Scientific Research and GDP

Economics + International
March 15, 2014
Read this in 2 minutes

A tweet about the estimated number of scientific papers published by country prompted thoughts about the relationship between science and national economies. Something like this has been previously considered. It’s undoubtedly a complex relationship with manifold causal parameters. But charting the ratio of GDP to number of papers would at least be interesting, as would the correlation between GDP and number of papers. Also curious is the comparison of GDP and population ratios and correlations, the former correlation strong and the latter weak. Here’s a look at 30 countries.

The GDP and population data are from 2012 and are supplied by The World Bank. The publications data were taken straight from the tweet. A .csv file of all the data used, along with the rudimentary computations, is available to review.

The scaled ratios look like this. A higher ratio shows a greater publications-to-GDP multiplier, less bang per buck perhaps. For example, Portugal and Sweden could be efficiently producing science, whereas in Mexico and Russia perhaps the opposite is possibile.

Ratio of GDP to Science

Chart of GDP Ratios

As for correlation, the GDPs were scaled so that the GDP of the country with a ratio closest to the average scaled ratio (4.77), i.e. Egypt (4.70), closely matched its number of papers. Those countries towards the left of the chart are publishing more science relative to their GDPs than average, and to the right, less science relative to their GDPs than average, but nonetheless there’s a strong correlation going both ways, i.e. 0.97, where 1 represents perfectly positive, 0 represents no correlation, and -1 represents perfectly inverse.

Correlation of Science to GDP

Chart of GDP Correlation

Now take a look using population data. The countries have been reordered to show ascending scaled population-to-publication ratios. It’s a broader range. Those to the right have fewer publications per capita.

Science and Population Ratios

Chart of Population Ratios

Now on correlation, it’s again positive and moving in tandem, but less so here for population size than for GDP – much less. The correlation figure here is 0.38. Here also the country with the ratio closest to the average ratio (4.50), i.e. Malaysia (4.64), was used to closely match a scaled population figure to the number of publications. Countries to the left have a better than average ratio, and vice versa.

Science and Population Correlation

Chart of Population Correlation

It’s not surprising that there’s a strong correlation between GDP and the amount of science published. But what’s not clear is whether GDP is a chicken or an egg, though there’s some preexisting research on that issue, as well. It is a bit surprising how much less correlated the population size is to the amount of research published, however.

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