IACC/OARC Autism Spectrum Disorder Publications Analysis: The Global Landscape of Autism Research, July 2012Skip Over Navigation Links Skip Over Navigation Links
- Executive Summary
- Chapter One: Trends in Autism Research Topics and Publications
- What research themes are prominent in autism publications?
- How were 2010 publications distributed across IACC Strategic Plan Critical Question areas?
- How much has autism research grown?
- Which Critical Question research areas are showing the strongest growth?
- Main findings from analysis of trends in autism research topics and publications
- Spotlight On Risk Factor Research
- Spotlight On Treatments And Interventions Research
- Chapter Two: Impact and Maturity Of The Autism Research Field
- Chapter Three: Global Autism Research Funders
- Chapter Four: Global Autism Publications and Collaborations
- Appendix I: Methodology for Identifying ASD-Related Research Publications and Supplemental Primary Research Publication Counts
- Appendix II: Automated Categorization of ASD Publications (1980-2009)
- Appendix III: Web of Science® Journal Subject Categories
- Appendix IV: Web of Science® Citation Data
- Appendix V: Full Funder List for 2010 ASD Publications
- Appendix VI: Country Co-Authorship Pairs in 2010 ASD Publications
- Appendix VII: 2010 ASD Publication Counts by Country
- Appendix VIII: Methodology for Calculating World Share of Autism Research Publications
- List of Figures
- Figure 1. The Seven IACC Strategic Plan Critical Questions and Corresponding Research Areas
- Figure 2. Autism Research Pipeline
- Figure 3. Research Methods Used in the ASD Research Publications Analysis
- Figure 4. Main Questions Addressed in the ASD Research Publications Analysis Report
- Figure 5. Autism Publications Word Cloud
- Figure 6. Distribution of 2010 Primary Research Publications within the Seven Critical Question Areas of the IACC Strategic Plan
- Figure 7. Growth in ASD-Related Publications, 1980 to 2010
- Figure 8. Growth in ASD Research Publications by Critical Question Area within the IACC Strategic Plan, 1981 to 2010
- Figure 9. Number and Fold Growth of ASD Publications from 2000 to 2010
- Figure 10. Publication Output and Trends in Subcategories of Autism Risk Factor Research
- Figure 11. Publication Output and Trends in Subcategories of Autism Treatments and Interventions Research
- Figure 12. Autism Research Citation Rate from 1980 to 2009
- Figure 13. Impact of Autism Publications Compared to Average Citation Rates in Related Publications, 1995 to 2009
- Figure 14. Proportion of Highly Cited Autism Publications from 1995 to 2009
- Figure 15. Types of US and non-US Funders Acknowledged in 2010 Autism Publications
- Figure 16. Overlap Between Different Types of Funders Acknowledged in 2010 Autism Publications
- Figure 17. Patterns of Strategic Research Emphasis by Type of Funder in 2010 Autism Publications
- Figure 18. Extent of Global Autism Research and International Collaborations in 2010
- Figure 19. Global Growth in Autism Publications by Country, 1980 to 2010
- Figure 20. Author Countries for ASD-Related Publications as a Share of the World Total, 1980 to 2010
- Figure 21. International Autism Publication Collaboration Networks in 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010
- Figure 22. Extent of International Collaboration in Autism Research, 1980 to 2010
- Figure 23. Impact of Collaborative International Autism Publications, 1995 to 2009
- Figure 24. Impact of Collaborative Publications with Authors from Multiple Institutions, 2000 to 2010
- Figure 25. State by State Number of US Autism Publications in 2010
- Figure 26. Extent of Institutional and International Collaboration in US Autism Research, 1980 to 2010
- Figure A-27. Growth in ASD Primary Research Publications by Critical Question Area, 1981 to 2010
- Figure A-28. Number and Fold Growth of ASD Primary Research Publications from 2000 to 2010
- Figure A-29. Primary Research Publication Output and Trends in Subcategories of Autism Risk Factor Research
- Figure A-30. Primary Research Publication Output and Trends in Subcategories of Autism Treatments and Interventions Research
- List of Tables
- Table 1. 2010 Funders Acknowledged on 10 or More Publications
- Table 2. Top 25 Countries Publishing Autism Research in 2010
- Table 3. Top 25 Institutions Publishing Autism Research Globally in 2010
- Table A-4. Web of Science® and MEDLINE Article Types Classified as Secondary Articles
- Table A-5. Journals in which All Publications Were Classified as Secondary Research
- Table A-6. Comparison Group: Journal Subject Categories Comprising 75% of ASD Publications Since 1980
The goal of this broad, preliminary analysis of ASD research publication data was to examine the development and current state of autism science to inform the strategic planning efforts of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and to help various stakeholders gain insight into the possible impacts and implications of ASD research activities and investments. Publications serve as a primary output of research efforts, and an in-depth understanding of autism publication trends can help research funders, policymakers, researchers and other community stakeholders design strategies to maximize progress and cultivate breakthrough research. The data presented in this report can be used to identify potential areas of need as well as opportunities to leverage strengths across funding sources and research communities.
