Public Release: 

British Industrial Science Is Alive And Well

SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research

Some British companies are publishing more academic papers than a medium-sized university. This was one of the conclusions to emerge in the latest report from the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), analysing trends in scientific publications.

ICI, for example was involved in over 4,600 publications, while SmithKline Beecham, Wellcome and AEA Technology all showed a score of well over 2,000. By contrast, approximately one third of British universities participated in fewer than 2,000 papers.

The Changing Shape of British Industrial Research analyses the 41,000 scientific and technical articles which were published in the UK between 1981 and 1994, and which have at least one author located in a UK-based company.

The report finds that:

  • companies publish papers across a wide range of sectors, with the pharmaceutical and chemical sectors most prominent. Amongst small firms, the new biotechnology firms outshine others;
  • during the period studied, there was a substantial expansion in publications in the health, chemicals, communications and SME (small- to medium-sized enterprises) sectors, and a decline in the atomic energy, electricity and electronics sectors;
  • industry publications were well cited (and therefore well regarded by their peers) with those in the life sciences being more highly cited than the typical academic paper;
  • in almost all sectors collaborative papers involving authors from more than one institution outnumber non-collaborative, with university researchers being the favoured partners. In 1994, 40% of industrial publications involved a university research partner.

This is the second report by Drs Diana Hicks and Sylvan Katz based on their BESST (Bibliometric Evaluation of Sectoral Scientific Trajectories) project within the ESRC-funded STEEP research centre at SPRU. The first phase of the project, reported in The Changing Shape of British Science, (SPRU, Oct 1995) tracked all UK scientific publications between 1981 and 1992, analysing trends and discovering which institutes in which sectors are publishing papers, in which fields and with whom.

This present report is a sequel to the first and concentrates entirely on industrial publications. Hicks' and Katz' research methods are outlined in detail in the report. Desktop scientometrics, the process of cleaning up and 'data mining' vast amounts of information on published research is explained. The report also comes with a disk of PC-accessible Excel 5 tables, for others to look at and analyse the results of their investigations.

"It is common to ask what science can do for companies. Here we ask what companies are doing for science", say the authors. The answer is that British industrial research is contributing substantively to the science base and has shown itself to be "dynamic, diverse and adaptive".

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