China’s burgeoning scientific muscle

China's burgeoning scientific muscle

News: It’s well-known that the publication of scientific research in the form of journal articles especially (but also books, book chapters, and other formats) has skyrocketed. The increases have been seemingly exponential since the 1960’s.

Multiple factors account for this explosion of publication, But, at the base, the reward system in academia continues to favor research and publication over teaching and service. “Publish or perish” is still a motivator for junior faculty.

Beginning in the 1800’s, western countries (Germany, England, France, etc.) dominated scientific research. As the 20th-century moved along, especially after World War II, the United States became the preeminent power in science and technology. U.S. investment in basic and applied research dwarfed that of other countries and was often more than all other countries combined.

Beginning in the early 2000’s though, U.S. and western dominance began to be challenged by China. Despite a “brain drain” where many top Chinese scientists moved away to work in the United States and other western countries, China has steadily moved up the scientific ladder–through an organized program of funding and other educational enhancements plus programs to bring scientists back home. At the same time, scientific funding has weakened in the United States and other western countries. Attacks on science, scientists, and students for short-term political gain has eroded the science that helped build a high standard of living in the west.

U.S. leadership in science and technology is slipping away.

Examples of China’s burgeoning scientific muscle can be shown through publication rates. Using the databases Chemical Abstracts and Medline, publication rates show these trends:

Comparison of the number of research publications from the years 2000 and before with the years 2001-2019 —

SubjectAICVDOrgChemInorgChemSolar PowerSurgery
% increase in pubs. in English60061714015260845
% increase in pubs. in Chinese20161833173719584196503

Both are increasing along with the continued overall increase in scientific publication; but, the growth of Chinese-language scientific publication is overtaking that of other languages.

“Contributions to major scientific journals by American scientists have steadily declined over the past few years, while contributions from China are on the rise. If these two opposing trends are sustained, China’s scientific output will eclipse that of the US” by about 2025.

What will this mean for the United States, China, and the world? One possibility is that “the United States appears to be on a course that will lead to a declining, not growing, standard of living for our children and grandchildren.” Or, will Chinese scientific leadership lead to greater gains for all?

Do you want to see greater investment in and emphasis on science and STEM education in the United States?

Learn more: How China could dominate science (The Economist, 12 January 2019).

And, go to a source: Parkinson’s disease: Evolution of the scientific literature from 1983 to 2017 by countries and journals (C. Robert, et al., Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, April 2019).

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