Once again, China Tops Nature Index as Dominance of High-quality Science

Show Strong Research Collaboration and Advancements

June 7, 2024
Editor-in-Chief, The China Academy
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In a special edition of Nature released on June 5th, the “Nature Index China 2024” report has unveiled that China maintains its leading position in the prestigious Nature Index. Despite the inclusion of over 60 medical journals in the index, China continues to dominate the rankings, showcasing its scientific prowess on the global stage. The report also highlights the rapid growth of research collaboration between China and countries participating in the “Belt and Road Initiative.”

The Nature Index serves as an open database, providing valuable insights into author affiliations and institutional relationships. By tracking research articles published in renowned natural and health science journals, selected by independent research teams based on journal reputation, the index offers a comprehensive view of scientific contributions. The recently released data covers the period from August 2022 to July 2023.

According to the Nature Index data, China demonstrates a remarkable advantage in the fields of chemistry and physics, claiming an impressive 85% share of China’s total index. This dominance underscores China’s commitment to scientific research and positions the country at the forefront of these disciplines. Notably, other academic fields are also witnessing substantial growth. Between 2022 and 2023, China experienced a remarkable 15.8% increase in its share of research articles in the biological sciences, marking the highest growth rate among the four major scientific disciplines tracked by the Nature Index.

The Nature Index data further highlights the significant surge in scientific research collaboration between China and countries involved in the “Belt and Road Initiative.” Over the period from 2015 to 2023, the number of scientific research papers co-authored by China and at least one “Belt and Road Initiative” country surged by an impressive 132%. In 2023 alone, these collaborative papers accounted for 28% of China’s international research collaborations listed in the Nature Index. Singapore emerged as a prominent partner for scientific collaboration with China among “Belt and Road Initiative” countries, closely followed by South Korea. Meanwhile, collaboration with Western countries remains crucial, with the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom maintaining their positions as China’s primary research partners.

In addition to the rankings, the report also features a comprehensive list of the top 100 Chinese institutions based on their article share in 2023. Topping the list are esteemed institutions including the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Science and Technology of China, the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing University, Tsinghua University, Peking University, Zhejiang University, Fudan University, Sun Yat-sen University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. These institutions have consistently demonstrated excellence in research and continue to drive scientific advancements within China.

China’s exceptional performance in the Nature Index 2024 confirms the country’s commitment to scientific excellence, showcasing its global influence and collaborations.

In addition, China is making significant strides to establish itself as a prominent force in scientific research by focusing on building its own publishing realm. With a bid to be self-reliant and set its own research agenda, the nation is pushing to produce more homegrown academic journals, aiming to transform its publishing sector and reshape international scientific collaboration.

According to Digital Science’s Dimensions database, China has emerged as the world’s largest producer of scientific knowledge in the past two decades. In 2022, the country surpassed the United States in the Nature Index for contributions to natural-sciences articles. However, a majority of Chinese research is still disseminated through journals published by Western companies. From 2012 to 2021, the top 20 international publishers accounted for 83% of all research articles involving Chinese authors.

Recognizing the economic implications, China seeks to capture a portion of the substantial expenditure on scientific publishing, which exceeds $1 billion annually. The rise of “gold” open-access publishing models, where authors pay article processing charges (APCs) to journals, has contributed to this growing expenditure. However, around 90% of the APC spending in China goes to international publishers. By establishing domestic academic journals, China aims to redirect some of this spending and enhance its influence over the global academic-publishing system.

China’s pursuit of domestic journals is not solely driven by economic factors. The country also seeks to address a desire to move away from Western-dominated research agendas and focus on local issues and topics that better serve its own needs. By connecting researchers with local communities and domestic issues, Chinese journals can foster a more impactful research environment.

Reforming China’s fragmented publishing sector presents a significant challenge. Currently, there are thousands of journals published by numerous publishers, with the majority being single-journal publishers. Only a handful of these journals have international impact. To address this, China launched the China Journal Excellence Action Plan (CJEAP) in 2019. This five-year plan aims to create a portfolio of 400 world-class journals owned by Chinese institutions. The CJEAP provides funding, a digital publishing platform, and a training program to develop local publishing and editorial talent. However, gaining support under the CJEAP is demanding, requiring ambitious improvement plans and indexing in the Web of Science within three years.

To kick-start growth under the CJEAP, Chinese journals often partner with international publishers, such as Springer Nature and Elsevier. These partnerships provide Chinese institutions with access to technology and expertise, while the Chinese partners retain copyright and editorial control. Such collaborations facilitate global impact for Chinese journals.

China also wields its influence on researchers’ publishing choices through research assessment and academic promotion systems. The country has been transitioning from evaluating researchers solely based on the number of papers published to a more nuanced evaluation considering quality. Researchers focusing on basic science are now evaluated based on “representative works,” requiring at least one-third of publications to be in domestic journals with international influence. Chinese funders, research institutes, and universities maintain preferred journal lists and warning lists, influencing researchers’ publication choices and library subscriptions.

While China has shown progress in selecting new journals for the CJEAP, the improvement in quality and impact has been intermittent. Nevertheless, China’s determined approach suggests that eventual success is likely.

China’s efforts to establish a robust domestic publishing realm have significant implications for international scientific collaboration and communication. By promoting Chinese journals and challenging Western-dominated models, China seeks to become an influential player in shaping the global academic-publishing system, breaking the western monopoly on science communication.


Editor-in-Chief, The China Academy
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