China soon to overtake US as world’s scientific superpower

China is set to overtake the US as the world’s scientific ‘superpower’ as early as 2013, a major study from the UK’s Royal Society has concluded.

China, Brazil and India, are now rivalling the traditional scientific leaders – the US, Western Europe and Japan. And some surprising outsiders are edging up the rankings, including Iran, Tunisia and Turkey.  

The report, Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century, analysed a wide variety of data, including trends in the number of scientific publications produced by all countries. 

It found that the number of articles published by China is now second only to the long-time scientific world leader, the United States. The US’ share fell from 26 percent to 21 percent between 1993 and 2008, while China’s rose from 4.4 percent to 10.2 percent. The UK stands in third place, with 6.5 percent.

“The scientific world is changing and new players are fast appearing.  Beyond the emergence of China, we see the rise of South-East Asian, Middle Eastern, North African and other nations,” says Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the advisory group for the study.

“The increase in scientific research and collaboration, which can help us to find solutions to the global challenges we now face, is very welcome.  However, no historically dominant nation can afford to rest on its laurels if it wants to retain the competitive economic advantage that being a scientific leader brings.”

The report also looked at how often researchers cite each others’ work – a measure that’s often used to evaluate the quality of publications. The US led the ranking, with the UK in second place – but both had a falling share, while China’s grew.

Llewellyn Smith says the findings show the need for international collaboration.

“Global issues, such as climate change, potential pandemics, bio-diversity, and food, water and energy security, need global approaches,” he says. “Science has a crucial role in identifying and analysing these challenges, and must be considered in parallel with social, economic and political perspectives to find solutions.”