China looks set to surpass US as world leader in scientific research

the country spent three-quarters what the us spent on research and development during 2015.

China looks set to surpass US as world leader in scientific research

Credit: Shafiee Lab

The US’ status as the world’s leading nation in scientific and medical research is under threat, according to a new study.

Unsciversity of Michigan researchers reviewed every issue of six top-tier international journals and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015.

While the researchers concluded that the US is still the world leader in research and development spending, and ranks first in the world for scientific discoveries, China’s increased investment in science over the past twenty years ranks fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries - providing serious competition.

The new findings, published in 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.

Proposed budget cuts in the US, and the belief that Chinese R&D spending will surpass the US total by 2022 could mean that China eventually becomes the leading nation for scientific and medical research.

“It’s time for US 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,” said Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D. 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.”


Rather than being a dominant force in scientific and medical research, the researchers discovered that the US were now more likely than ever to cooperate with other nations on peer-reviewed papers.

The last 15 years have ushered in an era of "team science" as research funding in the US, 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 21 or more authors - a number that increased to 12.5% in 2015.