Spatial dynamics of international collaborations in science

Lili Wang, Mario Coccia, Bart Verspagen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


Scientific collaboration has been widely acknowledged to be efficient in managing time and labour in
research labs (Coccia, 2014; Solla Price and Beaver, 1966), to improve research quality (Presser, 1980;
Narin et al., 1991; Katz and Hicks, 1997) and spur the breakthroughs of scientific research for supporting
competitiveness (Coccia, 2012). Along with the increase of international scientific collaborations, a
better understanding of the structure and evolutionary pattern of the global research network across
geo-economic areas are needed for scholars and policy makers.
The high heterogeneity across countries – in terms of size, scientific capacity of the national system of
innovation, etc. – generates a variety of patterns of the international research collaboration (Melin,
1999; Narin, et al., 1991; Ozcan and Islam, 2014). A main issue in economics of science is to determine
how and to which extent countries are engaged in international research collaborations in order to
understand the behaviour of knowledge flows and to design research policies for improving the scientific
research production, which enhances national competitiveness of sectors.
The purpose of this research is to investigate the evolutionary pattern of international research
collaborations across countries. Special emphasis is placed on two complementary collaboration
typologies: intra- and inter-collaborations. The former refers to research collaborations conducted by
countries within their geographical area (e.g. countries within European area); the latter refers to
research collaborations engaged by countries with different geographical areas (e.g. a European country
with an Asian one). Higher intra-collaborations of countries indicate that scientific cooperation is more
and more bounded within certain geographical territories, while higher inter-collaborations signals the
fade of geographical limit.
The main research questions of this paper are: • How does the distribution of international
collaborations across countries evolve over time? • What type of research collaboration (inter- or intra-
) plays a more important role in re-shaping the global collaborative scientific network across geoeconomic areas?
The data of this study are collected from publications in academic journals covered by the Science
Citation Index and Social Sciences Citation Index. In particular, this study refers to a dataset by the
National Science Foundation (2014)-National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special
tabulations from Thomson Reuters (2013), SCI and SSCI. Collaboration data cover two years 1997 and
2012 and 40 countries. These 40 countries produce about 97% of the global total articles over 1997-
2012. The 40 countries are classified into eight geographical areas: North America, South America,
Europe Union, Other Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia/Oceania.
The method of research is based on three main steps: Firstly, to analyze the worldwide distribution of
international collaboration, this study uses the Lorenz curve and Gini coefficient. Secondly, to map the
research connections between countries, both absolute collaboration output (number of articles) and
collaboration intensity (similarities) are considered. This study applies Salton and Jaccard indexes that
are reliable metrics of collaboration intensity. Thirdly, from a dynamic perspective, this study applies
network analysis to explore the structure of international collaborations and its changes from 1997 to
2012. In particular, this study focuses on intra- and inter-scientific ties across countries within the global
research network. Fourthly, the spatial pattern, in particular correlation between collaboration and
spatial distance, is further examined by Mantel test and Mantel correlograms.
The main lessons learned of this research can be synthesized as follows. First, the distribution among
the under studied 40 countries is more and more balanced. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note that
the distribution of total publications is more divergent than internationally co-authored papers. Second,
in the process of evolution of international research collaborations, results show a significant difference
between intra- and inter- collaborations. In all geographical areas, except European Union, the intracollaboration interrelationships exhibited a steady-state pattern, whereas scientific inter-collaborations
in the global network research structure have risen dramatically. Third, from a dynamic point of view,
the comparison of 1997 and 2012 research networks shows that inter-collaborations (between countries
belonging to different geographical areas) have grown significantly in the later years, whereas the
scientific connection strength between major intra-collaborative partners stayed mostly unchanged.
Finally, our result shows that the change of international collaboration structure is not driven by
proximity. The correlation between changes of collaboration intensity and proximity, if there is any,
exists in certain distance classes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventAtlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy - GEORGIA TECH GLOBAL LEARNING CENTER, Atlanta, United States
Duration: 17 Sept 201519 Sept 2015


ConferenceAtlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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