Asia and Europe giving U.S. science a run for the money

(Nanowerk News) The United States still leads the world with its scientific clout, armed with highly respected universities and a big war chest of funding, but Europe and Asia are catching up, according to a Thomson Reuters report released on Friday.
The U.S. emphasis on biological and medical sciences leaves the fields of physical sciences and engineering open to the competition, the report finds.
"The United States is no longer the Colossus of Science, dominating the research landscape in its production of scientific papers, that it was 30 years ago," the report reads.
"It now shares this realm, on an increasingly equal basis, with the EU27 (the 27 European Union members) and Asia-Pacific," adds the report, available here.
Thomson Reuters, parent company of Reuters, regularly reviews the state of scientific research using databases that include the Web of Science, which tracks the most influential scientific papers.
Scientists and engineers make their work public in scholarly journals, sharing ideas and making them available for others to critique, copy and try to replicate. The top research is used as the basis of other work more often.
"The current state of scientific research in the United States remains strong, with significant funding (some 2.8 percent of GDP, relatively more than key competitors), excellent academic institutions that are a magnet for the best minds worldwide, and a talented workforce that leads the globe in the quality of its collective research efforts, innovations, and results," the report reads.
But U.S. influence is waning -- not because the United States is doing less, but because other countries are doing more, Thomson's Jonathan Adams and David Pendlebury found.
Losing Influence
"In 1981, U.S. scientists fielded nearly 40 percent of research papers in the most influential journals," they wrote.
"By 2009, that figure was down to 29 percent. During the same period, European nations increased their share of research papers from 33 percent to 36 percent, while research contributed by nations in the Asia-Pacific region increased from 13 percent to 31 percent."
China is now the second-largest producer of scientific papers, after the United States, with nearly 11 percent of the world's total, they found.
In 2008, Asian nations as a group passed the United States with $387 billion in research and development spending, compared with $384 billion in the United States and $280 billion in Europe.
Precisely half of U.S. research focuses on the biological sciences "just at the time when Asian nations are focusing on and investing substantial sums in engineering, physical sciences, and technology," the report notes.
In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology (MIT and Caltech) led in research, the report found.
Outside the United States, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Sciences lead.
Earlier this week the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, released a report showing similar findings.
UNESCO said in 2002, almost 83 percent of research and development was carried out in developed countries but this dropped to 76 percent by 2007. It found China was leading the pack of emerging nations with 1.4 million researchers.
Source: Reuters