China Declared World’s Largest Producer of Scientific Articles

China Declared World’s Largest Producer of Scientific Articles

This is an article from Nature magazine that was reprinted with permission in Scientific American. The USA remains a scientific powerhouse, but we should be concerned about the state of science in this country, especially over the last year.

Dusting off the soap box . . .

The quality of the science is not measured by the number of papers, but you are correct to worry about the state of science in the US. I have no idea what the situation is like in China when it comes to funding science, but it is getting downright Darwinian in the US. When you keep graduating the same number PhD’s, or even more, while slashing funding and the number of grants you create a really unhealthy environment for scientific research (at least in the field of biology). A lot of the little fish are being beat out by big schools and big research programs that command large overhead. The little fish might get 25% overhead for administration and basic amenities, but big programs like Duke or Stanford can command 200% overhead, meaning that a $2 million grant comes with a ton of additional money that could have gone to smaller programs and supported more PhD’s. It isn’t uncommon for <5% of grants getting funding in some grant application programs. Imagine having a 5% chance of keeping your job.

This has led to some people saying that the US should rethink their views on what a scientist’s career path should look like. There are a lot of small career development awards for post docs and young investigators, but there is this huge jump from those developmental grants to R01’s (the top of the heap grants that scientists are supposed to strive towards). This results in scientists putting years into a scientific career only to see it crash and burn when they can’t get the big grants. The solution may be to allow scientists to remain junior investigators instead of pushing everyone onto full senior investigator path. Time will tell.

Like you, I do worry about the state of science in the US and wonder how it could improve. Without going too far into the political weeds, it would really help if science wasn’t used as a political football, and if the US decided to increase their investment into the sciences. We need to get away from the idea that corporations can take over the role of funding sources because that only leads to research that has immediate monetary gains and ignores basic science research that forms the foundation of breakthrough technologies.

I will now step off my soap box . . . :wink:


Of course the quality of the science is not measured by the number of papers, but the foreign competition is heating up. And yet already this month there is a continued assault on public school science in Florida, and a new anti-science bill has been introduced in the Alabama House.

Attacks on science education intensify — push back, Florida

Stanford’s overhead rate by which I assume you meant the indirect cost rate is nowhere near 200%. See

However science is being throttled in the US starting with the K-12 education and going on through to basic research. I will note that if support for science were equal per capita across countries and input reflected output, China would have the most science since it has the most people. But support does differ and I suspect China might be more supportive than the US right now (though I’m not sure it is tapping all its potential). Quality of papers may also vary.

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