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Chinese Scientific Progress to Overtake American Counterpart Earlier Than Anticipated
March 29, 2011 5:22 AM   Subscribe

According to a new study from the UK's national science academy, the Royal Society, China is on course to outstrip US scientific output as earlier as two years from now. [SLBBC]
posted by modernnomad (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"as early as"

oh for an edit window.
posted by modernnomad at 5:22 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a China booster, but it's quite clear that they game metrics when they can, and that they're gaming this particular metric. Raw publication numbers aren't an indicator of quality or usefulness, and the Chinese still lag behind the UK in citations.

That said, the Chinese research university is a wonder to behold.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


Like Japan and Taiwan before it, China is rapidly figuring out that quality matters. The US, on the other hand, has seems to have spent much of the last 40 years trying to forget this in lieu of quantity.

I say this thinking about tools, where made in China and made in USA no longer is a guarantee of low and high quality respectively. Short of some paradigm shift in the US, though, the trend seems to be on China's side.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:35 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


SMBC explains it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:38 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think it may well be a cultural shift, and a hard one to reverse. It's hard to read an American newspaper and come away with the impression that facts matter and science is important.
posted by mhoye at 5:38 AM on March 29, 2011 [16 favorites]


When can we start using the phrase "Chinese exceptionalism" and looking at China as the "shining city on the hill"?
posted by three blind mice at 5:42 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


They're behind on Biblical science though - all these new dinosaurs they keep finding there and not a word on how they would have interacted with Adam and Eve.
posted by Artw at 5:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [13 favorites]


They're behind on Biblical science though - all these new dinosaurs they keep finding there and not a word on how they would have interacted with Adam and Eve.

Is it orientalist of me to think that creationism is stupid but a bunch of Chinese scientists arguing for the historical existence of Kun the Giant Fish that Turns Into A Bird would be sort of awesome?
posted by theodolite at 5:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


China's great economic strides begin with the end of the cold war.

I wonder what would have been the result had been the same if Western capitalist countries engaged in free and unfettered trade with the Soviet Union?

It seems to me that if trade with China were as restricted as it was with the Soviets, China would still have trouble feeding herself.
posted by three blind mice at 5:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


When can we start using the phrase "Chinese exceptionalism" and looking at China as the "shining city on the hill"? --- When they start pretending to be the world's traffic cops, and send military troops hither and yon whenever the UN asks them to.
posted by crunchland at 5:59 AM on March 29, 2011


Sorry, are we doing yellow panic now, or red panic? Maybe it's orange panic?

Seems like a rerun of 1980's Newsweek articles on Japan.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:09 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Kun the Giant Fish that Turns Into A Bird
1. regular flying fish
2. add foldable wings, like butterflies
3. make giant
4. claim evidence in fossil record
5. not that impressive really
posted by LogicalDash at 6:10 AM on March 29, 2011


It looks like the miniaturization process to get the passengers onto those trains must be very advanced.
posted by carter at 6:13 AM on March 29, 2011


Seems like a rerun of 1980's Newsweek articles on Japan.

I've noticed this, too. There was a moment where Japan was supposedly buying both Wall Street and Main Street and the hysteria was almost palpable. Will the current excitement about China fizzle out the same way? We certainly have a history of being excited about these kinds of mostly imagined crises, regardless of facts.
posted by Forktine at 6:15 AM on March 29, 2011


This is great news for the world at large and the US and Europe in particular. Our possibilities as intelligent people are limited only by the bounds of human knowledge.
posted by humanfont at 6:16 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


We walk backwards say nothing
Visions of China
We're young and strong in this party
We're building our visions of China
We walk backwards say nothing
Our visions of China

posted by bwg at 6:23 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a China booster, but it's quite clear that they game metrics when they can, and that they're gaming this particular metric.

