China tops natural-science research ranking

China has, for the first time, replaced the United States as the largest contributor to high-quality natural-science research by ranking No 1 in the share of papers published in top journals in 2022, according to the Nature Index.

Data on author affiliations from the 82 journals tracked by the Nature Index shows that China had a share of 19,373 from January to December last year, compared with 17,610 from the US, a Nature Index news release said.

A country's share takes into account the percentage of authors from that nation on each paper published in Nature Index journals. An article published entirely by China-based researchers would yield a share of one for China, the news release said.

The Nature Index is routinely released by the Springer Nature Group, an internationally renowned science and technology publishing institution. It tracks research papers published in 82 esteemed journals, and reflects global high-quality research output and collaboration based on the quantity and proportion of papers published by relevant institutions, countries or regions.

The 82 high-quality journals include those in four fields — life sciences, physical sciences, earth and environmental sciences and chemistry — such as Cell, Nature, Chemical Communications and Physical Review Letters.

In addition to China and the US, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan are among the top five contributors to high-quality natural-science research. India ranks 10th, making it and China the only two developing countries on the top 10 list.

Since the Nature Index was first introduced in 2014, China's share has been rapidly increasing, and it was the leading country in the fields of physical sciences and chemistry in 2021, according to the news release.

The latest data — a snapshot of the database taken in April this year — suggests that China also overtook the US in earth and environmental sciences for the first time, the news release said.

Last year's data shows that Chinese institutions have made a distinctive achievement in generating research output published in those advanced journals.

A total of 19 Chinese institutions and universities made it to the world's top 50 productive institutions, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences topping the list.

Five Chinese universities are also among the top 10. They include the University of Science and Technology of China, Nanjing University, Peking University and Tsinghua University.

The Nature Index pointed out that there has been a "shift in the national balance" of global science since the mid-2010s, from the perspectives of both the number and quality of papers, by giving two examples.

According to a 2018 US National Science Foundation data set, quoted by the Nature Index, China published the largest number of papers.

Also, in terms of citation numbers, between 2018 and 2020, Chinese research comprised more of the top 1 percent of the most frequently cited papers than US research, a 2022 report by Japan's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy showed.