Chinese Science to Take Centre Stage

30 Mar

China was the birth place of the compass, the rudder, and gun powder. Today though one would think of China more as the work shop of the world than a Silicon Valley. Nonetheless, a new report by the Royal Society (the UK’s national academy of Science) highlights China as a scientific rival to traditional “scientific superpowers” such as the US, Western Europe and Japan.

You can  download the entire report from the following link: http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/Influencing_Policy/Reports/2011-03-28-Knowledge-networks-nations.pdf

In recent years China has overtaken both Japan and Europe in terms of its output of academic scientific publications. Over the years 1999-2003 China was the 6th largest contributor at 4% (25,464 papers in total, vs. 292,513 in the US). By 2004 to 2008 China had jumped to 2nd place reaching a commanding 10% of global output (184,080 paper in total, vs. 316,317 in the US). To reach that point, China had to grow output 18% annually over 1996-2008 (see graphs below – China is the bright red segment in both charts).

 

The report calls China’s rise up the rankings as “especially striking”, and attributes it to a 20% annual increase in R&D spend since 1999, reaching $100bn a year today (or 1.44% of 2007 GDP). China’s goal is to spend 2.5% of GDP on R&D by 2020. In 2006 China witnessed a staggering 1.5million science engineering graduates from its universities.

Some would say that size doesn’t count, but it’s the quality of the publications. That’s a fair point. Citations are often used as a means of evaluation the quality of a piece of research. Why? Peer recognition indicates the value the scientific community places on a piece of work. Chinese research accounts for 4% of global citations over 2004-2008, putting it in 7th place. Whilst the rate clearly lags the volume, China did not even register in the top 10 in 1999-2003, so the trend is still clear. In addition, The Royal Society does accept this is a rather crude and lagging indicator.

The report says that its findings are not simply about prestige, but are a barometer of a country’s ability to compete on the world stage.

We’ve spoken a few times about long-term changes in the make-up of the Chinese economy. As the country looks to move from being a cheap source of labour / the workshop of the world, increased R&D and scientific accomplishment are vital future drivers of not only growth, but a source of continued improvement in standards of living. This data shows that the Chinese are making all the right moves and setting themselves up to take centre stage.

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