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Scientific Research Papers World Map

If the world were mapped according to how many scientific research papers each country produced, it would take on a rather bizarre, uneven appearance. This image makes a dramatic point about the complexities of global inequalities in knowledge production and exchange.

Scientific papers cover physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, clinical medicine, biomedical research, engineering, technology, and earth and space sciences.

The number of scientific papers published by researchers in the United States was more than three times as many as were published by the second highest-publishing population, Japan.

There is more scientific research, or publication of results, in richer territories. This locational bias is such that roughly three times more scientific papers per person living there are published in Western Europe, North America, and Japan, than in any other region.

Money and technology are needed to produce research. The average research and development intensity – that is, as a percentage of GDP – was 2.4% for OECD countries in 2009. But few developing countries had reached 1%. Without sufficient national funds, researchers must spend a great deal of time fundraising and dealing with grant organizations outside their universities. This means less time for actually undertaking and producing research.

When it comes to technology, substantial bandwidth powers the global north and connects it to its neighbors. The internet is far slower and more expensive in Africa, making collaboration between researchers on the continent difficult and making it tougher for them than those in the US, Europe and Asia.

These technical, financial and even mechanical issues are easy to identify. It is tempting to put one’s faith in the idea that more money and machines will solve the problems of knowledge production inequality. But it’s not that simple.


Starting to change the map will require several steps. Firstly, funding and technological infrastructure must be improved. At the same time, our own perceptions of “science” must be broadened to encompass the social sciences.

Research outputs need to be recognized as existing beyond the boundaries of the formal journal article. Incentives and reward systems need to be adjusted to encourage and legitimize the new, fairer practices that are made possible in a digitally networked world.

And finally, the open access movement needs to broaden its focus from access to knowledge to full participation in knowledge creation and in scholarly communication.

Of interest