China has overtaken the US as the world leader in both scientific research output and “high impact” studies, according to a report published by Japan’s science and technology ministry.
The report, which was published by Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTP) on Tuesday, found that China now publishes the highest number of scientific research papers yearly, followed by the US and Germany.
The figures were based on yearly averages between 2018 and 2020, and drawn from data compiled by the analytics firm Clarivate.
The Japanese NISTP report also found that Chinese research comprised 27.2% of the world’s top 1% most frequently cited papers. The number of citations a research paper receives is a commonly used metric in academia. The more times a study is cited in subsequent papers by other researchers, the greater its “citation impact”.
The US accounted for 24.9% of the top 1% most highly cited research studies, while UK research was third at 5.5%.
China published a yearly average of 407,181 scientific papers, pulling ahead of the US’s 293,434 journal articles and accounting for 23.4% of the world’s research output, the report found.
China accounted for a high proportion of research into materials science, chemistry, engineering and mathematics, while US researchers were more prolific in research into clinical medicine, basic life sciences and physics.
The report was published on the day US president Joe Biden signed the Chips and Science Act, legislation that would authorise $200bn in research funding over 10 years to make US scientific research more competitive with China.
The Chinese embassy in the US said last month that China was “firmly opposed” to the bill which it said was “entrenched in [a] cold war and zero-sum game mentality”.
The “high impact” finding is in keeping with research published earlier this year, which found that China overtook the US in 2019 in the top 1% measure, and passed the European Union in 2015.
Papers that receive more citations than 99% of research are “works that are seen as being in the class of Nobel prize winners, the very leading edge of science”, study co-author Dr Caroline Wagner said at the time. “The US has tended to rank China’s work as lower quality. This appears to have changed.”
The US still spends more on research and development in the corporate and university sectors than any other country, the report also found. “China has the largest number of researchers in the corporate and university sectors among major countries. In the corporate sector, the United States and China are on par with each other, and both are showing rapid growth.”
“China is one of the top countries in the world in terms of both the quantity and quality of scientific papers,” Shinichi Kuroki of the Japan Science and Technology Agency told Nikkei Asia. “In order to become the true global leader, it will need to continue producing internationally recognised research,” he said.