The rising quantity and quality of research in the BRIC nations—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—has been gaining attention for years now. A new report from Thomson Reuters adds a fifth country, South Korea, and a new acronym, BRICK countries, finding "clear evidence of a growing wedge of excellent research" occurring in all these nations.

"[T]here is still some way to go before the BRICK research bases generally match [the] impact benchmarks" of the G7 advanced countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan), the report notes, but "the numbers of very highly-cited papers has increased." Building Bricks: Exploring the Global Research and Innovation Impact of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea, written by Jonathan Adams, David Pendlebury, and Bob Stembridge, highlights these countries' public and private investments in research and development, their scientific and engineering labor forces, their output of research papers and particularly active areas of research, their academic impact as measured by citations, and their economic potential based on innovation and patenting. 

The rapidly growing influence of the BRICK countries is obvious in the authorship profile of the research publications indexed by Thomson Reuters in its Web of Knowledge, the authors write. "In 1973, about two-thirds of [those] nearly 400,000 research publications … had an author in one of the G7 countries." Today, of the 1.75 million publications "being indexed, … barely half will have a G7 author. … A significant part of that change is attributable to rapid research growth" in the BRICKs.

When it comes to research output, "The general trend for the BRICK countries is upwards," the report states. China, with more than 150,000 published papers tracked by Reuters's Web of Knowledge in 2011, "has soared" far into the lead among the five. South Korea, with about 40,000 and Brazil with about 30,000, each "have developed a steady upwards curve." India, with an output close to South Korea's, "has been the 'sleeping giant' but has now begun to stir and is probably on a path that will see it matching leading EU countries at around 100,000 papers per year by 2020." Only Russia, which long led the other four, is not on an ascending curve. Having produced about 25,000 papers per year for several decades, it now finds itself last in the pack.

Beyond increasing research quantity, the report also sees "strong signals of improving research impact among the five BRICK countries." Though citation rates still fall below the world average for all five countries, the rates have risen over time for all, with South Korea and China in the lead.

Significantly, the nations have distinctive areas of research strength. "For the 'RICKs, physics, chemistry, engineering and materials are the lead areas, but for Brazil, the 'natural knowledge economy', life and environmental sciences lead all the way."

Increasing accomplishment in research has thus far generally gone hand in hand with rising gross domestic product (GDP) in each nation. "Greater GDP implies that there may be more money available to invest in R&D, leading to greater innovation and competitiveness, thus sustaining the economic growth trajectory," the authors write.

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.