They're gaming metrics the same way that everyone else is; if the rest of the scientific community (I don't mean scientists, I mean everyone else) was as focused on achievement and less on the politics, we could be having a discussion about how important scientific research (food safety, climate change, non-pharmaceutical health care, etc.) is chronically underfunded in the U.S. instead of how China is cheating in marketing their output.
posted by dflemingecon at 6:36 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The US will still have obesity right?
posted by the noob at 6:42 AM on March 29, 2011


Here's something about a study that mapped publications and citations, to get an idea of quantity vs. quality

Their physics publication map displays the size of the circle as quantity, and greeness is further citation. However, it looks like they placed Cambridge, MA near the Idaho/Washington border, so take from it what you will.
posted by bendybendy at 6:43 AM on March 29, 2011


There are some issues with China, but they're the same sort of growing pains we saw in South Korea and Taiwan. This does not mean they should be glossed over - shoddy quality standards, corruption endemic to militaristic and authoritarian regimes, environmental and labor problems - but they will decrease as the middle class grows.

On the other hand, there are a lot of out-of-work educated kids in China at the moment, and a lot of the science being done there is simply busy work, or worse, snake oil. This will change, too, as industry starts relying on home-grown engineering and applied science to boost profit margins, and so becomes less reliant on mimicking foreign technology and research.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:47 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's obviously more and more good research coming out of China, but quantity !=quality and it seems that Chinese research is experiencing growing pains such as rampant fraud and less-than-ethical behaviour. At a scientific meeting I attended recently, all the Chinese authors of short communications and posters were "no-show". The organisers told me that this was unfortunately common with Chinese scientists, who (allegedly) used this technique as a cheap way to pad their list of publications at no cost. That's just an opinion of course, but here's a similar remark from a Japanese researcher.
posted by elgilito at 6:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


People come up with ideas: You can't explain that!
posted by dry white toast at 6:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


There has been an awful lot of criticism of low quality of Chinese academic work, brought on both by paper counter bureaucrats, poor ethical standards, and corruption.

Imho, all such criticisms are willfully ignoring the fact that China has financed & staffed a scientific job market large enough to compete with western scientific job market. And there are plenty of solid researchers to fill those jobs.

I'd expect they'll adopt higher academic standards, like say counting eigen factor rather than simply papers.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:09 AM on March 29, 2011


This isn't surprising as Designed in China has been a big push in the last few years.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:13 AM on March 29, 2011



I think it may well be a cultural shift, and a hard one to reverse. It's hard to read an American newspaper and come away with the impression that facts matter and science is important.



I agree. However: has anyone read a raft of chinese newspapers in appropriate cultural context to make the implied comparison valid?
posted by lalochezia at 7:51 AM on March 29, 2011


The US will still have obesity right?

Not even that. When the Chinese start using America as a low-wage sweatshop, I think the obesity problem will sort itself out in short order. Nothing like hard physical labor and a meagre diet to melt those pounds away...
posted by three blind mice at 7:56 AM on March 29, 2011


So a country more than 4 times bigger than the USA may catch up with it in numbers of papers published. I'm shocked. SHOCKED I TELL YOU!
posted by knapah at 8:39 AM on March 29, 2011


shoddy quality standards, corruption endemic to militaristic and authoritarian regimes, environmental and labor problems

Is this a description of China or America in the near future?
posted by acb at 8:40 AM on March 29, 2011


When Russia launched Sputnick, it started a panic in the US, and prompted lots of funding for science education. It's not unreasonable to think that many of those people used their science education to launch the technology revolution. That mindset doesn't exist in the US right now, which I think is a shame.
posted by theora55 at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2011


The concerns about quality are real, but let's not pretend that the increasing investment in science in China isn't genuine or astonishing. Purely anecdotal, but in my own field (astrophysics) I feel like a few years ago it was novel to have even been to China for a meeting, and I didn't know any US/western scientists who seriously entertained the idea of moving there for a job. Now I have friends who have been persuaded to spend months there on sabbatical, know tons of people who are going there for meetings, etc. This year alone, two people I know have been offered jobs in Beijing (at the Kavli Institute, founded only in 2006), and may well take them (over other jobs in Europe, the US, and Canada). The overall feeling is that the country as a whole has decided to invest, massively and continuously, in science -- and that by going there now you have a chance to shape how that transpires. I wouldn't be surprised at all if, in 10-20 years, bright young scientists view China as the "place to be" for research. Which is kind of neat.
posted by chalkbored at 8:52 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a moment where Japan was supposedly buying both Wall Street and Main Street and the hysteria was almost palpable

