Research Olympics

The Authorea Team

The 2016 Olympics have captivated the world -- records are breaking, medal counts are climbing, and nationalism is roaring! It's all very exciting. It should get even more exciting in Tokyo in four years time at the 2020 games when several new sports are scheduled to be introduced, including surfing, skateboarding, and... research! Okay, research definitely won't be included, but what if it were? How would each country fare? Here we look at research output vs. Olympic prowess on a per-country basis.

The Olympics

In the 2012 Olympic games in London, the USChina, and Russia dominated, with the UK close behind. Given that these countries have some of the largest populations and economies in the world, such a result wasn't exactly a surprise. But there were some interesting correlations we didn't predict.
To account for population sizes, we divided medal count of each country by population. Competing countries earned between 0 and 3 medals per million inhabitants. Taking population into account shows that the US and China are no longer the dominant countries. Instead, a small group of countries not typically seen as Olympic powerhouses outperforms the rest. In particular, New Zealand, Hungary, Australia, Denmark, and Croatia performed better than the rest with values of 1 medal or more per 1 million people. India showed the opposite effect with a particularly low number of medals per million inhabitants (about 0.005).