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Fact of the Week: China Now Leads the World in the Number of Top-Cited Scientific Research Papers Produced

Fact of the Week: China Now Leads the World in the Number of Top-Cited Scientific Research Papers Produced

August 15, 2022

Source: Ryosuke Matsuzoe, “China Tops U.S. in Quantity and Quality of Scientific Papers,” Nikkei Asia, August, 10, 2022.

Commentary: A recent report by Japan’s National Institute of Standards and Technology found that China accounted for 4,744 of the approximately 17,440 scientific research papers that made up the top 1 percent in terms of citations. This accounted for 27.2 percent of that group. The United States was a close second with 4,330 such papers (24.9 percent), and the United Kingdom was a distant third, producing about 960 (5.5 percent). Furthermore, the report found that China accounted for 26.6 percent of the scientific research papers among the top 10 percent in citations while the United States accounted for 21.1 percent. This represents 2019 figures, but the average of the period 2018–2020 was used to account for potential annual fluctuations in research output.

This is surely a positive development for China, although it deserves a couple caveats. Firstly, a smaller percentage of China’s scientific papers are among this group than is the case for U.S. papers. The report also found that China accounted for 407,181 scientific research papers compared to the United States’ 293,434. Thus, while 1.2 percent of China’s scientific research papers are among the top 1 percent, this still lags the United States’ rate of 1.5 percent. Secondly, this does not appear to differentiate between domestic and international citations. It is unclear to what extent a “bubble” surrounds Chinese research and domestic citations are encouraged, particularly with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) taking such an active role in the funding and incentivization of research. It would not be uncharacteristic for the CCP to at least partially prioritize citing Chinese papers over the highest-quality papers internationally.

Nevertheless, this is certainly promising news for the state of Chinese research, suggesting that quality of output is not being outpaced by quantity. While its position relative to other world leaders in research output requires some qualifiers, China has certainly developed into one of the premier producers of scientific research in the world.

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