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fact sheet
22 October 2020

Development of the scientific research profile of the Netherlands

Citation-impact publications International comparison
Dutch scientific research has developed strongly in recent years in the fields of Health sciences and Social Sciences. There has been an increase in the citation impact in those fields and in the relative extent of the volume of publications. In Agricultural sciences, Natural sciences, and Engineering the Netherlands – like other Western countries – has lost ground due to the surge in Chinese research. In 2018 the Netherlands had the smallest proportion of publications compared to other countries in the fields of Natural sciences and Engineering and the largest proportion in the field of Health sciences.

In short

  • In 2018, the Netherlands are in the top 5 of reference countries with the highest citation impact score in all scientific fields.
  • Over the period 2003-2018, the number of Dutch publications increases in all scientific fields.
  • The share of publications relative to other countries has fallen, mainly due to the strong rise of Chinese science.

The citation impact indicates the extent to which reference is made to scientific publications. The more an article is cited, the higher its scientific impact.

This fact sheet discusses differences in citation impact and publication volume between different scientific fields. The fields of Humanities and Law have not been included because no reliable conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the data for those fields. We compare the Netherlands with 20 reference countries, over the period from 2000‑2003 (indicated by “2003”) to 2015-2018 (indicated by “2018”).

This fact sheet is based on publication and citation data from the citation index system drawn up by the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS), which is based on raw data from Web of Science. The data provides an indication of developments, but does not give a complete picture of all aspects relevant to the quality and extent of Dutch science.

Research profile of the Netherlands

The figure below compares the citation impact score with an indicator of volume: the percentage of Dutch articles in the total number of articles in a given scientific field. The arrows indicate the profile for each field in 2003 and in 2018. To give a clear indication of the trend in development over that period, a straight line has been drawn between 2003 and 2018.

Research profile
Source: Clarivate Analytics/ WoS database, extraction by Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) and analysis by Rathenau Instituut.
Note: Humanities are not included because the number of publications in the Web of Science database is too small (Van Leeuwen, 2013).

Development of citation impact score

The above graph shows a number of trends:

  • The Netherlands is doing very well. The citation impact score for all fields in 2018 is well above the global average (1.0).
  • The citation impact was increasing for almost all fields over the entire period. The exceptions are Engineering, where the citation impact fluctuates over the entire period but remains broadly the same and Nature, where the citation impact decreases.
  • The greatest development was in the fields of Health and Social Sciences.

A similar picture is apparent from the proportion of publications that are among the top 10% most cited publications worldwide: all the fields score (well) above average and show an increase over the entire period. The exception is once again Nature, which decreases over time.

In short, the Netherlands has developed in such a way that all the scientific fields now score well above the global average.

 

Development in volume

As regards the relative proportion of publications, the Netherlands shows an increase in the scientific fields of Social Sciences and Health sciences and a decrease in Agricultural sciences, Natural sciences, and Engineering. The rise of China plays a major role in this decline. The proportion of Chinese publications in the fields of Agricultural sciences, Natural sciences, and Engineering increased more sharply between 2003 and 2018 than in the reference countries, namely by 16, 16 and 24 percentage points respectively. As a result, the proportion of Agricultural sciences, Natural sciences, and Engineering publications is declining in a large majority of the reference countries.

When China is excluded from the reference countries, the proportion of Dutch Agricultural sciences, Natural sciences, and Engineering publications  remains roughly the same: Agricultural sciences goes from 2.8% to 2.6%; Natural sciences from 2.4% to 2.6%; Engineering from 2.2% to 2.2%. In the field of Health and Social Science, the proportion of Dutch publications without China in fact rises more sharply; Health from 3.0% to 3.8%; Social Sciences from 3.1% to 4.2% of the production of the reference countries.

In the following sections, we discuss the citation impact score and the proportion of Dutch publications in greater detail by making explicit comparisons with the reference countries.

Citation impact score: comparison with reference countries

In 2018, the Netherlands was in the top 5 of reference countries with the highest citation impact score for all scientific fields. In the table below, the position of the Netherlands in each field is underlined. Striking points are:

  • In 2018, the Netherlands had the highest citation impact score for Social Sciences of all countries.
  • For Agriculture, the Netherlands ranked second, after Singapore.
  • In Health, the Netherlands ranked third in 2018, after the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
  • In Engineering, the Netherlands ranked fourth and in Nature fifth.
  • The only other country in the top 5 for all fields in 2018 was the United Kingdom.
Top5 Countries
Source: Clarivate Analytics/ WoS database, extraction CWTS and analysis by Rathenau Instituut.

