This paper explores the changing role of world regions (North America, EU15, South EU, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Former-USSR, Latin America, Asia Pacific and the Middle East) in science from 1981 to 2011. We use bibliometric data extracted from Thomson Reuter’s National Science Indicators (2011) for 21 broad disciplines, and aggregated the data into the four major science areas: life, fundamental, applied and social sciences. Comparing three sub-periods (1981–1989, 1990–2000 and 2001–2011), we investigate (i) over time changes in descriptive indicators such as publications, citations, and relative impact; (ii) static specialization measured by revealed comparative advantage (RCA) in citations and papers; and (iii) dynamic specialization measured by absolute growth in papers. Descriptive results show a global shift in science largely in quantity (papers) and much less in impact (citations). We argue this should be interpreted as a shift in science’s absorptive capacity but not necessarily a shift of knowledge generation at the world science frontier, which reflects the nature of science systems operating with high inertia and path dependency in areas of their historically inherited advantages and disadvantages. In view of their common historical legacy in science we are particularly interested in the process of convergence/divergence of the catching-up/transition regions with the world frontier regions. We implement an interpretative framework to compare regions in terms of their static and dynamic specialization from 1981–1989 to 2001–2011. Again, our analysis shows that while science systems are mostly characterised by strong inertia and historically inherited (dis)advantages, Asia Pacific, Latin America and CEE show strong catching-up characteristics but largely in the absorptive capacity of science.
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- absorptive capacity in science base
- static scientific specialization
- dynamic scientific specialization
- revealed comparative advantage
- world regions