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R&DU.S. still first in science, but China rising fast as funding stalls in U.S., other countries

Published 19 June 2017

American scientific teams still publish significantly more biomedical research discoveries than teams from any other country, a new study shows, and the United States still leads the world in research and development expenditures. But American dominance is slowly shrinking, the analysis finds, as China’s skyrocketing investing on science over the last two decades begins to pay off. Chinese biomedical research teams now rank fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries published in six top-tier journals, and the country spent three-quarters what the United States spent on research and development during 2015.

American scientific teams still publish significantly more biomedical research discoveries than teams from any other country, a new study shows, and the United States still leads the world in research and development expenditures.

But American dominance is slowly shrinking, the analysis finds, as China’s skyrocketing investing on science over the last two decades begins to pay off. Chinese biomedical research teams now rank fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries published in six top-tier journals, and the country spent three-quarters what the United States spent on research and development during 2015.

Meanwhile, the analysis shows, scientists from the United States and other countries increasingly make discoveries and advancements as part of teams that involve researchers from around the world.

The last fifteen years have ushered in an era of “team science” as research funding in the United States, Great Britain and other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, stagnated. The number of authors has also grown over time. For example, in 2000 only two percent of the research papers the new study looked include twenty-one or more authors — a number that increased to 12.5 percent in 2015.

U-M says that the new findings, JCI Insight by a team of University of Michigan researchers, come at a critical time for the debate over the future of U.S. federal research funding. The study is based on a careful analysis of original research papers published in six top-tier and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015, in addition to data on R&D investment from those same years.

The study builds on other work that has also warned of America’s slipping status in the world of science and medical research, and the resulting impact on the next generation of aspiring scientists. “It’s time for U.S. policy-makers to reflect and decide whether the year-to-year uncertainty in National Institutes of Health budget and the proposed cuts are in our societal and national best interest,” says Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the new data-supported opinion piece and chief scientific officer of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. “If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

The analysis charts South Korea’s entry into the top ten countries for