China set to be a dominant force in the scientific world by 2020

We have argued before that the Chinese growth is not just based on a cheap currency and imported technology. They are rapidly expanding their own scientific base, and this lays the foundation for future economic growth. A growth that will be far more innovative and add more value.

We already can’t say anymore that the best strategy for rich Western economies is to keep the most innovative, highest value added activities at home and outsource the rest to countries like China. With their rapidly growing scientific base and endless source of engineers and scientist available at a fraction of the cost, a new world order is in the making.

And who says Government spending cannot stimulate structural economic growth. Sciences is largely a public good, some people might wanna brush up their economics a bit checking how public goods fare in pure markets…

There is nothing really surprising at this either. After all, this is to a considerable extent the way in which the US became the dominant economic power, through significant amounts of public investments in science and education. Why would it be any different for China?

China outshines its competitors for “up-and-coming” research countries
Rebecca Lindsay

The U.S. is currently the largest producer of peer reviewed journal articles in world, having published 333,000 articles in 2008. However, a recent study has shown an enormous growth in output of scientific papers by China over the past decade. Jonathan Adams, a research evaluation director at Thomson Reuters believes that if China continues on the path of its current trajectory, it will become the largest producer of peer reviewed articles by 2020.

According to James Wildson, the director of science policy at the Royal Society, China’s gains in research can be attributed to three major factors; the first of which is the massive investments in research made by China’s government. This has significant impact on an industry whose primary source of capital is research grants. The second factor Wildson cited was the “organized flow of knowledge from basic science to commercial applications,” or simply put; China tends to perform research with practical application.

The third factor is that China capitalizes upon the fact that many of its citizens are dispersed throughout the world by inviting them to participate in a program which allows them to spend part of their time conducting research in China, and the other part conducting research overseas. China has also been taking advantage of the collaborative nature of research by publishing an increased amount of papers co-authored with scientists from outside countries.

Thomson Reuters brings up an important point on the quality of papers produced by China; “Although the statistics measure papers in peer-reviewed journals that pass a threshold of respectability, the quality [in China] is still rather mixed. They have some pretty good incentives to produce higher quality research in future.”

This observation on quantity over quality seems to point to China’s enormous population of 1.3 billion, 4.5 times greater than America’s. With that many more citizens it is easier to produce numbers. Hopefully in the future, the trend in quality will match the trend in productivity.

Outside of China, countries often associated with research production include Brazil, Russia, and India. While funding cuts on scientific research have things looking bleak for India and Russia, Brazil — which specializes in agriculture and life sciences – is seeing a steep increase in papers published and may also be a scientific power to watch in the coming years.