Countries Collaborate for the Sake of Science

According to research presented earlier this month, more scientists from all over the world are collaborating to further our understanding of science than ever before. This trend is not driven by any one culture, researchers argue, but by the global network upon which scientific research has become ever more reliant.

From 1990 to 2015, the number of scientific papers the had multiple authors from more than one country doubled, according to Caroline Wagner, associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. Her research, which she presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb. 17, also indicated that the percentage of scientific papers that represented such international collaboration rose from 10 to 25 percent during that time.

Even those who follow science may be surprised by how quickly international collaboration in scientific studies is growing, according to new research.

"Those are astonishing numbers," Wagner said in an interview with "In the 20th century, we had national systems for conducting research. In this century, we increasingly have a global system."

Wagner's research revealed that international scientific collaboration is not only occurring with more frequency than expected, but that this increase is evident in every field of science that she has studied. You could see why scientists in fields like physics and astronomy might be motivated to share expensive equipment, such as the Large Hadron Collider or the International Space Station, but even mathematicians are now working together, Wagner said.

"You would think that researchers in math wouldn't have a need to collaborate internationally - but I found they do work together, and at an increasing rate," Wagner said. "The methods of doing research don't determine patterns of collaboration. No matter how scientists do their work, they are collaborating more across borders."

The International Space Station mural and flags of participant countries. Credit:

Globalism on the Rise

Wagner — collaborating herself with two Dutch Scientists — reported data last month showing increased international partnerships in research conducted in six fields (astrophysics, mathematical logic, polymer science, seismology, soil science, and virology) in a paper published in the journal Scientometrics. And this growth does not simply represent the same international collaborators publishing a greater amount of research, Wagner argues.

"Our findings show that a global network of collaboration continues to add new nations and new participants," Wagner and her coauthors state in their study's abstract.

Wagner and her coauthors attribute this increase in international partnership to scientific networks that are converging at the global level. Our international boarders are a smaller obstacle to personal and professional connections than ever before, and scientists are able to look beyond their local and national networks to find specialists who can bring the exact skills and perspective needed for the research they want to conduct.

This ability of scientists from different countries to work together has benefited their research, Wagner's study indicates. The increase in international collaboration was correlated to an increase in scientific impact of the research in those fields.

Only time will tell if this trend continues.

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