Fact of the Week: China Sourced the Most STEM Articles in 2020, But the United States Had the Highest Share in the Top 1 Percent That Were Most Cited

Luke Dascoli November 15, 2021
November 15, 2021

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Source: Karen White, “Publications Output: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons,” National Science Board, October 2021.

Commentary: Much of the value in scientific research is found in quality rather than quantity, as significant breakthroughs lead to consequential innovations in fields such as information and communications technology, life sciences, smart manufacturing, and countless others. To be sure, the total volume of research presented is a strong indicator of growth in the knowledge stock available to firms and government bodies, but “shortcuts” to increase production of research papers and scientific articles can come at a cost of producing fewer valuable findings per publication.

National research incentives, both governmental and industry-led, drive the studies that produce new STEM articles, so when innovation mercantilists such as China implement distortionary subsidies to inflate their volume of publications, they become less likely to carry breakthrough research essential to innovation. Conversely, the United States, balancing STEM publication efforts more evenly between government, academia, and enterprise, produces fewer articles than the world leader China, but it leads in the quality of works produced.

A recent analysis by the National Science Board compared U.S. publications output to the rest of the world and found that the United States was the second-highest producer of STEM publications in 2020, authoring 16 percent of the world’s publication output. China was number one with 23 percent. But U.S. articles comprised more of the top 1 percent of the world’s highest-cited articles than any other country. This constituted far greater value, with other papers relying on their findings to produce new knowledge and further conclusions. This high-quality research that the U.S. has staked itself—not the sea of lower value-add research that innovation-mercantilists like China have labored to create—is still the leading driver of technological innovation.