Collectively, the findings presented in this study suggest that autism research is a young but rapidly evolving and growing field. The recent rise in autism research publications has been remarkable, particularly since 1999, when the growth in autism publication rates began to far outpace comparable research literature. Using several parameters related to autism publications, research activity as measured by publication output was found to be expanding across all areas of the IACC Strategic Plan, with strong growth in publication rates in the last decade. The largest proportion of publications were related to the Biology Critical Question area (38% of 2010 autism publications), which encompasses a broad range of basic research focused on clarifying the underlying biological mechanisms that contribute to ASD. Publications that address Treatments and Interventions and Risk Factors had the second and third highest output in 2010 (19% and 17%, respectively). Overall, the Critical Question categories related to more basic research, particularly Biology and Risk Factors, demonstrate more publication activity than the translational categories of Diagnosis and Treatments and Interventions, which supports the hypothesis that autism research is still in a relatively early stage of development, though evolving rapidly. In the future, it will be important to track whether autism research activities shift from a basic science and discovery phase to one that is more translational, with a stronger focus on the development of practical applications in the clinic and in the community, indicating increasing maturity of the field.
Spotlights on the Risk Factors and Treatments and Interventions Critical Question areas, which are of particularly high interest in the autism stakeholder community, revealed important research trends in each group. Within the set of Risk Factors research publications, though Genetic Risk Factor research accounted for a majority of 2010 publications (56%), the number of publications on Environmental Risk Factor research accounted for 39% of 2010 Risk Factor publications and has been increasing at a rate similar to that for Genetic Risk Factors for the past decade. Epigenetic publications accounted for a relatively small share (5%) of autism research publications in 2010, but this emerging area of research has been growing appreciably since 2006. Risk Factor publication trends indicate that Environmental research activity is strong and that major advances in genetics and more recently in the understanding of epigenetics appear to be taken up quickly by the autism risk factor research community. The spotlight on Treatments and Interventions also highlighted emerging areas, showing a recent increase in publications related to Occupational, Physical, and Sensory-Based Therapies as well as Complementary, Dietary, and Alternative Interventions in the last few years. Behavioral interventions accounted for the largest proportion of publications in this Critical Question area (26%), followed by Medical/Pharmacologic treatments (18%), which have grown substantially since 1995. Since 2000, the strongest growth was observed for publications in the Technology-Based Interventions and Supports subcategory, and this trend is likely to continue as broader scientific and technological innovations continue to advance.
Commensurate with rising ASD research publication counts, autism research articles are arguably demonstrating greater research impact, with citation rates increasing between 1980 and 2009. Moreover, the average number of citations that autism publications receive was found to be higher than that of publications in comparable research fields, and the proportion of highly cited autism publications has been generally increasing since 1995. Recognition of autism publications in the scientific community has increased, particularly in the last decade, and mirrors the heightened awareness of autism in the public sphere, lending further support to the idea that the autism research field is growing and increasing in maturity.
