China leads challenge to "scientific superpowers"

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) – China and other emerging nations such as Brazil and India are becoming leaders in science to rival traditional “scientific superpowers” like the United States, Europe and Japan, a top British academy said on Monday.

A report by the Royal Society science academy also found some rapidly emerging scientific nations not usually associated with a strong science base, including Iran, Tunisia and Turkey.

The report, entitled Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global scientific collaboration in the 21st century, stressed the growing importance of international cooperation in the conduct and impact of science, and its ability to tackle global problems like energy security, climate change and loss of biodiversity.

“The landscape of science is changing. Science is increasing and new players are fast appearing,” Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the advisory group for the study, told a briefing. “Beyond the emergence of China, we see the rise of Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, North African and other nations.”

Llewellyn Smith said in the five years from 2002 to 2007, global spending on research and development (R&D) had risen by almost 45 percent — broadly in line with rising economic growth — but in developing countries it had risen by 100 percent.

“The increase in the developing world is mainly driven by China,” he said. “But there are also others there.”

He said the growth in scientific research and collaboration should help the world find solutions to global challenges, and added: “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 publication data analyzed by the report showed changes in the share of the world’s authorship of scientific research papers between the periods 1993-2003 and 2004-2008.

Although the United States still leads the world, its share of global authorship has fallen to 21 percent from 26 percent and its closest rival is now China, which has risen from sixth to second place with a share of authorship rising to 10.2 percent from 4.4 percent.

Britain is stable in the rankings at third place, although its share is down slightly at 6.5 percent from 7.1 percent.

Among big surprises in the report’s findings were a handful of countries whose scientific credentials have come almost from nowhere to feature far more prominently in world science.

Iran is the fastest growing country in terms of numbers of scientific publications in the world, growing from just 736 papers in 1996 to 13,238 in 2008.

The Iranian government has committed to a “comprehensive plan for science” including boosting R&D investment to 4 percent of GDP by 2030, compared with just 0.59 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006.

Turkey has also dramatically improved its scientific performance, at a rate to almost rival China, with R&D spending increasing nearly sixfold between 1995 and 2007.

During that time the number of researchers increased by 43 percent, the report found, and four times as many papers with Turkish authors were published in 2008 as in 1996.

It also highlighted Tunisia, which has raised the percentage of its GDP spent on R&D to 1.25 percent in 2009 from 0.03 percent in 1996, at the same time as restructuring national R&D to create 624 research units and 139 research laboratories.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

China leads challenge to "scientific superpowers"