Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

South African scientists have steadily increased the number of papers they publish over the past 17 years, and are increasingly collaborating with their international peers, according to research from the University of Stellenbosch.

Greater international collaboration is important because it translates into a higher citation effect and improves access to funding opportunities.

SA’s publication output rose from 3,688 publications in 2000 to 15,500 in 2017, according to an analysis by Stellenbosch University researchers Johann Mouton and Jaco Blanckenberg, based on the Web of Science database.

They found SA’s share of world output, while still small, more than doubled, rising from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.91% in 2016. SA’s world ranking rose from position 34 to 28 over the 17-year period. SA currently constitutes about 0.75% of the world’s population, according to the Worldometers website.

They found the proportion of SA’s papers with at least one foreign co-author rose from a third in 2000 to half in 2017.

Their citation analysis found that the impact of South African research had steadily increased. The number of times a paper is referenced, or cited, by other scientists is one of the ways to measure its visibility. As citation practices vary between different scientific fields, the researchers calculated a normalised citation score for each publication and then calculated the mean of these values.

They found the mean normalised citation score for SA rose from 0.8 in 2000 to 1.1 in 2017.

"This is a very positive result, as a score above 1 means SA’s papers are on average being cited slightly more than other papers in the fields in which we publish," the said.

At the same time, there was a decline in national collaboration and a drop in the number of publications with just one author.

Mouton and Blanckenberg said their research did not capture other aspects of scientific performance, such as its relevance or impact on society.