A recent report from the United Nations suggests that while the West (and the United States, in particular) still dominate scientific work, other countries are gaining ground. Here are some of the measures from the UNESCO report:
In 2007 Japan spent 3.4% of its GDP on R&D, America 2.7%, the European Union (EU) collectively 1.8% and China 1.4% (see chart 1). Many countries seeking to improve their global scientific standing want to increase these figures. China plans to push on to 2.5% and Barack Obama would like to nudge America up to 3%. The number of researchers has also grown everywhere. China is on the verge of overtaking both America and the EU in the quantity of its scientists. Each had roughly 1.5m researchers out of a global total of 7.2m in 2007…
One indicator of prowess is how much a country’s researchers publish. As an individual country, America still leads the world by some distance. Yet America’s share of world publications, at 28% in 2007, is slipping. In 2002 it was 31%. The EU’s collective share also fell, from 40% to 37%, whereas China’s has more than doubled to 10% and Brazil’s grew by 60%, from 1.7% of the world’s output to 2.7%…
UNESCO’s latest attempt to look at patents has therefore focused on the offices of America, Europe and Japan, as these are deemed of “high quality”. In these patent offices, America dominated, with 41.8% of the world’s patents in 2006, a share that had fallen only slightly over the previous our years. Japan had 27.9%, the EU 26.4%, South Korea 2.2% and China 0.5%.
Even though the United States still dominates a number of measures, UNESCO concluded Asia is the “dominant scientific continent in the coming years.”
A couple of things are interesting here:
1. Even if jobs have left the United States for cheaper locales, the US still has advantages in scientific research. How long this advantage holds up remains to be seen.
2. These are just three possible measures of scientific output. Other ones, such as journal citations, could be used but this seems fairly effective to quickly look at several measures.
3. It is interesting to think about how science itself will change based on increased research roles in non-Western nations.