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The Scientific Publishing Conundrum

July 19, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 29

The article "Science Is Becoming Truly Worldwide" opens up a number of issues that warrant some debate. The figures do indicate that the U.S. is ahead in the sheer volume of papers published, but in terms of activity it is fairly dilute compared with some other countries. A true measure of the "activity" would be to weight the number of papers by the country's population. This ranking puts the U.S. either sixth or seventh, depending on whether one uses National Science Foundation or Chemical Abstract Services figures.

The industrialization of Asian countries in recent years has been driven largely by investment from Western companies. Research is usually industrially funded/driven, and so this growth will naturally be followed by an increase in research within those countries. C&EN reported that 26.6% of Ph.D.s were earned by noncitizens on temporary visas (C&EN, April 19, page 52). These people will most likely be returning to their home countries to continue research and publish papers. As these nations become more industrialized, will we see a decrease in those trading their home nations for the U.S. in order to pursue a career in research when the same career is available at home? I suspect so.

The small increase in papers produced in the U.S. and rapid increase in papers produced elsewhere, particularly in Asia, should not be seen as a failing of U.S. science. It is purely a symptom of current global market conditions. Where the U.S. may lose ground is in attracting and retaining "homegrown" talent into scientific research rather than losing the best and brightest to careers such as law or investment banking. Issues such as the discrepancy between academic and industrial salaries need to be addressed along with the overall appeal of science as a career.

Engineering salaries offer a more attractive career than those in subjects such as physics and chemistry, but engineering produces fewer papers. For the U.S. to maintain its global position in scientific research, it must ensure that future generations want to do this research. With the general population's increase in standard of living and the increase in free time over the past 40 or 50 years, the emphasis on job satisfaction is moving to a balance between job satisfaction and earning as much as possible. Research careers are losing out by not offering the same remuneration as others with higher monetary rewards.

Dan Cooper
West Deptford, N.J.



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