, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 329–344 | Cite as

A comparison of the scientific performance of the U.S. and the European union at the turn of the 21st century

  • Pedro Albarrán
  • Juan A. Crespo
  • Ignacio Ortuño
  • Javier Ruiz-CastilloEmail author


In this paper, scientific performance is identified with the impact that journal articles have through the citations they receive. In 15 disciplines, as well as in all sciences as a whole, the EU share of total publications is greater than that of the U.S. However, as soon as the citations received by these publications are taken into account the picture is completely reversed. Firstly, the EU share of total citations is still greater than the U.S. in only seven fields. Secondly, the mean citation rate in the U.S. is greater than in the EU in every one of the 22 fields studied. Thirdly, since standard indicators—such as normalized mean citation ratios—are silent about what takes place in different parts of the citation distribution, this paper compares the publication shares of the U.S. and the EU at every percentile of the world citation distribution in each field. It is found that in seven fields the initial gap between the U.S. and the EU widens as we advance towards the more cited articles, while in the remaining 15 fields—except for Agricultural Sciences—the U.S. always surpasses the EU when it counts, namely, at the upper tail of citation distributions. Finally, for all sciences as a whole the U.S. publication share becomes greater than that of the EU for the top 50% of the most highly cited articles. The data used refers to 3.6 million articles published in 1998–2002, and the more than 47 million citations they received in 1998–2007.


Research performance Citation analysis Scientific ranking European paradox 



The authors acknowledge financial support from the Spanish MEC through grants SEJ2007-63098, SEJ2006-05710, SEJ2007-67135, and SEJ2007-67436. The database of Thomson Scientific (formerly Thomson-ISI; Institute for Scientific Information) has been acquired with funds from Santander Universities Global Division of Banco Santander. This paper is part of the SCIFI-GLOW Collaborative Project supported by the European Commission’s Seventh Research Framework Programme, Contract number SSH7-CT-2008-217436. Suggestions by a referee helped to improve a previous version of the paper.


  1. Adams, J. (1998). Benchmarking international research. Nature, 396, 615–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adler, R, Erwing, J, & Taylor, P. (2008). Citation Statistics, a report from the International Mathematical Union (IMU) in cooperation with the International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS).Google Scholar
  3. Albarrán, P., & Ruiz-Castillo, J. (2009). References made and citations received by scientific articles. Working Paper 09-81, Economics Series 45, Universidad Carlos III.Google Scholar
  4. Albarrán, P., Crespo, J., Ortuño, I., & Ruiz-Castillo, J. (2009). A Comparison of the Scientific Performance of the U.S. and Europe at the Turn of the XX Century. Working Paper 09-55, Economics Series 34, Universidad Carlos III (
  5. Anderson, J., Collins, P., Irvine, J., Isard, P., Martin, B., Narin, F., et al. (1988). On-line approaches to measuring national scientific output: A cautionary tale. Science and Public Policy, 15, 153–161.Google Scholar
  6. Archambault, E., Vignola-Gagne, E., Côté, G., Larivière, V., & Gingras, Y. (2006). Benchmarking scientific output in the social sciences and humanities: The limits of existing databases. Scientometrics, 68, 329–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Batty, M. (2003). The geography of scientific citation. Environment and Planning A, 35, 761–770.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dosi, G., Llerena, P., & Sylos Labini, M. (2006). Science-technology-industry links and the ‘European Paradox’: Some notes on the dynamics of scientific and technological research in Europe. Research Policy, 35, 1450–1464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. EC. (1994). First European report on science and technology indicators. Luxembourg: Directorate-General XII, Science, Research, and Development, Office for Official Publications of the European Community.Google Scholar
  10. EC. (1997). Second European report on science and technology indicators. Luxembourg: Directorate-General XII, Science, Research, and Development, Office for Official Publications of the European Community.Google Scholar
  11. EC. (2002). Key Figures. Towards a European research area. Science, technology, and innovation. Luxembourg: Research Directorate General, Office for Official Publications of the European Community.Google Scholar
  12. EC. (2003a). Third European report on science and technology indicators. Directorate-General for Research. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Community.
  13. EC. (2003b). From ‘European Paradox’ to declining competitiveness? Snapshots, 4. In Key Figures 2003/2004, Directorate-General for Research. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Community,
  14. Glänzel, W. (2000). Science in Scandinavia: A bibliometric approach. Scientometrics, 48, 121–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Glänzel, W. (2001). National characteristics in international scientific co-authorship relations. Scientometrics, 51, 69–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Glänzel, W., Schubert, A., & Braun, T. (2002). A relational charting approach to the world of basic research in twelve science fields at the end of the second millennium. Scientometrics, 55, 335–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grupp, H., & Mogee, M. E. (2004). Indicators for National Science and Technology Policy: How robust are composite indicators? Research Policy, 33, 1373–1384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Katz, J. S. (2000). Scale-independent indicators and research evaluation. Science and Public Policy, 27, 23–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. King, D. (2004). The scientific impact of nations. Nature, 430, 311–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Leydesdorff, L., & Wagner, C. (2009). Is the United States losing ground in science? A global perspective on the world science system. Scientometrics, 78, 23–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. May, R. (1997). The scientific wealth of nations. Science, 275, 793–796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. May, R. (1998). The scientific investments of nations. Science, 281, 879–880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moed, H. F., & van Raan A. F. J. (1988). Indicators of research performance. In A. F. J. van Raan (ed.), Handbook of quantitative studies of science and technology (pp. 177–192). North Holland.Google Scholar
  24. Moed, H. F., Burger, W. J., Frankfort, J. G., & van Raan, A. F. J. (1985). The use of bibliometric data for the measurement of university research performance. Research Policy, 14, 131–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moed, H. F., De Bruin, R. E., & van Leeuwen, Th. N. (1995). New bibliometrics tools for the assessment of national research performance: Database description, overview of indicators, and first applications. Scientometrics, 133, 381–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shelton, R., & Holdridge, G. (2004). The US-EU race for leadership of science and technology: Qualitative and quantitative indicators. Scientometrics, 60, 353–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tijssen, R., & van Leeuwen, T. (2003). Bibliomeric analysis of world science. Extended technical annex to chapter V of EC (2003a).Google Scholar
  28. Van Leeuwen, T., Moed, H., Tijssen, R., Visser, M., & van Raan, A. (2001). Language biases in the coverage of the science citation index and its consequences for international comparisons of national research performance. Scientometrics, 51, 335–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Van Leeuwen, T., Visser, M., Moed, H., Nederhof, T., & van Raan, A. (2003). The holy grail of science policy: Exploring and combining bibliometric tools in search of scientific excellence. Scientometrics, 57, 257–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pedro Albarrán
    • 1
  • Juan A. Crespo
    • 2
  • Ignacio Ortuño
    • 1
  • Javier Ruiz-Castillo
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de EconomíaUniversidad Carlos IIIMadridSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Economía CuantitativaUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations