Report: China Tops U.S. for Output of Influential Natural Science Papers

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China has overtaken the United States on publishing influential and widely-cited papers on the natural sciences, including chemistry and engineering, Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy announced Tuesday.

The Japanese government-linked institute reached its conclusion by counting papers in the top ten percent of citations by other researchers between 2017 and 2019, Nikkei Asia reported. China averaged 40,2019 highly-cited papers during those years, growing 500 percent over the course of a decade, while the U.S. had 37,124.

This left China with 24.8 percent of the top papers, the U.S. with 22.9 percent, and third-place Britain with 5.4 percent. China also published more research papers overall than the United States over the past two years.

However, in the top one percent of highly-cited “top papers,” the U.S. still leads with 27.2 percent to China’s 25 percent.

China has “shown strength in academic fields that are close to business and industry,” while the U.S. excels at papers in biological science, Nikkei Asia observed.

One year ago, Nikkei Asian Review cited another study from Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy that contended China had “outstripped the U.S. in putting out research papers in the natural sciences,” producing 19.9 percent of scientific papers between 2016 and 2018 versus 18.3 percent for the United States.

At that time, China accounted for 22 percent of the most widely cited research papers, while the U.S. produced 24.7 percent. China had 21.9 percent of the “top papers” against 29.3 percent for the U.S., suggesting China closed that gap considerably when the Japanese institute prepared the 2021 edition of its report.

Nikkei Asian Review suggested in 2020 that China improved its research paper output by dramatically increasing the amount it spends on R&D and universities:

Driving China’s rise in scientific contributions is its heavy investment in R&D, as well as the growing number of researchers. The country dedicated about $554 billion to gross domestic R&D spending in 2018 when adjusted for purchasing power, up 10% from the previous year.

Although the U.S. remains the top R&D nation, 2018 spending only rose 5% to about $581 billion.

Moreover, China’s spending on universities has climbed conspicuously, multiplying 10.2 times between 2000 and 2018, while expenditures in the U.S. grew only 1.8 times during that period.

China has a significant number of researchers, given its relatively recent surge in spending on universities – 1.87 million, versus 1.43 million for the U.S. as of 2020. The Japanese study partially attributed this to the huge number of Chinese students studying in the United States, topping 300,000 in 2013 and surging to 370,000 by the 2018-2019 academic year.

Both the 2020 and 2021 studies from the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy were rueful over Japan’s declining research output. The Institute noted Japan was firmly in second place in the 2000s, but slipped to fourth place in overall output by 2020, and ninth place among the most highly-cited papers.


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