Steve Connor: A Nobel effort that doesn't do us justice

Science Notebook: Britain ranks second only to the US in terms of the leading scientific indicators of productivity and efficiency

This is the time of year when a handful of scientists learn whether their work will be immortalised in the form of a Nobel prize. It is rightly considered the top award for physiology or medicine, chemistry and physics – mathematicians get their own prize in the form of the Fields Medal.

Britain has done relatively well in terms of Nobel prizes over the past century and this has often been used as a justification for believing that the country's science is rated highly compared with others. But how true is this?

Nobel prizes often celebrate work that took place decades ago, and Britain's recent medal count has not been quite as good as 30 or 40 years ago. Another problem with using Nobel prizes as a benchmark for success is that the vast amount of excellent-but-not-quite-Nobel-quality research doesn't get a look-in. A better measure would be to study the number of citations – references to previously published work – that British scientists receive from their peers worldwide.

Just such a study was recently commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the outcome looks pretty impressive for the UK.

According to the International Benchmarking Study of UK Research Performance 2009, Britain ranks second only to the US in terms of the leading scientific indicators of productivity and efficiency; and the country ranks first among the G8 nations in terms of the number of citations in relation to public spending on research and development.

The study analysed 8,000 of the world's leading scientific journals and found the UK share of citations in them was 12 per cent – second to the US. We also increased our share of the most cited, or top 1 per cent of the world's scientific papers, from 13.4 per cent last year to 14.4 per cent this year. We also did well in terms of citation impact, coming second to Germany but ahead of the US.

It's further evidence indicating that, when it comes to science, Britain punches above its weight.

Bees go under the microscope

The mystery about the dramatic decline of the honeybee population is to be addressed in a research project with £1m worth of funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Bees of all kinds are vital of course for pollinating crops, and their decline is a serious threat to the human food supply. Official government figures suggest bee numbers have fallen by between 10 and 15 per cent over the past couple of years, but the British Beekeepers' Association suggests the true figure could be nearer to 30 per cent.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire and Warwick University are to work in partnership with Syngenta, the agrochemicals company, to find out what's behind the decline. No doubt one of the factors they will be studying in some detail is the new generation of insecticides sprayed over vast tracts of farmland.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Implementation Consultant

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Coordinator

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent