First evidence for the Brain Drain
Sep 7, 2000
A study tracking the careers of UK scientists has produced the first tentative evidence that the 'brain drain' really exists (Alice Sharp Pierson and Peter Cotgreave 2000 Nature 407 13).
Sharp Pierson and Cotgreave of the Save British Science Society analysed the publishing records of 252 scientists who gained their doctoral degrees in the UK. They compared the quality of the scientists' early published research with their current country of residence, using the number of citations a paper received as a measure of quality. Scientists who remained in the UK were found to have published similar numbers of papers to those currently in the US, but the mean number of citations per article was significantly higher for scientists who now live in the US.
The result is not conclusive proof that the best British scientists are emigrating to the US, emphasise Sharp Pierson and Cotgreave. They point out that citation level is an unreliable indicator of quality, and that there are many reasons why scientists may not publish their work. Nevertheless, the study provides the first quantitative support for the brain drain, and shows that the UK Government's significant new investment in British science has come at a good time.