Collaboration Behaviour of Berlin Life Scientists
before and after the Fall of the Wall in 1989

by Frank Havemann
Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftsforschung e.V.,
Prenzlauer Promenade 149, 
13189 Berlin


Coming together to get publishable research results is not always a simple task. There can be geographical, cultural, disciplinary and political barriers, which have to be overcome. The Berlin Wall was such a barrier. After its fall in November 1989 Berlin Scientists changed their collaboration behaviour. Research groups in East Berlin went West to look for partners and vice versa. The numbers of papers in life science journals with co-authors working in Berlin and co-authors in other places are discussed against the background of the international trend to more and more collaboration in science. This trend can also be realised by comparing author number distributions. It is noteworthy that East German life scientists were nearly always ahead their West German colleagues, if the time series of mean author numbers are compared.


Due to the high degree of specialisation in science the value of new research results can often not be easily assessed by colleagues in the same institute. At first only the researchers around the world working in the same narrow field can take part in the process of evaluating new findings. A reputation is gained in the first instance in this global scientific community. This can be demonstrated to local sponsors and decision makers by listing international collaboration partners of the research group. But there are barriers to be overcome before collaboration across the borders of states can show useful results. The geographic distance, the difference in language and also political borders can make it difficult to communicate. Berlin before the fall of the Wall is a good example of political hindrance of collaboration between scientists in the two parts of the town.

Scientists have not only to overcome political and cultural barriers. To formulate and to resolve applied and basic scientific problems is often not possible without crossing disciplinary borders. Interdisciplinary research does not have to be done collectively; it can also be carried out by one scientist, if he or she is able to use results, concepts or methods from different fields or sub-fields, but this is not often the case nowadays. At big institutes the departments can help each other to fill gaps of special knowledge; at universities specialists of different disciplines can easily come together; in big cities and in regions where scientific institutions are concentrated the missing experts can be met without the necessity to travel over long distances. 

Disciplinary and interdisciplinary, national and international collaboration can but does not have to be result in co-authored papers. But co-authorship is easily detected in bibliographic databases and widely used as a reliable indicator of collaboration. There is a world-wide trend towards more and more co-authors affiliated at more and more institutes which are located in more and more countries. International collaboration in particular is becoming easier: English is accepted as the lingua franca of science, the Iron Curtain has fallen and the Internet has made telecommunication easy, cheap and fast.

In fields of research where complex machinery is needed groups of different specialists are necessary to build and to use it. The tendency towards big science is reflected in growing numbers of co-authors. Collaboration between single researchers in a group at an institute can help them to obtain results faster and to get ahead of the field. Institutes, groups and single scientists are more and more evaluated with regard to their publication numbers. The slogan Publish or perish! reflects this trend. It can be suspected that co-operative research and publishing of its results is not only of advantage because results can be obtained earlier but also because single scientists and teams can thus rather easily extend their lists of publications. But the strong tendency towards scientific collaboration between countries, institutes and single researchers has its deeper root surely in the fact, that it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain research results, and therefore more and more people and machines must come together to get publishable findings (although the people involved know more and the machines used can do more then before). 

Since 1990 the East and the West in Berlin are mixing more and more both from the point of stuff and institutions. The related process of equalisation in the modes of scientific research has many aspects. The co-authorship data which are available to me allow me to analyse the local, national and international collaboration behaviour of Berlin life scientists in both parts of the town during the eighties and nineties of the twentieth century. Differences and changes can be made visible. The comparison of Berlin with the rest of Germany shows its special advantages and disadvantages. Narrowing the analysed research field makes this comparison more independent from the disciplinary profile of Berlin research but on the other hand the random fluctuations get bigger. Therefore it can be assumed that research in the life sciences - done by all three universities and important other institutions in Berlin - is a field which is not too broad and not too narrow for statistical analysis. The life sciences are understood here to include biology, agricultural sciences, and biomedicine but not clinical medicine. The results of the collaboration analysis are thought to enrich the knowledge about an historical process. The methods used are not new.

Data sources

Most of the data are downloaded from the CD-ROM edition of the Science Citation Index (SCI) of the years 1980 till 1999. This well known data base is compiled by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in Philadelphia, USA, from more then 3000 international core journals in all fields and sub-fields of science. All co-authors are included in the bibliographic records together with all institutional addresses. The SCI journal set changes every year. New core journals are indexed and others disappear or are excluded because they have lost their value. The ISI provides also sub-field lists of journals. There are some overlaps of sub-fields. I have analysed those journals which are related to 26 life science sub-fields. Generally only documents of the types article, review, letter, and note are counted (not editorials, meeting-abstracts, corrections etc.). Exceptions are marked.


