China overtook the United States for the first time as the world leader in both the quantity and quality of scientific papers published from 2018 to 2020, according to an annual report published by an agency affiliated with Japan’s science and technology ministry.
Experts say the result was expected given China’s vast talent pool, growing research budget and continued social and political support for research endeavors. However, S&T competition between China and the U.S. is likely to intensify after the U.S. passed the Chip and Science Act to boost its scientific competitiveness against China, they added.
The report was published by Japan’s National Science and Technology Policy Institute on Tuesday. The statistics were based on annual averages for the years 2018-2020 and were collected by the analytical company Clarivate.
Chinese research accounted for 27.2 percent, or 4,744 articles, of the top 1 percent of the world’s most cited papers from 2018 to 2020. The United States accounts for 24.9 percent, or 4,330 articles, followed by the United Kingdom with 5.5 percent and 963 articles. It was the first time China had overtaken the US in this prestigious category, the report said.
These highly cited articles are studies that have outperformed 99 percent of their peers in the number of citations they have received. The number of citations is a commonly used indicator of research quality and impact.
“China is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of both quantity and quality of scientific works,” Shinichi Kuroki, a researcher at the Japan Science and Technology Agency, told Nikkei Asia. “To become a true world leader, it will need to continue to produce internationally recognized research,” he added.
For quality papers that outperformed 90 percent of their competitors, China provided 46,352 such studies, accounting for 26.6 percent of the global total. The United States followed with 36,680 documents and 21.1 percent. This was the second year in a row that China topped the category.
In terms of average annual scientific output, China published 407,181 articles from 2018 to 2020, accounting for 23.4 percent of the world total. The United States is in second place with 293,434 documents.
Materials science, chemistry, engineering and mathematics were China’s most prolific scientific fields, while American researchers were more active in clinical medicine, basic life sciences and physics, the report said.
The report was released on the day US President Joe Biden signed the Chip and Science Act, which will provide more than $225 billion for research over the next decade to make the US more competitive with China in science and technology.
An expert on China’s science and technology development, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said China’s progress in the quality and quantity of its scientific output has been well documented over the years.
“These scientific achievements have played an important role in supporting China’s socio-economic development and strengthening the prestige of the Chinese scientific community in advanced science and global science and technology management,” the expert said.
According to an annual report published by the Science and Technology Information Institute of China in December, last year China became the world leader in four scientific fields in terms of the total number of citations of scientific literature published from 2011 to 2021.
These included China’s traditionally strong disciplines such as materials science, chemistry and engineering technology, with one notable addition being computer science. China also ranked second in 10 other fields for this measure, including agricultural science, biology and biochemistry, and environmental science and ecology.
Commenting on Sino-US science and technology relations, a Chinese expert said it is a shame that two of the world’s most productive scientific communities are struggling to maintain their long and fruitful history of cooperation, mainly because of US policymakers’ attempts to divorce China and suppress China’s scientific and technological progress.
“Pressure from the US government will only encourage the Chinese scientific community to make more original breakthroughs and achieve self-sufficiency in science and technology,” he added.