically owing to it’s billion-plus population.

I may later generate a new ‘top ten’ taken from all countries, ranking them by senior bioinformatics per national population. I expect, for example, Iceland to do well, having a very small population with a large genetics effort (deCODE genetics) based there. (I’ve got the data at hand, but need time…)

* I’m a bit reluctant to stand accused of ‘advertising’ a product, but it’s the Maven Semantic Database, which I haven’t trialled to any real extent.

Other articles on Code for life:

Beyond Preaching to the Choir

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

Friday picture: molecular modelling of the cytoplasm

Reproducible research and computational biology

Developing bioinformatics methods: by who and how

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