Publications, Science and Technology Observatory (OST)

France maintains a specific scientific profile among the intensive-research countries but sees its performance slipping

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Hcéres has published its third report on France’s scientific position in Europe and the world. Covering the period from 2005-2018, it updates the previous observations and adds analysis of a number of different facets: the breakdown by panel of applications to the European Research Council (ERC), a comparison of publications by French Initiatives of Excellence (IDEX) with those from European and American research universities, and the scientific profiles of French regions.

Rapport PSF 2021Using data on scientific publications and a classification that corresponds to the ERC's panels, this new report from the Science and Technology Observatory offers several lessons:

  • France ranked 6th in terms of publications in 2005, but was 9th in 2018, behind Italy and South Korea. Its global share of publications fell by a third between 2015 and 2018, the second sharpest drop behind Japan and ahead of the United States.
  • In 2017, in the centile of the most-cited publications, the United States remains the leader ahead of China, while France slips to 8th place from 5th in 2005.
  • In 2016-18, an analysis of France's scientific profile shows that it is not highly specialised in the fields that produce the most publications worldwide, nor in the fields that have been the most dynamic since the start of the 21st century.
  • The disciplinary profile of the regions varies, but the fields where France is the most specialised (the study of humanity's past, mathematics, astro and earth sciences, immunity and infection) have a strong presence throughout the country.
  • France's share in the ERC's applications by panel is consistent with the profile of its publications that follow the same classification: strong in the physical sciences and engineering, average in life sciences, and weak in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Between 2007 and 2017, the volume of publications from IDEXes grew at the same rate as universities belonging to the Association of American Universities (AAU), whereas that of the universities of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) outside France saw stronger growth. The IDEX indicators of publication excellence are better than those of France ex-IDEX but remain below those of LERU outside France and the AAU.

This report supplements the foreign and international reports and rankings, where the data on France is not systematic. In conclusion, it considers various further analyses to confirm or refine certain results or to analyse the factors behind the performance of the French research system.