The number and share of publications of Berlin life scientists with co-authors from abroad in the journals under consideration were increasing in both parts of the town during the last two decades of the 20th century nearly every year. In the early eighties about 10% of the papers in the East of the town and more than 20% in the West presented results gained in international collaboration. In the mid-nineties this lag had nearly disappeared and both figures arrived at about 30%. The life scientists in West Germany had by then reached this level too, whereas in the eighties their numbers were significantly lower than those of West Berlin. In the last five years of the millennium the average share reached 37% with the East nearly 2% behind the West. Germany's five new states in the East had a lower degree of international collaboration. 

From both parts of the town emanated also more and more life science papers with German co-authors who were not working in Berlin. 

During the eighties only eleven papers published in the considered journals had co-authors from both the East and the West of Berlin. At first there were only two Berlin life science institutes co-operating across the Wall: the institute for molecular biology and biochemistry at the Free University in the West, and the mental hospital of the Charité (part of the Humboldt University) in the East. Other Berlin life science institutes came into this club not till 1989. The scientific East-West relations in Germany as a whole were not as absolutely restricted in the eighties as in the divided city. 

There is a tremendous increase of absolute numbers of life science papers with authors from West-Berlin after a phase of stagnation that ended in 1987. The related East-Berlin numbers went slowly down in the eighties, reached a minimum in 1992 and increased remarkably since then. Both increases show a common feature: the numbers of papers without co-authors from abroad or from other parts of Germany did not grow at all or grew rather slowly. The development in East and West Germany (including West and East Berlin, respectively) was similar. The minimum of eastern publication numbers in 1992 or 1993, respectively, was surely caused by stuff reduction during the restructuring of the East German science system (Meske, 1993).

As could be expected, the countries where most of the East or the West German collaboration partners in life science came from where different till 1989. In the nineties the related ranking lists became more similar. In East Germany the republics of former Soviet Union (taken as a whole) lost their first position in the first half of the nineties, but not in East Berlin. The other East European countries and also Cuba and Vietnam fall back on the ranking list of partners but they also had absolutely less papers co-authored with East Berlin life scientists. Their positions were taken over by western countries and Japan.

Berlin life scientists intensified not only co-operation with the rest of the world. In the period under consideration there was also a growing share of papers published by authors from two ore more Berlin institutes or departments of institutes.

Team work dominates more and more. The share of life science papers with only one author from both East or West Germany has decreased. In the early eighties about one third of publications with one address had one single author, a share of one fifth remained in the mid-nineties. The teams in institutes or departments are growing. This can be visualised by average author numbers of papers with only one address. Averages are sensitive against single cases with very high numbers. Therefore I have excluded the rare publications with more than ten authors from the analysis. The West German average had been increased nearly every year during the two decades. East Germany had reached the West German level of 1991 already seven years earlier. Then it stagnated till 1994. If also papers with more than one institutional address are included the East showed nearly every year higher averages than the West, both in Berlin and in the whole country. The opposite could have been expected. 


In 1980 only 10% of papers with German addresses published in journals indexed in the SCI had also foreign co-authors, in the second half of the nineties this figure exceeded 30% (Schmoch, 1999). Note that the SCI covers all fields and subfields of science including applied and technological ones. German as Berlin life scientists had extended their transnational co-operation in similar dimensions with West Berlin going ahead. As expected they also intensified East-West collaboration after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Unexpected and not yet explained by me is the result that East German life scientists were ahead their colleagues from the West regarding the tendency towards higher numbers of authors per paper. Perhaps the analysis of other scientific fields or other countries can shed more light upon this issue.


Havemann, F., Lokale, nationale und internationale Kooperationsbeziehungen Berliner Biowissenschaftler in den 80er Jahren und in der ersten Hälfte der 90er Jahre des 20. Jahrhunderts. - In: Jahrbuch Wissenschaftsforschung 1999, Berlin 2000 (to be published). 

Hicks, D. / Katz, J. S., Science policy for a highly collaborative science system. - In: Science and Public Policy. 23(1) (1996) 39 - 44.

Luukkonen, T. et al., Understanding Patterns of International Scientific Collaboration. - In: Science, Technology, & Human Values (London). 17(1) (1992) 101 - 126.

Meske, W., The Restructuring of the East German Research - a Provisional Appraisal. - In: Science and Public Policy, 20 (1993) 298 ff.

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Schmoch, U., Noten für die deutsche Forschung? - In: bild der wissenschaft (1999) Issue 1, 42 - 46.


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