Yeah, I remember watching the hysteria on my Zenith television set. Afterward I got into my Pontiac automobile and drove to the 7-Eleven to buy some Budweiser and drink the pain away.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


In fairness, we've spent the last decade (and trillions of dollars) bombing medieval people back to the stone age!

That's an accomplishment you can take to the bank! Er, the Chinese bank.
posted by orthogonality at 9:20 AM on March 29, 2011


I'm a China booster, but it's quite clear that they game metrics when they can, and that they're gaming this particular metric. Raw publication numbers aren't an indicator of quality or usefulness, and the Chinese still lag behind the UK in citations.
Interestingly, if they publish more papers, and cite themselves, it's likely they'll get more citations as well. The other thing is language: are these papers being written in Chinese or English? If they're in English, then it's likely that Chinese people will read them, and cite them, while the converse isn't the same for Chinese language papers.

Even if the papers are in English, I would suspect there is some cultural biases that would make Western scientists less interested in citing Chinese papers then the other way around, although I don't know.
posted by delmoi at 9:39 AM on March 29, 2011


I say this thinking about tools, where made in China and made in USA no longer is a guarantee of low and high quality respectively. Short of some paradigm shift in the US, though, the trend seems to be on China's side.
The cultural shift is that the U.S. just doesn't give a shit. Wallstreet sucks up smart people and has them working on top secret trading algorithms. Education is cut left and right in order to put more money in the pockets of the rich and so on.
posted by delmoi at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even if the papers are in English, I would suspect there is some cultural biases that would make Western scientists less interested in citing Chinese papers then the other way around, although I don't know.

There is, but it has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with reputation, pretty much as described above. I work at a biotech and our research sort of falls in two directions, one pragmatic and focused on increasing output, the second fundamental and focused on producing a unique product. I've yet to see a paper from China fall in to that second pool. We read a lot of papers from China, but they are far more likely to be about specific advances in a narrow context (say, producing a more active version of an enzyme) and less likely to be about fundamental discoveries in the field (elucidating the way an enzyme works or a new technique for improving performance). And while you can blame reputation or nationalism if you like, it is not racism. We have certainly read papers that fall into that 'fundamental research' by authors with Chinese names working at Western institutions.

As a (by title, at least) scientist, I would be thrilled to find ANY paper that would help advance my work. When looking for articles, I don't restrict the search to certain journals or even language, persay. Anything the pops up with the right keyword in PubMed will be considered. True, if it isn't in English I won't can't read it, but if the title sounds good, I'll wish I could. China has amazing potential to impact scientific research, but it isn't there yet.

Now back to reading this medium context American/Australian paper that I'm inching through... Western science isn't all fundamental perception-shattering papers either. There's plenty of industry-specific work done here too.
posted by maryr at 10:53 AM on March 29, 2011


This is the space race of the 21st century, and the U.S. political leadership seems hell-bent on ignoring the problem. As a country, we are at best resting on our laurels and at worst actively undermining our research institutions through constant budget cuts and by erecting ever-more-hostile barriers to immigration for talented scientists.

I have seen several times among my colleagues the fallout of being stranded in Beijing for months at a time at the random whim of U.S. visa officers; it is deeply embarrassing to me that our country treats talented and eager scientists as if they were criminals, especially at a time when we should be doing everything we can to continue to attract them in the face of increased competition from China.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, it looks like they placed Cambridge, MA near the Idaho/Washington border, so take from it what you will.

It's in the right place for me, but Tbilisi ended up in Nebraska.
posted by hoyland at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011


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