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A comparison of citation disciplinary structure in science between the G7 countries and the BRICS countries

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This study aims to compare the characteristics of citation disciplinary structure between the G7 countries and the BRICS countries.


In this contribution, which uses about 1 million Web of Science publications and two publications years (1993 and 2013), we compare the G7 countries and the BRICS countries with regard to this type of structure. For the publication year 2013, cosine similarity values regarding the citation disciplinary structures of these countries (and of nine other countries) were used as input to cluster analysis. We also obtained cosine similarity values for a given country and its citation disciplinary structures across the two publication years. Moreover, for the publication year 2013, the within-country Jeffreys-Matusita distance between publication and citation disciplinary structure was measured.

Research limitations

First, the citation disciplinary structures of countries depend on multiple and complex factors. It is therefore difficult to completely explain the formation and change of the citation disciplinary structure of a country. This study suggests some possible causes, whereas detailed explanations might be given by future research. Second, the length of the citation window used in this study is three years. However, scientific disciplines differ in their citation practices. Comparison between citations across disciplines using the same citation window length may affect the citation discipline structure results for some countries.

Practical limitations

First, the results of this study are based on the WoS database. However, in this database some fields are covered to a greater extent than others, which may affect the results for the citation discipline structure for some studied countries. In future research, we might repeat this study using another database (like Scopus) and, in that case, we would like to make comparisons between the two outcomes. Second, the use of a constant journal set yielded that a large share of the journals covered by WoS year 2013 is ignored in the study. Thus, disciplinary structure is studied based on a quite restricted set of publications. The three mentioned limitations should be kept in mind when the results of this study are interpreted.


Disciplinary structure on country level is a highlighted topic for the S&T policy makers, especially for those come from developing countries. This study observes the disciplinary structure in the view of academic impact, and the result will provide some evidence to make decision for the discipline strategy and funding allocation. Besides, Jeffreys-Matusita distance is introduced to measure the similarity of citation disciplinary structure and publication disciplinary structure. By applying this measure, some new observations were drawn, for example, “Based on the comparison of publication disciplinary structure and citation disciplinary structure, the paper finds most BRICS counties have less impact with more publications”.


The outcome of the cluster analysis indicates that the G7 countries and BRICS countries are quite heterogeneous regarding their citation disciplinary structure. For a majority of the G7 countries, the citation disciplinary structure tend to be more stable compared to BRICS countries with regard to the years 1993 and 2013. Most G7 countries, with United States as an exception, turned out to have lower values on the Jeffreys-Matusita distance than BRICS countries, indicating a higher degree of heterogeneity between the publication and the citation disciplinary structure for the latter countries. In other words, BRICS countries still receive much less citations in most disciplines than their publication output would suggest. G7 countries can still expect more citations than is to be expected based on their publication output, thereby generating relatively more impact than BRICS countries.