Centre for Internet & Society

Despite an increase in research output and international collaboration, chemistry research, "the central science", in India is "still not in the big league", an analysis has revealed.

Originally published by IANS on April 24, 2017, the news was carried on the India Online news portal

Researchers Subbiah Arunachalam, Muthu Madhan and Subbiah Gunasekaran carried out a scientometric analysis of contributions from India in leading multidisciplinary chemistry journals over the 25-year period 1991-2015.

The study of measuring and analysing science research is called scientometrics.

"Chemistry is the 'central science'. Whether it is drugs and pharmaceuticals, materials, or several other areas, chemistry plays a key role. In times past, say till about four decades ago, there was a strong tradition of natural products chemistry in India, but later on the emphasis moved to other branches of chemistry," the authors told IANS when asked why is it important for India to take a lead in chemistry research.

But, as modern chemical research depends more and more on information technology - computer-based data collection and processing - India has to "try hard to keep pace" with progress worldwide, they said.

The study comes against the backdrop of comments on chemistry research in India made in three recent reports prepared by Nature Index, Elsevier and Thomson Reuters.

According to the Nature Index report, chemistry is doing well in India and it is the top performer, while the Thomson Reuters report, prepared for the Department of Science and Technology, says research in the field is growing rapidly in the country.

However, India, despite its huge share of the world's population (about 17 per cent), continues to be poorly represented in the top journals, the study revealed.

The country's share of papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society is 0.7 per cent compared to 58.4 per cent for US, 7.6 per cent for Germany and 5.1 per cent for China, and its share in Angewandte Chemie International Edition is 1.2 per cent, compared to 28 per cent for Germany, 25.3 per cent for US and 9.9 per cent for China.

This could be due to the fact that till recently, Indian universities did not encourage mobility across disciplines.

"That only a small number of Indian researchers and institutions publish in leading journals is also a matter for concern. India accounts for only a small number of papers in the top one percentile of the most highly cited chemistry papers, whereas China leads the world," the study pointed out.

Chemistry research in India is still not in the big league, the authors said.

"If we look at chemistry worldwide, what we do in India does not make big news among chemists and other scientists," they said.

The researchers compared India's performance with that of China as a benchmark.

"Overall, the number of chemistry papers from India increased steadily between 2007 and 2014. We have not compared India and China in this study but have merely highlighted a couple of points to emphasise how far we have to go," the authors clarified.

China is way ahead not only in chemistry but in all sciences. In terms of number of papers and average citations, they have been ahead of India for several years, they said.

To address the gaps, the authors suggest that researchers and funders need to identify important questions and areas of research and focus their attention on those areas.

"At the practical level, we should have many summer schools and winter schools for young researchers, encourage collaboration, invite overseas researchers, and so on. Accountability and time-bound completion of projects are a must," the authors added.

Of the study authors, Arunachalam and Madhan are in the DST Centre for Policy Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru while Arunachalam is also associated with the Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru. Gunasekaran is in the Knowledge Resources Centre, Central Electrochemical Research Institute, Karaikudi.

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