A world map of science communication research


The broadest bibliographical analysis of science communication research outputs between 1979 and 2016 just published.

Take the three most prominent journals dedicated to the field of science communication, then try to imagine the 1 803 peer-review articles which they have published between 1979 and 2016. This is the immense sample that Lars Guenther and Marina Joubert, from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, have addressed in their unique research.

Trends in science communication as a field of research are rarely addressed, and even less often with such a broad and systematic approach which goes back to the launch of the first journal dedicated to this field (1979). That’s why the research carried out by the two authors represents “a first step towards a more comprehensive view of trends in science communication research”, as in their words.

JCOM has just published the outcomes of their analysis, which are presented in the peer-reviewed and fully open access paper Science communication as a field of research: identifying trends, challenges and gaps by analysing research papers.

With the aim of analysing “a broad view of research outputs, the authors and authorship patterns, the countries of authors’ institutions and the gender of authors that publish in the three main journals” (i.e. Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science and JCOM), Guenther and Joubert not only have managed to provide a detailed and up-to-date map of trends in publication outputs, but they also provide very valuable recommendations for raising diversity and representation of developing countries, which – unfortunately – are still considerably under-represented.

Although trends in general show an increase in publications in all three journals, suggesting that “science communication is maturing as a field of scholarly activity”, it is interesting to notice that, as underlined by the authors, “while it is encouraging that a total of 2 680 unique authors contributed to published research in our study, it is less reassuring that the vast majority of them (82.3%) published only once in the main journals of the field.” Another discouraging element is that, despite a visible shift towards institutional collaboration and internationalization, there is still clearly a big need “to attract more research contributions from the southern hemisphere in general, but particularly the imperative to boost science communication research in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.”

An extremely useful suggestion raised by the authors to address the issue of some countries overshadowing the contributions of others is that, “(…) instead of calling for research papers from developing country authors, a more effective way of stimulating diversity in research authorship would be to encourage collaborative research that would include researchers in developing countries from the outset of multi-country research projects.” Guenther’s and Joubert’s paper definitely represents a step forward in this direction.

The research was done within the research group of the South African Research Chair in Science Communication, hosted at the Centre for Research on Evaluation Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University. The Chair is supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa.