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Influential scientists on mainland growing

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-25 09:11

Nation's academic prowess rises for 5th straight year, according to report

The number of highly influential scientists on the Chinese mainland has increased for a fifth consecutive year, signaling the nation's rising academic influence, according to an annual report by the global analytical firm Clarivate Analytics.

Experts said the trend shows that China is steadily catching up with the United States regarding high-level scholarly contributions, but the gap between the countries remains substantial, particularly in fields related to life and medical sciences.

On Nov 15, Clarivate revealed its 2022 list of highly cited researchers and academics who have demonstrated a "disproportionate level of significant and broad influence" in their fields. This year's list featured 6,938 scientists from 69 countries and regions, spread across 21 research fields from engineering to social sciences.

These scientists had produced papers that ranked in the top 1 percent by the number of citations from 2011 to last year, a prestigious percentile typically reserved for groundbreaking or trend-setting discoveries. Academic citation is a widely used indicator of the cited paper's influence and utility.

The US was home to 2,764 world-class scientists this year, accounting for 38.3 percent of the list. Although the US leads the world in research influence, its share of the entire list has decreased from 43.3 percent in 2018.

The Chinese mainland ranked second this year with 1,169 highly cited researchers. In five years, the Chinese mainland has more than doubled its share of the list, rising from 7.9 percent in 2018 to 16.2 percent this year.

"Research fuels the race for knowledge. While the United States continues to lead the world in research influence, China continues to close the gap," said David Pendlebury, head of research analysis at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate.

"Indeed, the 2022 list reflects a transformational rebalancing of scientific and scholarly contributions at the top level through the globalization of the research enterprise," he said in the report.

As for research institutions, Harvard University still boasted the highest concentration of these top scientists, with 233 scholars. The Chinese Academy of Sciences came in at a close second with 228, though analysts said the academy would likely surpass Harvard soon, given its massive size and resources.

In addition, China's Tsinghua University has steadily climbed up the global ranking, moving from ninth place in 2020 to fifth place this year with 73 noted researchers. The mainland's second-highest-ranking institution is Hunan University, with 32 scientists, followed by Peking University with 31 and Zhejiang University with 28.

Li Zhiming, president of the Committee of Talent Development of the Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy, said several lists try to evaluate the scholarly impact of renowned scientists, and the list by Clarivate is relatively more recognized within academia.

"These lists are not for ranking scholars, and they serve as indicators to show the status of the current research landscape and document the long-term performance of scientists," he said in a recent article. "To be included in the list means that scientist commands strong global influence in their particular fields."

A scientist based in Hunan province who was on Clarivate's list this year and requested anonymity, said the list also evaluates how active these noted scientists are in their current research.

"To be on the list is certainly an honor, but as a scientist, I am more interested in seeing what my colleagues are doing and what research direction my field is going," the expert said.

Basic research that can serve the United Nations' sustainable development goals is a significant development trend for the international scientific community in recent years, he added.

"China's growing policy and financial support for scientific and technological research, especially in basic sciences and cross-field studies, is the key reason it is producing a growing number of world-class scholars," the scientist said.

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