We examine the hypothesis that research collaboration has enabled a global research network to evolve, with self-organizing properties transcending national research policy. We examine research output, bilateral and multilateral collaboration, subject diversity, and citation impact over 40 years: In detail for the G7 and BRICK groups of countries and in summary for 26 other nations. We find that the rise in national output was strongly associated with bilateral collaboration until the 2000s but after that by multilateral partnerships, with the shift happening at much the same time across countries. There was a general increase in research subject diversity, with evenness across subjects converging on a similar index value for many countries. Similar diversity is not the same as actual similarity but, in fact, the G7 countries became increasingly similar. National average citation impact (CNCI) rose and groups converged on similar impact values. The impact of the largest economies is above world average: A phenomenon we discuss separately. The similarities in patterns and timing occur across countries despite variance in their research policies, such as research assessment. We suggest that the key agent facilitating global network self-organization is a shared concept of best practice in research.

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Handing Editor: Ludo Waltman

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