Public sector research - activities and outcomes - scientific record



What is the scientific record?

The scientific record refers to the publication of concepts and empirical findings in the open literature, typically through books and periodicals, but also increasingly through web-based media. As such, it is codified knowledge that accumulates over time. It is typically verified by the wider scientific community, for example, through peer review, using various criteria of novelty and quality. It is these criteria that largely drive scientific advancement, providing researchers with norms and incentives that shape their activities and behaviours.


Public sector research tends to be the largest contributor to the scientific record, though business R&D activities also contribute. This is because researchers’ publications records are the main indicator used in career progression decisions and are used for measuring the excellence of research performing organisations, especially in settings where basic research predominates. The scale and scope of a country’s or region’s or even institute’s contribution to the scientific record can be measured and assessed using bibliometrics.


How does the scientific record relate to innovation performance?

The scientific record contributes new codified knowledge, which is accessible to all those with the absorptive capacity to make use of it, i.e. mostly other researchers in the public sector research system but also those working in firms and in government (policy and regulation). Its contribution to innovation is through the publication of new knowledge that spurs or informs the generation of other new knowledge, which is ultimately used as a source of ideas by those developing new products, processes and services. In addition, the process of working towards scientific publication – which demands novelty and quality – has considerable spillover effects on the other activities and outcomes associated with public sector research contributing to innovation. It is mainly these effects that justify countries funding their own public sector research as opposed to relying solely on the contributions of other countries’ researchers to the scientific record.


The impacts of the scientific record on innovation are not easy to measure. For example, academic citations in patent applications can be taken as one proxy for measuring impacts, but has all of the limitations of patent statistics.


Which actors are important for the scientific record to contribute to innovation performance?

Research performers – researchers and research universities and PRIs – and research funders are the most significant actors when it comes to the scientific record:

  • Researchers are knowledge producers and, therefore, the main contributors and gatekeepers to the scientific record. Academic career structures provide strong incentives for researchers to publish. However, if they are to do this consistently, they require resources and equipment.
  • Research universities and PRIs provide resources, incentives and other elements of work environment that shape the activities of researchers, but depend largely on public funding in doing so.
  • Scientific unions and associations own or operate some of the most prestigious periodicals. In this role, they act as the guardians of scientific disciplines, contributing to the integrity of the scientific record.
  • Research users besides researchers themselves, including firms, policy-making organisationsregulatory organisations and third sector organisations use public sector research to improve their activities. However, users often require some own R&D capacity or at least innovation capacity to be able to search for and absorb the information contained within the scientific record.

What factors are important for the scientific record to contribute to innovation performance?

The most important factor is the availability of funding to cover the costs associated with performing novel and quality research. This will be shaped by the state of economic development of an economy – with poorer countries typically spending less of their national income on research than their richer counterparts – and its specialisation – with high-tech economies typically devoting more resources to R&D than those specialised in, for example, exploitation of natural resources. Economic specialisation also influences the capabilities of firms to utilise the scientific record, which often requires own-R&D activities to develop the necessary absorptive capacity. Such capabilities tend to be well-developed in high-tech economies, less so in those specialised in natural resources.


Funding availability alone is, however, insufficient to guarantee contributions to the scientific record. Where funding is tied to publication performance, researchers are more likely to add to the scientific record. While largely beneficial, too much emphasis on publication performance can lead to the generation of frivolous articles and sometimes to inappropriate behaviours, e.g. plagiarism. Therefore, the extent to which regular performance evaluations are incorporated into public sector funding regimes will be a factor in shaping contributions to the scientific record. A related factor concerns academic career advancement, which, if based almost entirely on a researcher’s publication record, will lead to more contributions to the scientific record.


What policies are important for the scientific record to contribute to innovation performance?

Policies act indirectly on the scientific record by shaping public sector funding regimes – including the balance between discretionary organisational funding and competitive R&D project grants – and through regulations around academic careers. At the same time, support for R&D infrastructures and centres of excellence will likely increase contributions to the scientific record over time.

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