Objectives Bibliographic databases allow the study of historical trends in research output
Methods Countries active in occupational epidemiology were identified using the EPICOH membership list. Seven countries had more than 5 member scientists: USA, Canada, Sweden, UK, Italy, France, and Netherlands. Populations in 2000 were obtained from the UN website. Papers were sought in PubMed using “occupation*” and “epidemiolog*” in Title/Abstract. Country was obtained from the “affiliation” field.
Results 7,433 papers were retrieved, the earliest from the UK in 1937 . An initially steep increase in publishing has decelerated, numbers quadrupling from the 1970s to 1980s, doubling from 1980s to 1990s, but increasing by only 30% from 1990s to 2000s. The seven active countries together published 42% (3,095) of the total retrieved. No papers were retrieved from these countries before 1980, so results comparing them relate to 1980–2012. After correcting for population size, Sweden had the highest publication rate of 18.1 per million population, followed by Netherlands and Canada (7.5 and 6.7). USA, UK, France, and Italy were similar (5.2, 4.9, 4.9, and 4.6). In absolute numbers, the USA was the most prolific (1,449).
Conclusions These findings must be interpreted with caution because any word search is dependent on the use of language, which varies between countries and language groups, and over time. Also, the affiliation field refers only to the first author. With these caveats, this historical analysis supports some anecdotal impressions about occupational epidemiology: Nordic countries, relative to their size, have made a major contribution; historically, papers have come from a small pool of countries; the large volume of papers from the USA is likely to be influential; and the trend of accelerating research output seen in the twentieth century may have stabilised.
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