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World-class research in BRICK countries catching up with G7

The growing influence of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea (BRICKs) in the global economy and research landscape could lead to disruptive changes, according to a new report published by the Intellectual Property & Science business of Thomson Reuters. The report, entitled Building Bricks: Exploring the global research and innovation impact of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea, shows that the BRICKs are catching up with the G7 knowledge economies in scientific output and patent activity, showcasing research portfolios of world-class excellence.

While Russia, India, China and South Korea have somewhat diversified research portfolios, where physics, chemistry, engineering and materials are the lead areas, Brazil stands out as distinctly different, life and environmental sciences leading all the way. In 2011, Brazil’s research output alone accounted for 8.8% of the world’s agricultural sciences publications. But the absence of physical science technologies in its main areas of research could become a “limiting factor on economic development”. India and South Korea, on the other hand, are more diverse, with a mix of life and physical sciences. China and Russia are much more evidently dominated by the physical sciences.

While South Korea and Brazil steadily develop an upward curve in the number of their publications, China dominates the picture, with research outputs that exceeded 150 000 papers in 2011. In the area of materials science, it accounted for 24.5% of the world’s output, and for 20% in chemistry and 18 % in physics. India, referred to as a ‘sleeping giant’, is expected to match EU leading countries by 2020.

China has steadily increased its R&D investment, with a 2.5-fold relative increase in Gross Expenditure on R&D between 2007-2011, averaging investment levels in France and in the UK. This somewhat overshadows South Korea’s achievements, although the report shows that South Korea in fact invests much more in R&D than Germany. Russia, on the other hand, is lagging behind, and this lack of investment no doubt plays a role in the country’s struggling research output.

But quantity is nothing without quality, and even though the number of very highly-cited papers has increased impressively over the years, there is still a long way to go before the BRICK research bases match Japan’s and the West’s impact benchmarks. Training talented people takes time, and for them to become independent researchers and start training new people takes even longer.