Israeli Scientific Output Falling Behind in World Rankings

The study by the Neaman Institute also finds that the quality of research is in relative decline and warns of an impact on the country’s tech industry.

Researchers at Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
Moti Milrod

Despite major investments in Israel’s universities, the relative output of Israeli scientists globally declined over the last decade and threatens to undermine the country’s status as a technology leader, a study by the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research released on Tuesday found.

The output of Israel’s scientists and researchers – as measured by how often they publish papers in academic journals – has grown over the past decade, but the growth pace in other countries has been faster, so Israel’s ranking has declined, the report said.

The institute found that in areas where Israel has given high priority, including mathematics, psychology and brain science, Israel only managed a ranking between 15 and 20 among the 37 countries in the study. Israel’s strongest performance was in computer science, where it ranked fourth. In areas that have received low priority, like energy, environment and engineering, Israel performed poorly.

The relative decline should concern anyone interested in the future of the country's high-tech industry because colleges and universities train the next generation of engineers and are valuable sources of innovation, warned Prof. Zehev Tadmor, the institute’s chairman.

“The success of the Israeli high-tech industry is generally attributed to the big investment in security, the Israel Defense Forces technology units and Israel’s entrepreneurial nature. But the central contribution of Israeli academia,  without which the industry could not have arisen, is less well recognized,” he said.

“A small number of professors at the Technion and Hebrew University laid the foundations of several academic disciplines – computer science, electrical engineering and aeronautical engineering – which are the foundation of high-tech industry, and trained thousands of engineers and scientists.”

The research, which was conducted by Dr. Daphne Getz, Dr. Noa Lavid and Ella Barzani, surveyed scientific publications from 2010 to 2014. They assessed Israeli scientists’ influence with metrics like number of publications per million of population (Israel ranked 14th) and absolute number of papers (Israel ranked 32nd).

By comparison, from 2000 to 2004, Israeli scientific publications accounted for 0.92% of all scientific papers around the world, which put the country in 21st place. In 2010-14, the number was 0.68% – still impressive in that it’s seven times Israel’s share of the world population. But that still left Israel down 11 notches in the world rankings, according to Neaman.

Israel has been suffering slow growth in the number of scientific academic papers published – an increase of just 3.8% in 2010-14, at the lower end among countries surveyed. Developing countries like Malaysia, India and China showed growth rates of 62.5%, 45% and 35% respectively. Even Iran increased its number by 38%.

Developed countries also outpaced Israel, with Denmark and Sweden showing growth of 30% and 20% respectively.

Based on measurements like the number of times a publication was cited by others, appearance in the best academic journals and collaborative work with overseas researchers, Israel also showed a relative decline. In 2010-14, it ranked 16th in the world, down five places from 2000-04, Neaman said.

The reason was that other countries, among them the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Australia significantly improved. Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong showed a dramatic improvement.

However, the Neaman report did find that Israel was doing well in some areas. More than a quarter of all Israeli scientific publications appeared in leading journals during the period, and cooperation between Israeli academia and industry – mainly the high-tech sector – was strong, especially in computer science.

In fact, Israel was among the world leaders in joint scientific research between academia and business, measured by scientific papers: 3.3% of all Israeli publications were in joint undertakings, versus 5% for Switzerland, the world leader in the category, and 1.3% on average worldwide.

Neaman found that during the period 412 papers had been jointly written by academic and business researchers in Israel, nearly all of them on the business side with researchers at the approximately 200 multinational research and development centers operating in Israel.

Microsoft was the hands down leader in joint papers, with 351. Other big partners were Intel (85), HP (67), Google (55) and Alcatel Lucent (31). Among Israeli corporate partners, the biggest two were the Israel Electric Corporation (16) and the arms maker Rafael (11).