The best cities for science

Beijing is turning into the world’s top city for scientific research, based purely on quantity. But when it comes to quality, Boston is the place to be. That’s the conclusion of an [analysis published this week][1] in the journal Nature as part of its special report on [“Science and the City.”][2]

It’s an eye-opener to push the levers on Nature’s interactive graphic, which tracks the number of published articles as well as the relative rate of scientific citations. The publication rate provides a quantitative measure of the research being done, while the citations serve as a gauge of how much influence a particular paper has on the research that follows.

The number of papers published by researchers who listed Beijing as an address shot up from 72,617 in 2000 to 318,940 in 2008, according to an analysis of Scopius publication data provided to Nature by the Elsevier publishing concern. That puts the Chinese scientific establishment way ahead of No. 2 Tokyo’s 208,208 published papers in 2008.

But when it comes to citations, Beijing is toward the bottom of the list, and Tokyo is in the lower half as well. The top spot on the meter goes back and forth between Boston and Cambridge, Mass., although the cities of San Diego, Berkeley and Stanford in California give the East Coasters a run for their money. Boston’s primacy as a research hub is confirmed in analyses of the home cities for researchers whose work was published last year in three top journals: Nature, Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What’s Boston’s secret? Sure, it has some of the best research universities in the world, including Harvard and MIT. But Mary Walshok, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, said there are three important factors that make it easier for good scientists to stick around good research institutions:

* **Freedom: **Case studies suggest that scientists stay with instititutions that let them work on their own ideas. * **Funding:** The availability of tools and infrastructure is also key, fueled in many cases by public funding. However, local corporations and private philanthropists can do the job as well. “You can see this happening in Austin, and in Seattle,” Walshok said. * **Lifestyle:** Creature comforts and cultural sophistication are important, but scientists are particularly attracted to environments that foster creativity, which doesn’t always equal “livability.” For example, Vancouver in Canada was cited as a city that’s livable but not necessarily associated with outstanding creativity.

Where does your city rank on the scientific index? Are cities the best places to do science? Check out [“Science and the City,”][2] and feel free to leave your comments below.

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