Multinational teams and diseconomies of scale in collaborative research

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Science Advances  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 1, no. 8, e1500211
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500211


Collaborative research has become the mainstay in knowledge production across many domains of science and is widely promoted as a means of cultivating research quality, enhanced resource utilization, and high impact. An accurate appraisal of the value of collaborative research efforts is necessary to inform current funding and research policies. We reveal contemporary trends in collaborative research spanning multiple subject fields, with a particular focus on interactions between nations. We also examined citation outcomes of research teams and confirmed the accumulative benefits of having additional authors and unique countries involved. However, when per capita citation rates were analyzed to disambiguate the effects of authors and countries, decreasing returns in citations were noted with increasing authors among large research teams. In contrast, an increasing number of unique countries had a persistent additive citation effect. We also assessed the placement of foreign authors relative to the first author in paper bylines of biomedical research articles, which demonstrated a significant citation advantage of having an international presence in the second-to-last author position, possibly occupied by foreign primary co-investigators. Our analyses highlight the evolution and functional impact of team dynamics in research and suggest empirical strategies to evaluate team science.

  • Research collaboration
  • economies of scale
  • multinational research
  • team science

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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