Annual G20 Scorecard: The link between COVID-19 response and research subject diversity

Our latest Global Research Report from the Institute for Scientific Information examines G20 member countries’ research performance and includes a special analysis of their COVID-19 research

Each year we report our Annual G20 Scorecard as a prelude to the G20 Summit – a two-day gathering of the world’s major economies, set this year in Rome, Italy on October 30-31. The 19 member nations – which together represent more than 80% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and two-thirds of the global population – are a leading force in the global research system. Understanding their strengths and opportunities is key to spurring innovation and tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI)™ is uniquely placed to deliver a comparative research snapshot for each G20 nation, setting Web of Science™ data alongside other key metrics on people, finance and patenting. Collectively, G20 nations accounted for more than five million articles and reviews indexed in the Web of Science research publication and citation index for the last three years – over 70% of the global total.


The ongoing impact of COVID-19 and national research profiles

Our Annual G20 Scorecard, 2021 includes a special analysis of the G20 contribution to recent COVID-19 research. The report focuses on the different national responses and the link to each region’s research investment and subject diversity.

Evidence from many studies in economics and ecology shows that diversity provides benefits, notably in resilience and responsiveness. The global pandemic we are facing represents one of the most severe challenges to the research base and its capacity to respond to citizens’ needs. We were therefore keen to explore whether our data throw light on the relationship between current research response and prior research diversity.


“The global pandemic we are facing represents one of the most severe challenges to the research base and its capacity to respond to citizens’ needs.”

Jonathan Adams, Chief Scientist, The Institute for Scientific Information


Measuring subject diversity in COVID-19 research

During the pandemic, innovative research topics emerged to tackle societal, economic and health issues that often draw on contributions from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and are not aligned with conventional subject categories.

In order to identify and categorize COVID-19 research, we created a bespoke classification system that includes 40 topics, covering areas of clinical practice, molecular biology, virology, immunology, epidemiology, virtual learning, mental health, food security, economics, crisis management and environmental impact. Through this model we identified 67,756 papers (articles or reviews) indexed in the Web of Science and published in 2020-2021 that are related to COVID-19.

We used this model to profile nations according to the number of papers produced in each topic, revealing the range of their responses to the pandemic. We then compared the relative evenness of COVID-19 research in each G20 nation to the evenness of its overall national publication portfolio – allowing us to gauge the strength of its research response.

(For more in-depth insights into research subject diversity, see our recent Global Research Report: Subject diversity in research portfolios)


The benefits of a diverse research base

Our analysis confirmed that regions with more even research bases, especially the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, supported a response across a wider range of COVID-19 topics. Other G20 nations had a more specialized response. For example, Brazil, Mainland China and India have a similar level of evenness in their research portfolio, which is less than the United Kingdom and United States.

However, Brazil has a relatively high evenness for COVID-19 papers when compared to India and Mainland China. While all three had a substantial output in the core clinical topics, Brazil also published COVID-19 research in areas that were less prominent in Mainland China and India’s COVID-19 portfolios, such as online learning, economics and digital media.

The overall pattern is clear: as in economics, research subject diversity in national portfolios enables a rapid and agile response. Brazil is an exception that ‘proves the rule’ because its response reflects the strengths in its research portfolio, particularly around biosciences. Our data analysis shows that nations who have stronger research subject diversity will be better equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities that inevitably arise.

To learn more, download the Annual G20 Scorecard report.