The Relation between research priorities and societal demands: The case of rice

Tommaso Ciarli, Ismael Ràfols
Research Policy
To what extent is scientific research related to societal needs? To answer this crucial question systematically we need to contrast indicators of research priorities with indicators of societal needs. We focus on rice research and technology between 1983 and 2012. We combine quantitative methods that allow investigation of the relation between ‘revealed’ research priorities and ‘revealed’ societal demands, measured respectively by research output (publications) and national accounts of rice use and farmers’ and consumers’ rice-related needs. We employ new bibliometric data, methods and indicators to identify countries’ main rice research topics (priorities) from publications. For a panel of countries, we estimate the relation between revealed research priorities and revealed demands. We find that, across countries and time, societal demands explain a country's research trajectory to a limited extent. Some research priorities are nicely aligned to societal demands, confirming that science is partly related to societal needs. However, we find a relevant number of misalignments between the focus of rice research and revealed demands, crucially related to human consumption and nutrition. We discuss some implications for research policy.