by Bob Brockie

Chinese scientists are outperforming American scientists. That’s the news from this week’s top science journal Nature

The journal analyzed thousands of articles it published over the last year and finds Chinese scientists surpassing American scientists for the first time. Chinese scientists have broadened and deepened their capacity for ground-breaking research in astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, and the environment. 

They do things on a colossal scale in China, annually spending US$460 billion on science and employing 1.6 million scientists and engineers. They operate 55 nuclear power stations, are building 22 more, and plan another 70 plants.  Over the last 20 years they have built 42,000 km of high-speed railways.  They have also built a railway from Beijing to Europe. China’s Forensic DNA Data Base stores genetic profiles on over 100 million people. China leads the world in robotics, drone technology, Artificial Intelligence, and has drawn up formal scientific partnerships with 84 countries.  The Chinese navy has more ships than the U.S. navy, and is building a fifth research station in the Antarctic.

Four recent Chinese discoveries attracted world-wide attention. These include two missing link fossils in Chinese rocks – an armoured fish and a weird bird-like reptile. A Chinese astronomer has thrown new light on ancient comets, and the first monkey-human fetuses have been grown in Chinese labs. It is hoped to grow human organ transplants in these hybrids. And there’s bad news from environmentalist Dr Zhang who reckons 20,000 tons of plastic waste pollute the world’s oceans. He and his team find 70% of the plastic was wrapping dumped from hospitals during the Covid pandemic.  

China’s scientific prominence has grown from a state strategy adopted in 1978 to rejuvenate the country. Many leading communists of the day were previously scientists. Indeed, China’s Premier, Xi-Jinping, studied agricultural engineering before he turned to politics. His party has always promoted science and education.

The shift in scientific gravity from the U.S. to China is having some profound effects. Whereas previously, hundreds of thousands of Chinese studied science or remained as researchers abroad, now most are remaining at home, or returning home in droves, where they are well-paid and enjoy high social status. In earlier days, Chinese scientist often co-authored research with international colleagues. These days, international partnerships are becoming less common Chinese research goals for the next five-years include pharmaceuticals, biotech, modern energy systems, network communications, quantum information, lunar exploration, supercomputing, and hi-speed trains.  Watch this space.