Putting the humanities, arts and social sciences into S&T

Friday, September 28, 2012

Released yesterday, the second iteration of The State of Science and Technology in Canada report is great news for the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) community.

And here’s why: in 2010, the Minister of Industry asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to explore how Canada was faring in all fields in which research is conducted in this country. And, as the report revealed, the expert panel concluded that Canada’s S&T community—including the HASS disciplines—is “healthy and growing, in both output and impact,” and is met with high international regard.

That’s not all—the report also found six research fields in which Canada excels. Here’s where the HASS community is clearly highlighted: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.

These fields are not simply the traditional disciplines—historical studies, for example, doesn’t just refer to the researchers in history departments. The report combines sub-fields into broader groups, so historical studies includes anthropology, archaeology, classics, history, history of science, technology and medicine, history of social sciences, and paleontology. So not only are HASS leading in these six broad fields, these fields encompass many sub-fields representing thousands of HASS researchers.

And there’s more good news for the HASS community: the panel found that Canada also leads in several particular sub-fields, including business and management, classics, and criminology. And, in emerging research areas, digital media research was earmarked as one of fields in which Canada is poised to play a global leadership role.

How is this report different?

Some might remember the 2006 S&T report, which indicated that Canada’s research strengths were in natural resources, ICT, health and related life sciences, and environmental S&T. The 2006 report was noted as providing insufficient analysis of HASS disciplines, inadequately capturing the impact these research areas have.

The 2012 report improved on this field by undertaking two new methodologies. First, they used a new database, which captured more of the HASS bibliometrics. Under the advice and assistance given to the panel by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the CCA also attempted to collect data beyond traditional bibliometrics; however, because the data were sparse and the methodologies unreliable, the panel did not include these measurements. Despite this, the results of the 2012 report clearly indicate that HASS disciplines are putting Canada at the forefront of international research.

Secondly, the 2012 report undertook a survey of more than 5,000 international researchers. These researchers were drawn from those who produced the top 1% of papers cited internationally in each field—researchers who are respected leaders in their disciplines. So what did the survey show? 37% of these researchers put Canada in their top five leading countries in their field, placing Canada fourth overall in the world, behind only the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. 

Literary Studies a world leader

In terms of HASS, the report had a few other interesting facts. Canada’s Literary Studies community, for example, produces 6.7% of the world’s papers in this field, and was ranked first globally in the survey of international researchers. One of Canada’s smallest fields, Visual and Performing Arts, had the highest growth index and the greatest impact of all fields internationally—and the report indicated this trend is set to continue.

So what now? The Federal Government will take the report under advisement in developing their next S&T strategy. And the HASS community can rest assured that their work is not going unnoticed across the country and around the world, as they continue in their important research endeavours.


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