Development of the position of the Netherlands

 

If we look at the development of the citation impact score since 2003 as compared to the reference countries, then the following trends are apparent:

  • The Netherlands has developed strongly in the field of Social Sciences: in 2003 it was in 6th place and in 2018 in 1st place.
  • For Agricultural sciences, the Netherlands was in the top 3 over the entire period.
  • For Health, the Netherlands was in the top 4 over the entire period.
  • For Natural sciences, the Netherlands decreased from 3rd place in 2003 to 5th place in 2018.
  • For Engineering, the Netherlands increased from the 6th place in 2003 to 4th place in 2018.
     

Citation impact at discipline level 

As regards scientific disciplines, the Netherlands scored (well) above the global average in 2018 in almost all disciplines. There are four disciplines for which the citation impact score fell by more than 10%, all within the “STEM” fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics):

  • Computer science
  • Physics and material science
  • Mathematics
  • Instruments and instrumentation

The appendix contains the data at discipline level.

Publication output: comparison with reference countries

The graph below shows the percentage distribution of publications by country across the scientific fields in 2018, ranked by the proportion for Natural sciences. It is immediately apparent that the Netherlands has the smallest proportion of Natural sciences and Engineering publications. It is also apparent that the Netherlands has the largest proportion of Health publications. The Netherlands also has a high proportion of publications in Social Sciences.

Over the period from 2003 to 2018, the number of publications for the Netherlands increased in all scientific fields.  Growth in the number of publications for Social Sciences and Health sciences was also faster in the Netherlands than the average for the reference countries.

On average, however, publications for Engineering, Agricultural sciences, and Natural sciences increased more strongly in the reference countries than in the Netherlands. The data shows the powerful influence of China. Over the period as a whole, the total number of Chinese publications increased by almost 800%, far more than in other countries.

If we exclude China, then the development of Dutch publications in the fields of Engineering, Agricultural sciences, and Natural sciences are close to the development of the reference countries.

Publication output at discipline level

A similar picture is apparent as regards volume growth for the disciplines. Dutch publications in all the social sciences are increasing more strongly than in the reference countries. For all “(natural) sciences and technical” disciplines, except astronomy, the increase is stronger in the reference countries. Even if we exclude China, the increase in the vast majority of “(natural) sciences and technical” disciplines is stronger in the reference countries.

The “life sciences and health” disciplines display a mixed picture. For example, whereas the Netherlands has increased more in Health Sciences than the reference countries, those countries have increased more in the field of Fundamental medical sciences.

More information about the disciplines is provided in the appendix.

In conclusion

We see that the citation impact score has risen most strongly since 2003 in the fields of Social Sciences and Health sciences. The proportion of publications in relation to the reference countries has also increased for these fields.

Compared to other countries, the Netherlands published the most in the field of Health in 2018 and also in the field of Social Sciences. For Natural sciences and Engineering, the citation impact score in 2003 was already well above the global average, and has since remained more or less the same, and decreased slightly for Nature. The proportion of publications as compared to other countries has decreased, mainly due to the strong rise of Chinese science. If we exclude China, the Netherlands’ proportion remains roughly the same. Compared to other countries, the Netherlands published the least in 2018 in the fields of Agriculture, Natural sciences and Engineering.

It is difficult to explain the observed differences between the fields in greater detail. This is partly because it is not possible to combine data on publications with (international) figures on FTEs or expenditure because different classifications are used and because the correlation can vary greatly between the different fields.

In order to give a rough indication, we looked at Dutch public-sector R&D expenditure divided across four units: “humanities/social sciences”, “(natural) sciences”, “agricultural sciences”, and “medical sciences”. Data is only available for the period 2007-2015. We then see that R&D expenditure on “agricultural sciences” has risen by 21% and on “(natural) sciences” by 24%, but that expenditure on “humanities/social sciences” and “medical” research has increased more sharply, by 40% and 49% respectively (Eurostat figures). This corroborates the picture of the developments in Dutch science as outlined in this factsheet.
 

About the data
Definitions and abbreviations

Sources

The CWTS citation index-systeem, that is based on data of Web of Science  

2Eurostat

Van Leeuwen, T.N. (2013). Bibliometric research evaluations, Web of Science and the social sciences and humanities: a problematic relationship? Bibliometrie - Praxis und Forschung, band 2 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5283/bpf.173

Waltman, L. en N.J. van Eck (2015). Field-normalized citation impact indicators and the choice of an appropriate counting method. In: Journal of Informetrics 9, blz. 872–894. Elsevier.