China ‘to overtake US on science’ in two years
David Shukman Science and environment correspondent, BBC News
China’s surge in progress could soon overwhelm the US, say experts
China is on course to overtake the US in scientific output possibly as soon as 2013 – far earlier than expected.
That is the conclusion of a major new study by the Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy.
The country that invented the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing is set for a globally important comeback.
An analysis of published research – one of the key measures of scientific effort – reveals an “especially striking” rise by Chinese science.
The study, Knowledge, Networks and Nations, charts the challenge to the traditional dominance of the United States, Europe and Japan.
The figures are based on the papers published in recognised international journals listed by the Scopus service of the publishers Elsevier.
In 1996, the first year of the analysis, the US published 292,513 papers – more than 10 times China’s 25,474.
By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China’s had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.
Previous estimates for the rate of expansion of Chinese science had suggested that China might overtake the US sometime after 2020.
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There are many millions of graduates but they are mandated to publish so the numbers are high”
End Quote Dr Cong Cao Nottingham University
But this study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world’s second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years’ time.
“Projections vary, but a simple linear interpretation of Elsevier’s publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013,” it says.
Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the report, said he was “not surprised” by this increase because of China’s massive boost to investment in R&D.
Chinese spending has grown by 20% per year since 1999, now reaching over $100bn, and as many as 1.5 million science and engineering students graduated from Chinese universities in 2006.
“I think this is positive, of great benefit, though some might see it as a threat and it does serve as a wake-up call for us not to become complacent.”
The report stresses that American research output will not decline in absolute terms and raises the possibility of countries like Japan and France rising to meet the Chinese challenge.
“But the potential for China to match American output in terms of sheer numbers in the near to medium term is clear.”
The authors describe “dramatic” changes in the global scientific landscape and warn that this has implications for a nation’s competitiveness.
According to the report, “The scientific league tables are not just about prestige – they are a barometer of a country’s ability to compete on the world stage”.
Along with the growth of the Chinese economy, this is yet another indicator of China’s extraordinarily rapid rise as a global force.
However the report points out that a growing volume of research publications does not necessarily mean in increase in quality.
One key indicator of the value of any research is the number of times it is quoted by other scientists in their work.
Although China has risen in the “citation” rankings, its performance on this measure lags behind its investment and publication rate.
“It will take some time for the absolute output of emerging nations to challenge the rate at which this research is referenced by the international scientific community.”
The UK’s scientific papers are still the second most-cited in the world, after the US.
Dr Cong Cao, associate professor at Nottingham University’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, agrees with the assessment that the quantity of China’s science is yet not matched by its quality.
A sociologist originally from Shanghai, Dr Cao told the BBC: “There are many millions of graduates but they are mandated to publish so the numbers are high.
“It will take many years for some of the research to catch up to Western standards.”
As to China’s motivation, Dr Cao believes that there is a determination not to be dependent on foreign know-how – and to reclaim the country’s historic role as a global leader in technology.
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China set to outstrip US in science research output
China has shot to second place in the number of articles published in international science magazines and in a few years will take the top spot from the United States, according to a new report.
“China has already overtaken the UK as the second leading producer of research publications, but some time before 2020 it is expected to surpass the USA,” said the report by the Royal Society in London.
While the top 10 is still dominated by the major Western powers, their share of research papers published is falling, the report said.
And as well as China, Brazil and India are coming up fast.
“The USA leads the world in research, producing 20 percent of the world?s authorship of research papers, dominating world university league tables, and investing nearly $400 billion per year in public and private research and development,” said the report released Monday.
“The UK, Japan, Germany and France each also command strong positions in the global league tables, producing high quality publications and attracting researchers to their world class universities and research institutes,” it added.
But while these five countries alone produced 59 percent of all spending on science globally, their dominant position was nevertheless slipping.
China shot up from sixth place in the period 1999-2003 (4.4 percent of the total) to second place behind the United States with 10.2 percent over the years 2004-08, overtaking Japan.
While the United States remained in the top spot, it saw its share shrink from 26.4 percent to 21.2 percent.
Britain remained third with its share at 6.5 percent, down from 7.1 percent.
In a statement last week after Britain’s budget however, the Royal Society welcomed finance minister George Osborne’s promise of another £100 million (114 million euros, $160 million) of capital investment in science.
Japan slipped from second to fourth place, falling from 7.8 percent to 6.1 percent, said the report.
Germany, in fifth place, published six percent, down from seven percent, while France, in sixth, published 4.4 percent, down from five percent.
Rounding off the top 10 were Canada, Italy, Spain — and India, which pushed Russia out of the top 10, moving up from 13th position.
“China?s rise up the rankings has been especially striking,” said the report.
“China has heavily increased its investment in R&D (research and development), with spending growing by 20 percent per year since 1999 to reach over $100 billion a year today,” it continued.
That came to 1.44 percent of the country’s GDP in 2007, it added.
“China is also turning out huge numbers of science and engineering graduates, with 1.5 million leaving its universities in 2006,” the report added.
Further down the rankings, but making dramatic progress, were Iran and Turkey.
Turkey’s improved scientific performance had been almost as dramatic as China’s, the report said, noting that it had declared research a public priority in the 1990s.
The country had increased its research and development nearly six-fold between 1995 and 2007, and during the same period, the number of researchers there had increased by 43 percent.
Iran was the fastest-growing country in terms of numbers of scientific publications, rising from 736 in 1996 to 13,238 in 2008.
“The scientific world is changing and new players are fast appearing,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, who chaired the study at the Royal Society, Britain’s national science academy.
“Beyond the emergence of China, we see the rise of southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, north African and other nations.
“The increase in scientific research and collaboration, which can help us to find solutions to the global challenges we now face, is very welcome.
“However, no historically dominant nation can afford to rest on its laurels if it wants to retain the competitive economic advantage that being a scientific leader brings.”
The Royal Society’s findings were published in its report entitled “Knowledge, networks and nations: Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century”.
© 2011 AFP
This story is sourced direct from an overseas news agency as an additional service to readers. Spelling follows North American usage, along with foreign currency and measurement units.
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