Copyright Ars Technica
July 25, 2008
The journal Nature has published a series of reports that provide some perspective on China’s place in the scientific community. As China’s economy continues to develop , the Chinese scientific community is moving lock-step to keep up with the economic growth and establish itself as a source of innovation.
The explosion of science is hardly a surprise, as the level of spending on science in China has skyrocketedâ€šÃ„Ã®growing 20 percent per year for the last 20 years. However, most of this money is going toward secondary research on existing technologies rather than fundamental innovations. This is a disparity that China is attempting to remedy with its most recent set of initiatives, which contain a call for “indigenous innovation.”
All of the money spent on research initiatives has provided China with a steadily climbing number of science and engineering graduates; the number of scientific publications has also seen growth, recently surpassing Japan in raw volume. China still has much work to do in improving the quality of the publications. Despite gains in the last two decades, the citation impact scoreâ€šÃ„Ã®which is a measure of how a publication impacts the rest of the field and future researchâ€šÃ„Ã®is at 0.73, below the world average of 1.0. The burgeoning fields of materials science and nanotechnology, both Chinese specialties, show scores closer to that of the world average.
I personally do not find this news a shock, as China appears to be following a path similar to that taken in the American industrialization and scientific booms of the early and mid-20th century. The United States economy, at one time, was based on heavy industries and raw production capacity. As industrialization provides jobs and draws people out of poverty and into the middle class, education increases and provides a more capable work force.
Providing a service or technology that others cannot is the route to the highest profits; rather than investing in the massive capital and man-power required for heavy industry, one can simply innovate the industry and sell the innovation insteadâ€šÃ„Ã®this is the idea behind the so called Information Economy. It may be hard to imagine now but, at one point, every kid in America wanted to be an engineer. Science spending was huge, the space race was going at full speed, the education level of the population increased dramatically. I’d argue that this gave America the intellectuals that allowed it to move away from a goods-based economy to a service-based economy.
A quick glance at modern China reveals shades of mid-20th century America: a budding space program, huge industrial and manufacturing capacity, the growth of the middle class, and a young generation excited about science and engineering. China’s shift away from raw materials and manufactured goods is only natural. Given it has several times the population of any other highly developed nation, watching China’s shift to innovation will indeed be an exciting time for the global science community.
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Copyright Ars Technica