Science’s rising stars: China’s researchers make big leaps in contributions to top journals

China tops international index tracking the emerging powers of research

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 11:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 July, 2016, 4:28pm

China is rising quickly on the stage of world science, at least on paper.

The country topped the list of most-improved countries in contributions to the world’s top-tier scientific journals over the past four years, according to an index created by the publishers of a large group of scientific and medical journals, including Nature.

Forty of the top 100 institutions worldwide that saw the most rapid growth of high-quality research from 2012 to 2015 were from China.

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Twenty-four of them saw their output grow by at least half, according to the “The Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars”. China topped the growth of contributions in four research areas tracked by the index: physical sciences, chemistry, life sciences and earth and the environment.

The Rising Stars index is a spin-off from the Nature Index that tracks authors from 8,000 ­institutions around the world that contribute to 68 top-tier journals selected by scientists.

Unlike the Nature Index that ranks institutions’ contributions year by year, the Rising Stars index ranks contributions over a four-year period to see which are the emerging powers of research.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences saw its output of high-quality scientific papers increase the most on the list, followed by ­Peking University and Nanjing University.

The United States remained the largest contributor to top-tier scientific journals overall, but its growth of contributions has fallen behind China with only 11 institutes included in the top 100 Rising Stars index. The US’ famed space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ranked 92nd on the list.

“From 2005 onward, we have seen a clear policy change from Chinese institutions toward publishing in top journals,” said David Swinbanks, founder of the Nature Index, adding that the return of Chinese scientists from abroad also contributed to the increase in published articles.

China spent 1.4 trillion yuan (HK$1.63 trillion) on research and development in 2015, or 2.1 per cent of GDP, and has more than 3.7 million full-time researchers, official figures show.

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One of the rising Chinese institutes in 2015, highlighted by the Nature Index Rising Stars,is East China Normal University in Shanghai, which has doubled its contributions to top scientific journals since 2012, rising to 142 in the overall rankings last year.

The editors of the index said this was due to the university’s partnership with New York University to set up NYU Shanghai in 2011.