Is science driven by principal investigators?

Abstract

In this paper we consider the question what is the scientific and career performance of principal investigators (PI’s) of publicly funded research projects compared to scientific performance of all researchers. Our study is based on high quality data about (1) research projects awarded in Slovenia in the period 1994–2016 (7508 projects with 2725 PI’s in total) and (2) about scientific productivity of all researchers in Slovenia that were active in the period 1970–2016—there are 19,598 such researchers in total, including the PI’s. We compare average productivity, collaboration, internationality and interdisciplinarity of PI’s and of all active researchers. Our analysis shows that for all four indicators the average performance of PI’s is much higher compared to average performance of all active researchers. Additionally, we analyze careers of both groups of researchers. The results show that the PI’s have on average longer and more fruitful career compared to all active researchers, with regards to all career indicators. The PI’s that have received a postdoc grant have at the beginning outstanding scientific performance, but later deviate towards average. On long run, the PI’s leading the research programs (the most prestigious grants) on average demonstrate the best scientific performance. In the last part of the paper we study 23 co-authorship networks, spanned by all active researchers in the periods 1970–1994, ..., 1970–2016. We find out that they are well connected and that PI’s are well distributed across these networks forming their backbones. Even more, PI’s generate new PI’s, since more than 90% of new PI’s are connected (have at least one joint scientific publication) with existing PI’s. We believe that our study sheds new light to the relations between the public funding of the science and the scientific output and can be considered as an affirmative answer to the question posed in the title.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/sites/horizon2020/files/stratprog_overarching_version_for_publication.pdf.

  2. 2.

    http://www.arhiv.mvzt.gov.si/fileadmin/mvzt.gov.si/pageuploads/pdf/odnosi_z_javnostmi/01.06.2011_dalje/01.06._RISSdz_ENG.pdf.

  3. 3.

    https://www.arrs.gov.si/en/index.asp.

  4. 4.

    http://www.sicris.si/public/jqm/cris.aspx?lang=eng&opdescr=home.

  5. 5.

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn.

  6. 6.

    http://www.cobiss.si/cobiss_eng.html.

  7. 7.

    https://www.izum.si/en/.

  8. 8.

    We say that a publication is scientific if it is classified as an original scientific article, a review article, a short scientific article, a published scientific conference contribution, a published scientific conference contribution abstract, an independent scientific component or a chapter in a monograph, or a scientific monograph.

  9. 9.

    https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1211537.

  10. 10.

    https://www.arrs.gov.si/en/akti/prav-sof-ocen-sprem-razisk-dej-sept-11.asp.

  11. 11.

    https://www.arrs.gov.si/en/analize/obseg01/crp.asp.

  12. 12.

    https://www.arrs.gov.si/en/medn/vodilna/.

  13. 13.

    We do this, since there are several researchers which published a scientific publication long before they obtained their PhD, and after PhD they also obtained a postdoctoral project, resulting in statistically irrelevant long tails in the career path analyses. We take 7 years as a sum of 4 years of doctoral studies and three year period to obtain the project.

  14. 14.

    Such a big difference surprised us, so we computed these averages also for both groups after ignoring (1) the researchers that have stopped within 3 years after the first publication (they probably had left academia after PhD, so are not typical members of the research community) and (2) the researchers that are still active, since we do not know when they will stop (we kept only those who haven’t publish anything in the years 2015–2016; they probably had stopped their publication career already). However, the gap remains almost the same (the average for PI’s was 26.4 and the average for all active researchers was 15.3).

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Acknowledgements

This research was partially supported by Slovenian Research Agency Program P1-0383 and Projects J1-8155, N1-0057.

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Correspondence to Andrej Kastrin.

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Kastrin, A., Klisara, J., Lužar, B. et al. Is science driven by principal investigators?. Scientometrics 117, 1157–1182 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-018-2900-x

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Keywords

  • Research performance
  • Career performance
  • Principal investigator
  • Bibliographic network
  • Research evaluation