Transnational research networks (TRN) are becoming increasingly complex. Such complexity may have both positive and negative effects on the quality of research. Our work studies the evolution over time of Chinese TRN and the role of complexity on the quality of Chinese research, given the leading role this country has recently acquired in international science. We focus on the fields of geriatrics and gerontology. We build an original dataset of all scientific publications of China in these areas in 2009, 2012 and 2015, starting from the ISI Web of Knowledge (ISI WoK) database. Using Social Network Analysis (SNA), we analyze the change in scientific network structure across time. Second, we design indices to control for the different aspects of networks complexity (number of authors, country heterogeneity and institutional heterogeneity) and we perform negative binomial regressions to identify the main determinants of research quality. Our analysis shows that research networks in the field of geriatrics and gerontology have gradually become wider in terms of countries and have become more balanced. Furthermore, our results identify that different forms of complexity have different impacts on quality, including a reciprocal moderating effect. In particular, according to our analysis, research quality benefits from complex research networks both in terms of countries and of types of institutions involved, but that such networks should be “compact” in terms of number of authors. Eventually, we suggest that complexity should be carefully taken into account when designing policies aimed at enhancing the quality of research.
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