Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

Have Americans reached peak scholarship?

Bryan Alexander conjectured that Americans might be reaching peak scholarship. That is, whereas we are used to science as an ever expanding industry… it could be that American scientific production has reached its maximum.

You should read Alexander’s article for the reasoning behind such a conjecture, but I was interested to check whether we could gather hard numbers related to this conjecture. So I went to the SRI index to see how many papers per year various countries publish.

I do not trust the numbers for 2012, which show a decline of the number of American publications. However, the plot clearly shows Western Europe distancing the US, and Asia passing everyone, with a very sustained slope.

Maybe it is fairer to compare the US with similar countries like Canada and Australia. When we do so, we see that whereas the number of publications in the US grew by 50% in the last 16 years, it doubled in Canada and almost tripled in Australia.

It is not just the growth that is slow in the US. The per capita numbers are low as well. The US has 9 times the population of Canada, but it only publishes 6 times the number of papers!

    USA   Canada   Australia 
1996 322,840 40,421 22,720
2012 493,337 79,017 62,200
2012/1996 1.5 2.0 2.7

Of course, it is only one data source, but it supports the theory that Americans might have reached a scholarship plateau.