Growth of international collaboration in science: revisiting six specialties


International collaboration in science continues to grow at a remarkable rate, but little agreement exists about dynamics of growth and organization at the discipline level. Some suggest that disciplines differ in their collaborative tendencies, reflecting their epistemic culture. This study examines collaborative patterns in six previously studied specialties to add new data and analyze patterns over time. Our findings show that a global network of collaboration continues to add new nations and new participants; since 1990, each specialty has added many new nations to lists of collaborating partners. We also find that the scope of international collaboration is positively related to impact. Network characteristics for the six specialties are notable in that instead of reflecting underlying culture, they tend towards convergence at the global level. This observation suggests that the global level may represent next-order dynamics that feed back to the national and local levels (as subsystems) in a complex, networked hierarchy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Fig. 1

Data: Web of Science

Fig. 2

Data: Scopus

Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Abt, H. A. (2007). The frequencies of multinational papers in various sciences. Scientometrics, 72(1), 105–115.

  2. Adams, J. (2012). Collaborations: The rise of research networks. Nature, 490(7420), 335–336.

  3. Adams, J. (2013). The fourth age of research. Nature, 497, 557–559.

  4. Adams, J. Black, G, Clemmons, R. Stephan, P. Scientific teams and institutional collaborations: Evidence from U.S. universities, 1981–1999 (2005), Research Policy 34, 259-285.

  5. Barabási, A. L., Jeong, H., Neda, Z., Ravasz, E., Schubert, A., & Vicsek, T. (2002). Evolution of the social network of scientific collaborations. Physica A, 311(3–4), 590–614.

  6. Barjak, F., & Robinson, S. (2008). International collaboration, mobility and team diversity in the life sciences: impact on research performance. Social Geography, 3(1), 23–36.

  7. Borgatti, S. P., Everett, M. G., & Freeman, L. C. (2002). UCInet for windows: Software for social network analysis. Harvard: Analytic Technologies.

  8. Bornmann, L., Wagner, C., & Leydesdorff, L. (2015). BRICS countries and scientific excellence: A bibliometric analysis of most frequently cited papers. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(7), 1507–1513.

  9. Choi, S. (2012). Core-periphery, new clusters, or rising stars? international scientific collaboration among ‘advanced’ countries in the era of globalization. Scientometrics, 90(1), 25–41.

  10. Choi, S., Yang, J. S., & Park, H. W. (2015). The triple helix and international collaboration in science. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66(1), 201–212.

  11. De Nooy, W., Mrvar, A., & Batagelj, V. (2011). Exploratory social network analysis with Pajek (Vol. 27). Cambridge University Press.

  12. De Solla Price, D. J., & Beaver, D. (1966). Collaboration in an invisible college. American Psychologist, 21(11), 1011.

  13. Doré, J.-C., Ojasoo, T., & Okubo, Y. (1996). Correspondence factorial analysis of the publication patterns of 48 countries over the period 1981–1992. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 47(8), 588–602.

  14. Folke, C., Hahn, T., Olsson, P., & Norberg, J. (2005). Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 30, 441–473.

  15. Frenken, K., Hoekman, J., Kok, S., Ponds, R., van Oort, F., & van Vliet, J. (2009). Death of distance in science? A gravity approach to research collaboration. In Innovation networks (pp. 43-57). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

  16. Gazni, A., Sugimoto, C. R., & Didegah, F. (2012). Mapping world scientific collaboration: Authors, institutions, and countries. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(2), 323–335.

  17. Gilsing, V., Nooteboom, B., Vanhaverbeke, W., Duysters, G., & van den Oord, A. (2008). Network embeddedness and the exploration of novel technologies: Technological distance, betweenness centrality and density. Research Policy, 37(10), 1717–1731.

  18. Girvan, M., & Newman, M. E. (2002). Community structure in social and biological networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(12), 7821–7826.

  19. Glänzel, W., & De Lange, C. (2002). A distributional approach to multinationality measures of international scientific collaboration. Scientometrics, 54, 75–89.

  20. Glänzel, W., & Schubert, A. (2001). Double effort = double impact? A critical view at international co-authorship in chemistry. Scientometrics, 50(2), 199–214.

  21. Glänzel, W., & Schubert, A. (2005). Domesticity and internationality in co-authorship, references and citations. Scientometrics, 65(3), 323–342.

  22. Halevi, G., Moed, H. F., & Bar-Ilan, J. (2016). Researchers’ mobility, productivity and impact: Case of top producing authors in seven disciplines. Publishing Research Quarterly, 32(1), 22–37.

  23. He, T. (2009). International scientific collaboration of China with the G7 countries. Scientometrics, 80(3), 571–582.

  24. Hoekman, J., Frenken, K., & Tijssen, R. J. (2010). Research collaboration at a distance: Changing spatial patterns of scientific collaboration within Europe. Research Policy, 39(5), 662–673.

  25. Jeong, H., Néda, Z., & Barabási, A. L. (2003). Measuring preferential attachment in evolving networks. EPL (Europhysics Letters), 61(4), 567.

  26. Jonkers, K., & Cruz-Castro, L. (2013). Research upon return: The effect of international mobility on scientific ties, production and impact. Research Policy, 42(8), 1366–1377.

  27. Katz, J. (1994). Geographical proximity and scientific collaboration. Scientometrics, 31(1), 31–43.

  28. Kontopoulos, K. M. (1993). The logics of social structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  29. Luukkonen, T., Persson, O., & Sivertsen, G. (1992). Understanding patterns of international scientific collaboration. Science, Technology and Human Values, 17(1), 101–126.

