Eric Berger’s blog, SciGuy, recently highlighted some data about the number of nanotechnology/nanoscience articles published by Chinese researchers. You can see the entry and the table listing the world’s most prolific (overwhelmingly Chinese) nanotech authors here. It’s interesting to contrast this data with a Nature Nanotechnology editorial from June 2008 where they had tables listing the countries with the most published nanotech articles and the most frequently cited articles. At the time, I thought China was under-represented although I don’t state it explicitly in my comments here.
Berger was inspired to write his commentary after seeing Eric Drexler’s posting on the topic (Oct. 30, 2009) but I’m directing you to Drexler’s followup comments where he provides some context for better understanding the statistics and cites sources that discuss the matter at more length.
The general consensus seems to be that some of China’s nanotech research is world class and the quality of majority of the research papers is either very good or improving rapidly.
There’s also this from the Center for Nanotechnology in Society University of California Santa Barbara (CNS-UCSB) paper, Chinese Nanotechnology Publications (scroll down the page to IRG 4-3 to read the full abstract),
China’s top-down and government-centered approach toward science and technology policy is succeeding in driving academic-publications output. By 2005 China had equaled or possibly surpassed the U.S. in terms of total output for academic/peer-reviewed publications, with a substantial increase in publication rate from around 2003. … We examined US and Chinese nanotechnology trends in the scientific literature and found that Chinese nanotechnology output is growing rapidly and will likely [outperform?] US output in terms of quality as well as quantity within a decade or less (Appelbaum & Parker 2008).
I include this portion of the abstract because the phrase, “China’s top-down and government-centered approach to science and technology” points to something that’s not explicitly noted in the abstract, cultural and political climate. Nor was it noted in Bruce Alberts’ speech (in my Is science superior? posting) and as Inkbat noted in her comments to that posting. (My apologies to Mr. Alberts if he did make those points, unfortunately his speech is not available on the conference website so I’m depending on attendee reports.)
It’s a tricky matter trying to compare countries. China has more people and presumably more scientists than anyone else, all of which should result in more published articles if the area of research is supported by policy.
One of the issues for Canada is that we have a relatively small population and consequently fewer scientists. I commented on some work done by M. Fatih Yegul (in June 2008) where he contextualizes the number of Canadian articles published on nanotechnology and our focus on collaboration. Here’s part 2 of the series where I mentioned the numbers. (I did not post much material from Yegul’s paper as he was about to present it an international conference and it had yet to be published. I just checked today [Nov.4.09] and cannot confirm publication.) My comments from part 3 of the series,
It’s all pretty interesting including the suggestion (based on a study that showed Canada as ranking 6th in numbers of science articles published from 1995-2005) that Canada is performing below its own average with regard to nanotechnology research.
I don’t know if the situation in Canada has changed since Yegul wrote and presented his paper but I strongly suspect it has not.
As for the roles that culture, social mores, history, and political environment play, I just can’t manage more than a mention in this posting in an effort to acknowledge their importance.
Do check out Rob Annan’s posting today (Nov. 4, 2009) about Science and Innovation in the wake of the 2009 Canadian Science Policy Conference.