Pot vs. Beer: Which Has More Scientific Impact?

The benefits of medical marijuana.  The deleterious effects of drinking beer.  These are only two reasons the scientific community are studying marijuana and beer.  In fact, there are a number of reasons these terms might appear in scholarly publications beyond those obvious two: articles on the brewing process, for example, or items discussing the uses of hemp might also mention these terms.  Everything from Addiction (psychology of) to Zoology (effects upon), and in between, is fair game. 

Articles on materials science, engineering and physics have been published on beer and marijuana.  These terms appear in articles classified in such disparate fields as Veterinary Science, Forestry and Transportation.  We will not got into the details here, though a listing will be provided of some of the highest cited articles, but instead compare and contrast the two terms.  To what extent are beer and marijuana being studied in the scholarly community?  Who is studying it?  Who is funding the research?  Who is actually listening?

Through bibliometric and citation analyses, I hope to provide answers to these questions and more.  Read on!

(Note that all data comes from ISI’s Web of Science database (SCIE 2002-2011).  I performed two simple topic searches – one on the term “beer” and one on the term “marijuana”.  The resulting dataset was then analyzed based on ISI classifications, including subject classifications, institutional naming conventions and funding body information.)



When looking at the source material from the Web of Science, 5473 articles appeared when searching for “beer”, while 2967 articles appeared when searching for “marijuana”.  Obviously, different data sets might alter these numbers (research seems to have increased steadily over these years, and the source data does not include social science or humanities data), but these 8000+ articles will be used to be provide the data analyses to follow.

Country included in author addresses for articles on topic

Research on beer seems pretty well distributed throughout the world.  The USA produces 14.1% of the volume of research, but when considering the Web of Science coverage by nation, the US does not dominate as much as it could.  India tails the US very closely, being involved in a very high rate of articles published on the topic of beer. 

Marijuana research, on the other hand, is clearly dominated by the US, providing more research than the rest of the world combined.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Netherlands shows fairly high on this list (tee hee), just as Germany puts a head on the beer list. But there the similarity stops.  The two lists only share 6 out of the top 10 countries, and 12 out of the top 20.  In fact, 3 of the top 5 countries on the beer list (India, PRC and Japan) do not show at all on the top 10 of the marijuana list (and average out to #22 based on their placings on the marijuana list), while 2 of marijuana’s top 5 do not appear on the beer top 10. 

Subject areas of journals publishing source articles on topic

The similarities continue to diverge when we look at the subject areas of the articles.  (In fact, based on ISI classifications, this is really the subject area of the journal publishing the article.)  Marijuana research seems clearly centered around the medical, with firm foundations in the concepts of marijuana as a drug (neuroscience, substance abuse, psychology) and as a medicine (pharmacology, internal medicine, psychiatry).  It delves into other areas of research, but the majority of those, too, are medical-based. 

Beer research, again, differs.  The top focus seems to be spread around the broad disciplines of science – in addition to medical research, chemistry, biology, agriculture, physics and engineering are all represented in the research.  In fact, 20 or more articles have been published in 65 different scientific disciplines under the topic of beer, while only 39 subject areas are represented under the same criteria for marijuana.
So we can see that the primary research is varying between the two topics which, on first glance, might seem highly related.  The US dominates the medical research into the benefits and detriments against marijuana, while the world seems to share the responsibility for a vast breadth of research into the manufacturing, as well as the effects, of beer.

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