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China Overtakes US As Top Producer Of High Quality Scientific Papers

The US remains top dog in some scientific fields, but for how long? 

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockAug 11 2022, 11:51 UTC
Workers operate intelligent machines to produce LED product orders at the production workshop of Jiangxi Lanke Semiconductor Co., LTD in the emerging industry base in Jiujiang, China
Recent years have seen much talk about China’s rise to overtake the US as the dominant scientific superpower. Image credit: humphery/Shutterstock.com

China has overtaken the US as the biggest producer of scientific research papers in terms of both quantity and quality, according to a new report from Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP).

The NISTEP report looked at a number of key indicators of the science and technology activities of different countries, such as the number of scientific papers produced, the number of patents filed, research and development (R&D) expenditure, and the number of researchers. 

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Much of the report focused on Japan’s standing in the world, but one of the major findings was that China surpassed the US when it came to the number of the top 1 percent cited scientific papers produced, becoming the world's leader for the first time. 

“China is one of the top countries in the world in terms of both the quantity and quality of scientific papers,” Shinichi Kuroki from the Japan Science and Technology Agency told Nikkei Asia. “In order to become the true global leader, it will need to continue producing internationally recognized research.”

After the US, the countries with the highest number of highly cited papers, in order, were the UK, Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada, France, and India.  

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The US did come out on top in regards to R&D expenses and the number of scientific companies, but it was trumped by China in terms of the number of universities, scientific public institutions, and researchers. 

Much of this will come as no surprise. Another recent report by the Harvard Kennedy School found China has overtaken the US in some – but not all – key 21st-century technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G, quantum information science (QIS), semiconductors, biotechnology, and green energy.

In some races — most notably 5G and quantum information science — the report finds that China has already established dominance. In other fields, current trajectories suggest it will overtake the US within the next 10 years. 

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A 2020 report specifically looked at R&D and found that the US accounted for 25 percent of the global amount of money spent on it in 2017, while China made up 23 percent. However, the rate at which China is upping their R&D funding was massively outpacing the US and was likely to outdistance it very soon, if it hasn't already.

Many have also dubbed the fierce competition of space exploration between the US and China as the new “space race.” NASA still holds its own as an incredibly powerful space agency, but China National Space Administration is catching up fast. Recent years have seen China pull off a number of impressive feats, such as imaging the whole of Mars, missions to the “dark side” of the Moon, and establishing their own space station.


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