MORE than half of Australian scientific research papers are below a key world standard, leading to calls by the country's Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, for a review of how research funds are distributed.
Professor Chubb's office measured rates at which papers were cited by others, an indicator of research quality, and found 55 per cent of Australian papers published in the past 15 years scored below the world average rate of 9.7.
The subsequent report containing the findings came as the Australian National University and the University of Canberra released a list of PhDs completed last year, including a three-year study into how time travel is represented in movies and another into why women have horses.
Professor Chubb said he did not want to see humanities research cut completely but funding priorities and criteria would have to be reassessed if the quality of scientific papers was to improve.
"We need to make sure that we are not spreading our money too thinly.
''We have to look at priorities and focus on areas that are of particular importance to Australia and the world,'' he said.
"The real issue is, given that research support has been rationed, we can't fund everything that people would like to do.''
He said all research should meet quality thresholds.
"Then you have to have a process that makes sure we do the things that are critically important … if you readjust that process, then some people who presently get a small amount of funding would get less,'' he said.
Although the citation average for Australian scientific papers overall was, at about 13, above the world average, Professor Chubb said 12 to 17 per cent of all Australian research was never cited.
He said Australia should compare itself to the best in the world.
The average rate for Europe was 13.5.
"Criteria such as quality, merit and interest do have to be fairly stringently applied … we have to see if our systems are working in our favour,'' Professor Chubb said.
''How much money is distributed? How much is available? They are valid questions to ask, though the answers will be very controversial.''