China reaps rewards of heavy investment in science

The number of Chinese world-class scientists in 2018 was 7.9% of the total number of 6,078, up from 5.9% share in 2014. The United States is still dominating the number of top-cited world scientists with 2,639 in total. But its relative proportion decreased from 55% in 2014 to 43% in 2018.

In 2018 the United Kingdom had 9% of the world’s top-cited scientists, followed by China (overtaking Germany as number three with 7.9%), Germany 5.9 %, Australia 4.0%, the Netherlands 3.1%, Canada 2.7%, France 2.4%, Switzerland 2.2% and Spain 1.9%.

These 10 nations together held 82.7% of the top-cited scientists in the world – those who rank in the top 1% by citations for their field in the Web of Science.

Three regions have shown a notable increase in both the number and percentage of ‘Highly Cited Researchers’ since 2014. These are Singapore, Mainland China and Australia.

“In 2014 we counted 17 Highly Cited Researchers from Singapore and this year 40 were named in the 21 Essential Science Indicators fields, or an increase of 135%.

“Mainland China increased by 126%, based on 122 researchers in 2014 and 276 in 2018.

“Australia was the third strongest performer, exhibiting growth of 112%. By contrast, Japan declined 34.7%, from 98 named in 2014 to 64 this year.”

These are the findings of a report published by Clarivate last month, Highly Cited Researchers 2018: Identifying top talent in the sciences and social sciences, in which scientists are selected for their inclusion in one of the 21 academic fields used in the Essential Science Indicators (ESI).

China improving rapidly

David Pendlebury, scientific manager at Clarivate Analytics, said although China is rising, it has a long way to go to overtake the US in the share of top-cited scientists.

“The United States is home to some 43% of the Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers for 2018, about 2,600 out of nearly 6,100. China’s Highly Cited Researchers are only a fifth of the US number. But by this indicator, China is improving rapidly, nearly doubling the number of Highly Cited Researchers since 2014,” he told University World News.

What is behind China’s rise? Since the 1990s, the government of China has made scientific and technological research a priority in creating for the nation a world-leading knowledge economy, Pendlebury says.

“As a consequence, scientific output of papers from China indexed in the Clarivate Analytics Web of Science has been increasing at about 10% per year over the past few years, about twice the world average. This demonstrates substantial R&D investment and capacity.”

He says Clarivate Analytics' partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences stems from a common interest in studying the structure and dynamics of science for policy-making and resource allocation.

Clarivate Analytics combines its publication and citation data and co-citation analysis for research front identification (which the company pioneered in the early 1970s and 1980s) with the subject expertise of academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and technical support of staff of the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to create annual reports that provide a “critical summary of the nature and direction of contemporary research globally”, he says.

New category

This year’s sixth edition of these indicators for the first time includes a new category crossing several academic fields, in addition to the 21 academic fields previously monitored, adding another 2,020 scientists to the list.

The 2018 Highly Cited Researchers analysis surveyed those papers that were published and cited during the period 2006 to 2016 in the top 1% measured by number of citations.

The threshold for being included on the lists varies significantly between the academic fields, depending of the total number of highly cited papers in the 21 fields measured, with clinical medicine requiring the highest number of citations and agricultural sciences, economics and business, and pharmacology and toxicology requiring the fewest.

The number of scientists included in each of the academic fields covered varies from 90 in mathematics, 96 in economics and business and computer science, to 497 in clinical medicine. This year cross-field inclusion is expanding the number of highly cited scientists by 6,078, almost double the number in 2014 (3,215).

Top universities and research organisations

The 10 universities in the world with the highest number of top-cited scientists are:
  • • Harvard University (186 – at the same level as the Netherlands which is number six on the country list),
  • • Stanford University (100),
  • • University of California, Berkeley (64),
  • • University of Oxford (59),
  • • Washington University in St Louis (51),
  • • University of California, Los Angeles (47),
  • • University of California, San Diego (47),
  • • Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( 45),
  • • University of Pennsylvania (44), and
  • • Duke University (44).

Of the governmental and other research organisations, the National Institutes of Health in the United States is number one (148), with the Chinese Academy of Sciences next (99), followed by the Max Planck Society (76) and the Broad Institute in the USA (44). The University of California system has a total of 267 for all nine campuses, the most of any organisation or system in the world.

Out of the 39 highest ranked universities, the US has 22 (56%); the UK has five; the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Australia have two each; and Denmark, Switzerland and Mainland China have one each.

In the Nordic countries, Denmark has 72 highly cited scientists, 32 of them at the University of Copenhagen. Sweden has 62, with only eight of them at Stockholm University, and Finland has 33, with 18 at the University of Helsinki. Norway has 22, with only seven at the University of Oslo, and Iceland has 12, with 10 of them at Haskoli Islands (University of Iceland) in Reykjavik, a significant measure for a country of 300,000 people.

China strongly represented

China is strongly represented in new cross-sectional fields.

Of the 4,058 highly cited researchers named in the 21 ESI fields, 194 of these or 4.8% appear in two ESI fields and only 24 or 0.6% appear in three fields. Fourteen of these 24 are working in the US, four in Mainland China or Hong Kong, and one each in the UK, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany and South Korea.

However, on closer inspection, eight out of the 24 US scientists have Chinese names. Some of them, like Zhong Lin Wang at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, are directing a large research team of young Chinese scholars.

Clarivate Analytics is now entering into collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to map out further how the Chinese are positioning themselves in the research fronts in the world today.

Sub-specialities identified

In late October Clarivate Analytics, together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, published 2018 Research Fronts, identifying 138 prominent sub-specialities of scientific research from 2012 to 2017. A Research Front is a cluster of highly cited papers over a five-year period, referred to as "core papers" in a specialised topic, defined by co-citation and cluster analysis.

Deputy President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Professor Zhang Tao, said at the launch: "In today’s highly competitive global economy and technology landscape it has become increasingly necessary for us to accurately predict development trends and discern organisational needs, and continuously strengthen technology innovation in various fields.

“This requires comprehensive research, deep analysis and strategic judgement in order for us to be able to define the major direction for developing key technology innovations and fields in the future."

Parallel to this, the two organisations also published 2018 Research Fronts: Active Fields, Leading Countries, examining and comparing the 138 Research Fronts, thereby reflecting a country’s contribution and citation impact (global influence) across 10 broad areas.

The US is still leading global research on 82 research fronts, followed by China in second place with 32 research fronts, ahead of Germany and the UK with six and four research fronts respectively.

China is most prolific in the fields of chemistry and materials sciences, mathematics, computer science and engineering, but less influential in clinical medicine and the fields of astronomy and astrophysics.