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Despite Chinese threats, US remains global leader in scientific output

November 09, 2017

The United States has no global equal when it comes to scientific output, producing more publications than China, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined, according to the recently updated Nature Index. The index, a product of the scientific journal Nature, measures output of high-quality research in the natural sciences at both the national and state levels. However, the most recent update finds that U.S. contributions have declined in both absolute and relative terms since 2012, and if current trends remain, China could become the world’s top contributor by 2027.

As the image below notes, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland contribute the most to the United States’ score in the index. In the past five years, reduced contributions from states like these have made the biggest dents in the country’s overall score, according to Nature. From 2012 to 2016, the majority of states saw a decline in their contribution to the Nature Index. 

The release of this year’s index is contextualized by research from leading scholars in the field. In her commentary, for example, Julia Lane of New York University suggests that instead of tracking publications, more sensible measurements of scientific quality can allow for a better sense of a researcher’s scientific and economic contributions.  Author Ellie Dolgin evaluates the effectiveness of a National Institutes of Health initiative aimed at keeping early-career scientists engaged. And analysts Scott Andes and Daniel Correa write that, faced with funding uncertainty at the federal level, state governments and the private sector can do more to support R&D at universities.