2020 - All Press Releases

Institutions maintain positions in 2021 Nature Index Annual Tables, despite pandemic


London | Berlin | Sydney 20th May 2021


The Nature Index Annual Tables, released today, look at institutions and countries producing high-quality natural-sciences research, and show that despite the challenges and limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the institutions which were strong in 2019 remained strong in 2020.  

Those institutions that have retained their positions at the top of the table, as measured by the metric, Share*, include the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Harvard University, the Max Planck Society, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and Stanford University. The University of Tokyo, Japan, and the University of Cambridge, UK, moved up from eleventh position to eighth place, and fourteenth place to tenth, respectively.

While many larger nations, including the United States, Germany, UK, and Japan, managed to slow or reverse the declines in research output of previous years, there were some unexpected results.  For example, in the natural sciences journals tracked by the Nature Index, the growth of China’s adjusted Share** decreased to 1.1% in 2020, compared with an annual average growth rate of more than 13% in the four years from 2015 to 2019.

David Swinbanks, Founder of the Nature Index, said: 

“In a year in which there has been a sharp focus on research output, The Nature Index Annual Tables have not only shown the resilience of the research sector with many institutions either maintaining or advancing their natural sciences output according to the metric Share, they have also shown the adaptability of institutions, and regions, to quickly perform extremely well alongside some of their more established and larger peers in challenging conditions.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 in terms of lab closures and disruptions to experiments, our analysis indicates that the continued strength in output is likely explained in part by a surge in COVID-19- related articles. 

 While the annual tables are a good indicator of high quality research output in the natural sciences, we encourage readers to use the findings alongside other measures such as metrics that encompass research fields beyond the natural sciences as well as other scientific outputs such as data, software and intellectual property when considering research quality and institutional performance.”

An accompanying analysis of rising stars which appears on the Nature Index website along with the Annual Tables looks at institutions that achieved the highest growth in high-quality publication output in 2020. There is a marked change from 2019 in those institutions featuring in the top 10 for 2020, with a higher global spread of institutions including those from Asia, Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific. Among these institutions are China’s Southern University of Science and Technology, which showed a more than 66% increase in adjusted Share in 2019–2020, the University of Queensland in Australia, which had a 33% increase, and Japan’s RIKEN, which had more than a 27% increase over the same period.


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*Nature Index’s signature metric, Share, is a fractional count for an article allocated to an institution, city or country/region, that takes into account the proportion of authors on the article whose institutional affiliation is with that institution or location. 

**Adjusted Share takes account of a small annual variation in the total number of articles in the Nature Index. For further explanation, please see natureindex.com/glossary.

Note: The Nature Index is one indicator of institutional research performance. The metrics of Count and Share used to order Nature Index listings are based on an institution’s or country/region’s publication output in 82 natural science journals, selected on reputation by an independent panel of leading scientists in their fields. The Nature Index recognises that many other factors must be taken into account when considering research quality and institutional performance; Nature Index metrics alone should not be used to assess institutions or individuals. Nature Index data and methods are transparent and available under a creative commons license at natureindex.com.


About The Nature Index

The Nature Index is a database of author affiliations and institutional relationships. The index tracks contributions to research articles published in 82 high-quality natural-science journals, chosen by an independent group of researchers.

The Nature Index provides absolute and fractional counts of article publication at the institutional and national level and, as such, is an indicator of global high-quality research output and collaboration. Data in the Nature Index are updated regularly, with the most recent 12 months made available under a Creative Commons licence at natureindex.com. The database is compiled by Nature Research, part of Springer Nature.

Nature Index metrics

The Nature Index uses Count and Share to track research output. A country/region or an institution is given a Count of 1 for each article that has at least one author from that country/region or institution. This is the case regardless of the number of authors an article has, and it means that the same article can contribute to the Count of multiple countries/regions or institutions.

To glean a country’s, a region’s or an institution’s contribution to an article, and to ensure they are not counted more than once, the Nature Index uses Share, a fractional count that takes into account the share of authorship on each article. The total Share available per article is 1, which is shared among all authors under the assumption that each contributed equally. For instance, an article with 10 authors means that each author receives a Share of 0.1. For authors who are affiliated with more than one institution, the author’s Share is then split equally between each institution. The total Share for an institution is calculated by summing the Share for individual affiliated authors. The process is similar for countries/regions, although complicated by the fact that some institutions have overseas labs that will be counted towards host country/region totals

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