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The rapid rise of China’s research quality


Posted on behalf of Felix Cheung

Science constantly brings changes to the world, but the scientific world is currently undergoing one of the biggest changes in history. China has emerged as a ‘powerhouse’ of scientific research in recent years. In terms of quantity, China is now second only to the United States in the number of scientific research papers the country produces — but what about quality?

The Nature Publishing Index 2010 China, published today, details a dramatic rise in the quality of research being produced by China. Published as a supplement to Nature, the 2010 Index for China ranks research institutions and cities in mainland China. The ranking is based on outputs in Nature research journals in 2010 with comparative data for 2009. The supplement also presents data from other leading journals — Science, Cell, NEJM and The Lancet — showing a similar rise in quality from China.

The numbers of papers from China published in Nature research journals has risen from just six in 2000 to 149 in 2010. The number of papers from China published in the four leading journals mentioned above has also risen from a combined total of 3 papers in 2000 to 27 in 2010 (only papers with more than 50% of authors from China were counted in this analysis).

360px_graph_blog_china_pub_110511.jpgThe top ten Chinese institutions in descending order are: the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), BGI Shenzhen, Peking University, Nanjing University, the University of Hong Kong, Southeast University, Xiamen University and Zhejiang University.

The majority of these institutions have now established their own areas of expertise. Tsinghua University, USTC, BGI Shenzhen, Nanjing University, Southeast University and Xiamen University, for example, have respectively become leaders in structural biology, physics, genetics, materials, metamaterials and chemistry.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has an impressive lead publishing 40 articles in Nature research journals in 2010. With over 100 institutes and more than 50,000 researchers, CAS is much better placed to generate large numbers of papers than a single university.

Among the universities, Tsinghua University comes out number one with 16 papers (a corrected count of 6.16) published in Nature research journals. Peking University ranks fifth with 17 article (a corrected count of 3.44). The corrected count takes into account the percentage of authors on a given paper from the institution or city in question. For this reason, the index ranks Peking University below Tsinghua University despite the fact that Peking University publishes a higher overall number of articles.

The supplement also presents a ranking by city, a first for the Nature Publishing Index. The top 10 Chinese cities for high-quality basic research in descending order are: Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hefei, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Tianjin. These 10 cities account for approximately 88% of China’s contribution to Nature research journals in 2010, and also house all of the top 20 institutions in the China rankings.

Figure 1: Number of publications in Nature research journals from various Asia-Pacific countries.

Figure 2: Number of publications in other high-profile journals

Felix Cheung is editor of Nature China.


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    But, where is Brazil in this context? In the 70’s I remember we were almost aupair with SoKorea. Where are us now, pray tell?

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