[Sigmetrics] The continuation of "the decline of UK science"

Loet Leydesdorff loet at leydesdorff.net
Sun Oct 15 04:22:39 EDT 2017

In his comments on the debate between Butler (2003) and van den 
Besselaar, Heyman, & Sandström (2017), Martin (2017, at p. 937) 
describes an earlier debate between his group and me in the 1980s about 
“the decline of British science” as an example of disagreement which, in 
his opinion, is inherent to the social sciences. A working party is said 
to have concluded “that Leydesdorff’s use of ‘whole counting’ failed to 
take account of the fact that, with this particular indicator, virtually 
all countries’ shares were increasing (because of the growing 
international collaboration) […].” At the time, I was not informed about 
this party or its report. However, my argument was that using fractional 
counting, “a simple increase in international co-authorships could 
ceteris paribus cause a decline in national performance” (Leydesdorff, 
1988, pp. 150f.). Internationalization had thus led to what appeared to 
be a decline of British science.

This effect was, moreover, reinforced by the use of a fixed (1973) 
journal set by my opponents (Narin, 1976). The innovativeness of British 
science—in terms of both internationalization and the exploration of new 
developments—was not sufficiently appreciated using these methods. I 
advocated the use of the online Science Citation Index, which includes 
new journals, albeit with a delay. In this dynamic dataset, the UK was 
not losing ground during the period under discussion (Braun, Glänzel, & 
Schubert, 1991; Kealey, 1991; Leydesdorff, 1991, p. 365; cf. Martin, 
1991). In my opinion, “the decline of British science” was a 
scientometric artifact based on these two erroneous assumptions: (i) 
using fractional counting, internationalization was counted negatively 
and (ii) using a fixed journal set, new developments were not 
sufficiently appreciated. At that time, however, the decline-argument 
could be used in a science-policy context (e.g., Irvine & Martin, 1986).

Leydesdorff, L. (2017). The positive side of discursive disagreements in 
the social sciences. Journal of Informetrics, 11(4), 1043.

See also: Martin, B. R. (2017). When Social Scientists Disagree: 
Comments on the Butler-van den Besselaar Debate. Journal of Informetrics 
11(3), 937-940.

Loet Leydesdorff

Professor, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR)

loet at leydesdorff.net <mailto:loet at leydesdorff.net>; 
Associate Faculty, SPRU, <http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/>University of 

Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ. <http://www.zju.edu.cn/english/>, 
Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC, 

Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck <http://www.bbk.ac.uk/>, University of London;


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