Provincial and Territorial Ranking

Scientific Articles

Key Messages

  • Nova Scotia scores an “A” grade on scientific articles, trailing only Denmark in the overall ranking.
  • Although six provinces get “B”s and are in the top half of the rankings, four of them were “A” or “A+” performers throughout the 1980s and have since seen their performance decline relative to international peers.
  • New Brunswick is the lowest-ranking province, earning a “D” and performing better than only Japan.

Why are scientific articles important to innovation?

Scientific articles are a useful indicator of the state of scientific knowledge and communication in a jurisdiction. And these, in turn, are critical foundations for innovation. Indeed, articles provide a measure of discovery and knowledge generation by scientists and other researchers at the leading edge of their fields. Articles also synthesize and analyze aspects of the existing state of knowledge and understanding in a discipline. As the Council of Canadian Academies’ Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada notes:

In many fields of S&T the peer-reviewed journal article is the principal method of communicating research advances throughout the world. Peer review is a form of quality control, meaning that other experts in the field believe that the article has merit. Therefore the number of journal articles can be used as an international comparison of the magnitude of S&T.1

Although the path from insight to publication to innovation can be a long one—and often never completed—an innovative economy and society depends on a strong scientific foundation. The number of peer-reviewed scientific articles provides an indication—admittedly partial and imperfect—of the state of that scientific foundation and its capacity to produce insights that may lead to new and improved products, services, and processes. It also serves as a signal of the extent to which there is active scientific expertise in a region—expertise that innovating businesses and other researchers may be able to turn to for advice and assistance.

How is performance on scientific articles measured?

The scientific articles report card indicator is measured as the number of peer-reviewed scientific articles produced in natural sciences and engineering per million population. “Natural sciences and engineering” includes eight disciplines: biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, clinical medicine, physics, biomedical research, and earth sciences and space.2

Articles with more than one Canadian author residing in different provinces are counted once in Canada, but counted once for each province where one of the authors resides. For example, an article published by three people who live in B,C., Saskatchewan, and Alberta would be counted once in the Canadian total, and counted one each for B.C., Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

Although this captures only a fraction of the published knowledge produced by researchers at Canadian institutions, it does provide a measure of the state of some areas of scientific activity relevant to innovation. To be sure, knowledge in other areas is also important to innovation performance—including other physical and life sciences; social sciences (e.g., psychology, economics); humanities; and business, management, and administration—but relevant and comparable data on scientific articles for these other fields, across the jurisdictions, are not available.

How do the provinces rank relative to international peers?

Most provinces perform reasonably well relative to international peers, although there are a few laggards. Nova Scotia ranks 2nd overall—trailing only Denmark—and earns an “A” for its 1,885 publications per million population. Six other provinces earn “B”s and place in the top 11 jurisdictions (of the 20 jurisdictions for which data are available). With nearly equal publication counts per million population, Saskatchewan (1,659) and Alberta (1,657) rank 4th and 5th, respectively, behind only Denmark, Nova Scotia, and Sweden. B.C. (1,611), Ontario (1,599), Manitoba (1,415), and Quebec (1,342) also earn “B” grades and rank 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th, respectively.

Newfoundland and Labrador (1,274) and P.E.I. (1,095) earn “C” grades for their scientific article output and place 13th and 15th, respectively—outperforming just a few international peers. With only 873 publications per million population, New Brunswick earns a “D” and ranks 19th of 20 jurisdictions. Only Japan (533) does worse than New Brunswick.

Internationally, the northern European peers earn “A” (Denmark and Sweden) and “B” (Norway and Finland) grades, performing much better than the other peer countries, which earn “C” (U.K. and Germany) and “D” (France, U.S. and Japan) grades. Canada lands in the middle of the pack, ranking 5th among the 10 peer countries and earning a “B.”

How do the provinces rank relative to each other?

With 1,885 publications per million population, Nova Scotia is the highest-ranked province and the only “A” performer on scientific articles. Six provinces earn “B”s for scientific articles—ranging from 1,659 per million population for Saskatchewan to 1,342 per million population for Quebec. All seven “A” and “B” provinces fare better than the Canadian count of 1,312 articles per million population, though Canada does manage to earn a “B” grade overall.

Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. both earn “C” grades for scientific articles, placing eighth and ninth among the provinces. With only 873 articles per million population, New Brunswick earns a “D” and sits last among the provinces.


How has provincial performance changed over time?

Between 1980 and 2012, every province and international peer experienced a significant increase in its count of scientific articles per million population. Among the provinces, Nova Scotia saw the largest increase—from 685 to 1,885 articles per million population from 1980 to 2012. Only Denmark had a larger increase in article count, rising from 666 to 2,077 per million population between 1980 and 2012. Both jurisdictions started with “A” grades in 1980 and held those grades in 2012.

The weakest growth among the provinces was in New Brunswick, where articles increased from 340 to 873 per million population between 1980 and 2012, leaving the province with a “D”—the same grade as in 1980. Internationally, the United States saw the weakest growth, improving only marginally from 615 to 884 articles per million population, and falling from a “B” to a “D” grade between 1980 and 2012.

In 1980, six provinces had article counts that earned them grades of “A” (Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and B.C.) or “A+” (Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta). But in the face of very strong growth among the northern European peers, all but Nova Scotia had slipped to “B” grades by 2012. Similarly, while Newfoundland and Labrador started the period with a “B” grade, the province’s article count grew at a slower rate than that of international peers, leaving it with a “C” by 2012.

Among the provinces, only P.E.I. and Quebec managed to improve their grades. By increasing its article count from 234 in 1980 to 1,095 per million population in 2012, P.E.I. moved from 19th to 15th position and rose from a “D” to a “C” grade relative to international peers. Quebec also did well, improving its article count from 477 to 1,342 per million population, moving from 15th to 11th position and rising from a “C” to a “B” grade.

Would citations tell a better story than article counts?

Yes. Peer-reviewed publications are an essential part of research, which itself is a key part of innovation. But publication counts provide primarily just an indication of the quantity of research output, and only partly a measure of research quality to the extent that they have been reviewed by a few peers. They do not provide a good measure of the utility and impact of that research.3 One remedy is to look at citation counts, which capture some sense of how an article, and the research on which it is based, has influenced the development of later research. The underlying assumption is that more frequently cited papers have provided new insights that the wider research community finds valuable and/or that have greater utility for other researchers or innovators.

Unfortunately, data that would allow for comparisons of citation counts between provinces and peer countries are not readily available. Previous innovation report cards show that Canada fares reasonably well relative to international peers on a top-cited papers index, but a picture of provincial performance is still a work in progress.

Footnotes

1    Expert Panel on the State of Science and Technology in Canada, The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012  (Ottawa: Council of Canadian Academies, 2012), 38.

2    Institut de la statistique Québec, Définition(s).

3    Expert Panel on Business Innovation, The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 (Ottawa: Council of Canadian Academies, 2012), 47.