Japan seen lagging in coronavirus research papers

Japan ranked 16th in the world in terms of cited papers on novel coronavirus research as of June 2021, according to an analysis by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), far behind its industrialized counterparts.

The trend will likely remain unchanged regarding the citation of COVID-19-related high-quality scientific papers. Some experts have pointed out that the results highlight Japan’s low contribution to the international community and its declining research capacity in the field of infectious diseases.

The JST analyzed about 186,400 papers registered in an international database in 2020 and 2021 by country of affiliation of leading researchers. The United States topped the list with 57,030, followed by Britain with 21,682 and China with 20,535. Japan came in 14th with 4,087.

A closer analysis of the top 0.1% of high-quality research papers in terms of citation count from January 2020 to June 2021 found that 607 were from the United States, 385 from China, and 196 from Britain. Japan ranked 16th with 17 papers, behind South Korea and Iran at 14th with 23 papers each.

The poor results could be partially due to the fact that Japan did not have a surge in infections at the beginning of the pandemic and thus did not obtain enough clinical data. However, Australia, which similarly had a low number of virus cases, ranked 10th with 40 papers, more than double the number of Japan.

“Many high-quality papers were achieved as a result of international cooperation. But in Japan, there seemed to be few research cases that involved other countries,” said Hideki Yoshida who analyzed the data at JST.

According to Tetsuya Matsumoto, a professor of infectious diseases at the International University of Health and Welfare, some countries like the United States and Britain already had a system that allows companies specializing in handling medical data to provide researchers with such data on tens of thousands of people.

In Japan, researchers still individually collect a large amount of data, and much of that data comes from limited sources, such as regions or universities.

“It is necessary to increase our awareness of infectious diseases and review the research system and human resources development in Japan,” said Matsumoto.