Just as the NIH funding for autism has increased substantially in the last 10 to 15 years, results of this analysis indicate that this may be true for global autism funders, as well. While it was beyond the scope of this report to estimate global funding trends for autism, this report examined the publication activity of global funders acknowledged for supporting autism research articles published in 2010. Although autism funding acknowledgment analysis was limited by a low proportion of articles containing funder acknowledgments, the most-acknowledged funders of autism publications still likely represent major contributors to global ASD funding.
More than 700 different funding organizations were acknowledged in 870 autism articles published in 2010, consisting of an international mix of governmental agencies and private organizations. Approximately one-third of publications with funding acknowledgments cited some combination of US government, US private, and international funding support, indicating that the research community is leveraging investments from many funding sources to support research activities. The pattern of research topics supported by different funders – namely US government, US private, and non-US funders – is generally the same, with the strongest emphasis on Biology, Treatments and Interventions, and Risk Factor research for all three funder types.
As mentioned, a major limitation to the comprehensive analysis of research publication output from funders was imposed by the low proportion of funding acknowledgments found in 2010 autism publications (36%). With only approximately one-third of research articles citing funding, estimation of the outputs resulting from funder investments and productivity of global research institutions was significantly constrained. It is probable that many funders of autism research were not acknowledged for their support, making it impossible to ascertain the full scope of the outputs resulting from their investments. In the current era of tightening research budgets in the US and a number of other world economies, it is critical for funding organizations to demonstrate that research investments are resulting in positive outputs and outcomes to justify continued and enhanced research support. Thus, it is critically important for funders, policymakers, research institutions, and scientific publishers to encourage more accurate acknowledgment of funding within the various disciplines of ASD research to ensure sustained support and continued growth of the field.
This analysis also illustrates that autism research is an increasingly global endeavor. US investigators have been and continue to be the most prolific publishers of autism research; however, it is encouraging to see that other countries have substantially augmented their research efforts in recent years. With trends toward many non-US countries such as China, South Korea, India, Japan, Finland, and Germany as well as many other developing countries increasing the percentage of their gross domestic product devoted to research and development efforts, we expect that the autism research outputs of non-US countries will continue to increase.32
Finally, a defining trend revealed in this analysis is that research efforts are increasingly collaborative, crossing both institutional and national boundaries. In 2010, more than 20% of autism publications listed authors from multiple countries, which was double the proportion observed in 2000 and substantially higher than that seen in 1980, when it was near zero. The trend toward increasing collaboration is not limited to shared efforts between small groups of top-publishing countries. The network of international collaboration is increasingly being shaped by a growing number of country partners. It also appears that multi-institutional and multinational autism research publications are particularly influential, as they tend to be more frequently cited by their research peers.
In conclusion, the trends revealed by this analysis suggest that the young and rapidly growing field of autism research is benefiting from scientific advances in related emerging fields, increasing in impact, and becoming more collaborative and global. The US and the global autism research community should continue to leverage scientific opportunities and public and private investments in autism science. Critical research discoveries are still needed to find solutions to the most pressing medical and social challenges faced by people with autism, their families, and their communities. The in-depth description of the global autism research publications landscape provided in this report can aid the collective efforts of the IACC and broader autism stakeholders to enhance research efforts that can address the urgent need for more effective diagnostics, treatments and interventions, and services to meet the needs of individuals and families affected by autism across the lifespan.
All material appearing in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced, copied, or used in presentations and publications. A suggested citation follows.
Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC), National Institute of Mental Health and Thomson Reuters, Inc. on behalf of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). IACC/OARC Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Publications Analysis Report: The Global Landscape of Autism Research. July 2012. Retrieved from the Department of Health and Human Services Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee website: http://iacc.hhs.gov/publications-analysis/july2012/index.shtml