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Ismael Ràfols, Tommaso Ciarli, Diego Chavarro


Context: Science is increasingly expected to help address grand challenges and societal problems such as tackling obesity, climate change, and pandemics. It is important to understand the different research options than can help to tackle these problems, and to consider the directions in which scientific research should be developed. Bibliometrics can provide helpful tools for developing representations of the existing "supply" of science. However, these representations depend on the data and methods used. Bibliometric tools or indicators, therefore, often reflect choices made in data collection and treatment. Conventional bibliometric analyses are biased against non-English languages, applied research, the social sciences and humanities, and interdisciplinary research. This study investigated the biases of available databases in the representation of research topics, particularly those related to developing countries and topics potentially relevant to disenfranchised populations.

In spite of notable differences between the Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus, comparisons between these two main databases have produced similar rankings of publication production by country in different fields. When intergovernmental agencies benchmark science, these two databases continue to be used. However, the partial coverage of these main commercial databases may lead to serious misrepresentation of science in developing countries. There is a need to improve scientometric indicators to properly evaluate global science.

Agricultural research is an important endeavour in developing countries. Scientists are under considerable pressure from stakeholders to solve local problems rather than contribute to the development of "universal" knowledge. This study focused on rice because it is a staple crop for millions of people across the world. Rice research was at the core of the green revolution and it sparked numerous controversies relating to the impoverishment of diets, overuse of water, exhaustion of soils, and pollution. Given the applied orientation of rice research, the local specificity of the topics, and the relative lack of relevance of the topic for many developed countries, rice research is an interesting case to test the extent of coverage by the main bibliographic databases.

This study investigated biases in rice research by comparing coverage of WoS and Scopus with CAB Abstracts (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, CABI), which is a specialized agriculture and environment database with a broader coverage of developing countries. The second contribution was to describe a substantive bias in coverage of different research topics. Third, the potential effects of these biases on policy were explored.

Year of publication 2019