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Evaluating the research impact of Australia’s state natural history museums

Green, Tayla (2021) Evaluating the research impact of Australia’s state natural history museums. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study is a bibliometric assessment of the research output of Australia’s mainland State Natural History Museums (ASNHMs), covering all literature published by these museums within the Scopus database from 1981 – 2020. ASNHMs include the Australian Museum (Sydney), Western Australian Museum (Perth), South Australian Museum (Adelaide), Queensland Museum (Brisbane), and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (Darwin). The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was excluded because of its modest size and research output. The National Museum of Australia is also excluded because it is concerned primarily with social history.

ASNHMs are a vital repository of the range of Australia's unique biodiversity.

They hold invaluable collections of natural history specimens that are major contributors to the taxonomic and systematic research of national and global biodiversity. Conserving biodiversity is a great challenge, and ASNHMs play a vital role in contributing to research and the implementation of plans to conserve Australia’s flora and fauna, known often for its high level of endemism and vulnerability in the face of climate change, habitat destruction, and threats from introduced pests and diseases.

This research reveals that ASNHM research is prolific, covers many topics, and is amongst some of the most influential literature in the world. The ASNHM’s published 9,770 papers over the study period, rising from 38 in 1981 to 529 in 2020. Four areas predominated, comprising in total almost 80% of the entries in all year blocks: Agricultural and Biological Sciences – 1981-1985 (n = 171, 44.42%) through to 2016- 2020 (n = 1960, 47.85%).

Earth and Planetary Sciences - 1981-1985 (n = 83, 21.56%) through to 2016-2020 (n = 439, 10.72%).
Environmental Science – 1981-1985 (n = 56, 14.55%) through to 2016-2020 (n = 553, 13.50%).
Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology – (1981-1985 n = 15, 3.90%) through to 2016-2020 n = 358, 8.74%).

The rise in publications in Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology reflects the growing significance of this discipline in museum work.

Analysis of the 50 most highly cited papers over this period revealed that the number of citations ranged from 299 – 1,793, with most papers coming from the subject areas Agricultural and Biological Sciences (39%) and Multidisciplinary (27%). A Field- Weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) was available for 46 of the top 50 papers, with a range of 1.35 to 80.95 (mean 13.45). A FWCI of 1 indicates a paper performing at the average for its discipline, so these papers clearly outperformed others in their field.

All preceding analyses assume that all museum work is being captured through conventional searches of Scopus. By searching for the records of two long-standing museum researchers in Scopus secondary documents (documents not listed in Scopus but cited by documents are in Scopus), the comprehensiveness of a conventional search could be checked. The secondary document searches revealed a large body of scholarship that was not detected by conventional database searches. One author had nearly 300 entries in secondary documents and the other over 200. These large bodies of scholarship generated h-indices of 23 and 17 respectively. Thus, conventional searches underestimate the extent of research publications from ASNHM researchers.

ASNHM researchers have achieved their strong record through high collaboration with universities, government agencies, conservation organisations and other leading authorities in protecting ecosystems and wildlife, hitting high notes in topics of great social, environmental and economic importance.

This research highlights the importance of research conducted by ASNHMs, their scientists and their affiliates, their collaboration within Australia and internationally. In documenting the range of research conducted by ASNHMs, this study heroes the significance of this collective research in the face of ever-increasing budget constraints that threaten the existence of museum research.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Supervisor(s): Calver, Michael
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