  30. Mattsson, P., Laget, P., Nilsson, A., & Sundberg, C. J. (2008). Intra-EU vs. Extra-EU scientific co-publication patterns in EU. Scientometrics, 75(3), 555–574.

  31. Miquel, J. F., & Okubo, Y. (1994). Structure of international collaboration in sciences. Comparisons of profiles in countries using a link indicator, Scientometrics, 29, 271–294.

  32. Monge, P. R., & Contractor, N. S. (2003). Theories of communication networks. USA: Oxford University Press.

  33. Narin, F., Stevens, K., & Whitlow, E. (1991). Scientific co-operation in Europe and the citation of multinationally authored papers. Scientometrics, 21(3), 313–323.

  34. Newman, M. E. (2001a). Clustering and preferential attachment in growing networks. Physical Review E, 64(2), 025102.

  35. Newman, M. E. (2001b). The structure of scientific collaboration networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(2), 404–409.

  36. Padgett, J. F., & Powell, W. W. (2012). The emergence of organizations and markets. Princeton: University Press.

  37. Palla, G., Barabási, A. L., & Vicsek, T. (2007). Quantifying social group evolution. Nature, 446(7136), 664–667.

  38. Persson, O., Glänzel, W., & Danell, R. (2004). Inflationary bibliometric values: The role of scientific collaboration and the need for relative indicators in evaluative studies. Scientometrics, 60(3), 421–432.

  39. Ponds, R. (2009). The limits to internationalization of scientific research collaboration. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 34(1), 76–94.

  40. Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis. London: Sage Publications.

  41. Simon, H. A. (1977). The organization of complex systems. In Models of discovery (pp. 245–261). Netherlands: Springer.

  42. Simon, H. A. (1991). The architecture of complexity. In G. Klir (Ed.), Facets of Systems Science. International Federation for Systems Research International Series on Systems Science and Engineering (Vol. 7, pp. 457–476). US: Springer.

  43. Sonnenwald, D. H. (2007). Scientific collaboration. Annual review of information science and technology, 41(1), 643–681.

  44. Valverde, S., & Solé, R. V. (2007). Self-organization versus hierarchy in open-source social networks. Physical Review E, 76(4), 046118.

  45. Wagner, C. S. (2005). Six case studies of international collaboration in science. Scientometrics, 62(1), 3–26.

  46. Wagner, C. S., & Leydesdorff, L. (2005). Network structure, self-organization, and the growth of international collaboration in science. Research Policy, 34(10), 1608–1618.

  47. Wagner, C. S., Park, H. W., Leydesdorff, L., & Glanzel, W. (2015). The continuing growth of global cooperation networks in research: A conundrum for national governments. PLOS ONE, 10(7), e0131816.

  48. Whitley, R. (1984). The intellectual and social organisation of the sciences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  49. Wuchty, S., Jones, B. F., & Uzzi, B. (2007a). The increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge. Science, 316(5827), 1036–1039.

  50. Wuchty, S., Jones, B. F., & Uzzi, B. (2007b). Supporting online materials for the increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge.

  51. Zeng, S. X., Xie, X. M., & Tam, C. M. (2010). Relationship between cooperation networks and innovation performance of SMEs. Technovation, 30(3), 181–194.

Download references


We wish to thank Jeroen Bass at Elsevier for assistance in developing the data for the global level and for the specialties for 2008 and 2013. We thank Meng Li for assistance with statistical analysis.

Author information

Correspondence to Caroline S. Wagner.

Appendix 1 List of Journals found to be most central to the specialty, examined for four different years, 1990, 2000, 2008, 2013

Appendix 1 List of Journals found to be most central to the specialty, examined for four different years, 1990, 2000, 2008, 2013

Astrophysics Journals

Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics

Astrophysical Letters and Communications

Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplement Series

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Astronomical Journal

Astronomy Letters-A Journal of Astronomy and Space


Astronomy Reports

Astrophysical Journal

Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series

Astrophysics and Space Science

Publications of The Astronomical Society of Japan

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Publications of The Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Solar Physics

Mathematical Logic

Mathematical Logic Quarterly

History and Philosophy of Logic

Bulletin of Symbolic Logic

Archive for Mathematical Logic

Annals of Pure and Applied Logic

Polymer Science

Progress in Polymer Science

Polymer Bulletin

Macromolecular Symposia


Macromolecular Chemistry and Physics

Journal of Polymer Science Part A-Polymer Chemistry

Journal of Polymer Science Part B-Polymer Physics

Journal of Macromolecular Science-Pure and Applied Chemistry

European Polymer Journal

Biopolymers/Pva Hydrogels/Anionic Polymerisation Nanocomposites


Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering

Bulletin of The Seismological Society of America

Journal of Seismology

Physics of The Earth and Planetary interiors

Earth Planets and Space

Geophysical Journal international

Geophysical Research Letters

Journal of Geophysical Research-Solid Earth


Soil Science

Advances in Agronomy

Australian Journal of Soil Research

Canadian Journal of Soil Science

Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis

European Journal of Soil Science

Forest Ecology and Management


Soil Science Society of America Journal

Soil Science

Soil and Tillage Research


Advances in Virus Research


Advances in Virus Research

Archives of Virology

Journal of General Virology

Journal of Medical Virology

Journal of Virology

Journal of Virological Methods

Virus Genes

Virus Research

Journal of Virology

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Wagner, C.S., Whetsell, T.A. & Leydesdorff, L. Growth of international collaboration in science: revisiting six specialties. Scientometrics 110, 1633–1652 (2017) doi:10.1007/s11192-016-2230-9

Download citation


  • Network structure
  • Science
  • Organization
  • Hierarchy
  • Nation
  • Governance