Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Tsunami Wipes out Science

By Guy Nolch

A new study has examined the effect of the 2011 Japanese tsunami on research output.

The research paper's abstract begins: "Suppose there is a scientist that writes a paper for a peer-reviewed journal. How likely is it that a natural disaster will terminate, change, suspend or discontinue some aspect of this editorial process?"

Pretty likely, you'd think.

Edoardo Magnone of the Korea Institute of Energy Research saw an excellent opportunity to test this scenario after the Japanese tsunami last year. Magnone "focused on the short-term impacts of Japan's triple disaster – earthquake, Tsunami, and nuclear accident (11 March, 2011) – on the Academic Research Output in materials science.

"Consistent with the hypothesis that a disaster might slow down knowledge production, the conclusion showed that the Japan's triple disaster strongly influenced the Academic Research Output of papers in the selected field of science. Using statistical data, these findings show that the number of submitted papers and the cumulative number of authors contributing to the field of materials science decreased immediately after the March 11th events in the areas affected by disaster."

The study found:
"► the number of papers submitted decreased in the areas affected by disaster.
"► the number of authors was geographically dependent in the areas affected by disaster.
"► natural disasters are disadvantageous events as they contract the knowledge horizon."

These conclusions may have seemed obvious from the start, but the study has been deemed worthy of publication in the April 2012 edition of the Journal of Informetrics.