China Closes the Innovation Gap

By John V. Walsh. This article appeared originally here at (republished with author’s permission).

The headline reads, “The Rapid Rise of a Research Nation: China’s economic boom is mirrored by its similarly meteoric rise in high quality science.” This was not a headline in People’s Daily or China Daily but in the most prestigious of Western scientific publications, Nature.

The 38 pages, which follow that headline in a special Supplement to the journal Nature, tell us that China is now second in the world in high quality science publications and growing fast. This certainly contradicts the Western, dare I say racist, stereotype of the hardworking, but unimaginative, Asian drudge, dutifully churning out mounds of low-quality work.

But how can we know that claim about China is true? Are we dealing here with release of data by the Chinese government, which, again according to Western stereotype, produces little but fabrications? (This writer has not found that to be the case, but there is merit in using sources that are immune to Western prejudices.)

Before considering the evidence for Nature’s claim of high quality Chinese science, we should ask of what significance is it to the layman? Just this, as the U.S. continues its belligerent “pivot to Asia,” which has been designed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and the foreign policy Elite to confront China, we should know what our leaders are getting us into.

Two pillars of a country’s power (supporting the hard, soft and military varieties) are its economy and its technology. Since late in 2014 China has been the world’s largest economy according to the International Monetary Fund, using the Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) metric.  It continues to grow at about 7 percent – or “only” 7 percent as the Western media are fond of telling us although no Western nation comes near that rate of growth.

Now China appears to be on the cusp of becoming the world’s foremost Research and Development (R&D) engine. And that pushes the Chinese economy forward even more rapidly, for technology and science are the driving forces for modern economic development.

We would do well to remember that the last time that the U.S. confronted China directly in armed conflict was the Korean War. When the U.S., using the United Nations as cover, advanced all the way to the border with China, the Yalu river, China entered the war and the U.S. was driven back south to the 38th parallel. The result was restoration of the status quo ante bellum, with Korea divided in the way it remains to this day. At that time China was weak and backward; now it is strong and advanced.

Historical Domination

In a broader historical context, for the last 500 years the West has been in the dirty business of invading and colonizing the rest of the planet. This process continues today in the form of neocolonialism, most recently with U.S. wars, “regime change” ops and sanctions aimed at resisting nations.

In this entire 500-year period, the West has always enjoyed technological superiority in such encounters, and that has been one of the keys to its success at domination. Some would say that technology was the key to subjugation of the planet by the West.

We can envisage the Toledo steel armor and swords of the original conquistadores from 1492 onward to the titanic aircraft carriers of the U.S. lumbering around the South China Sea today. But the advance of science and technology in China means that this will not long remain the case. In fact that day may have passed already for all practical purposes.

So we would be well advised to know what sort of predicament our Elite are creating for us with their “pivot to Asia.”

Let us turn to the evidence. How do we know with a high level of confidence that China has succeeded so impressively in its science and technology? The information comes from Nature Index (, a product of the journal Nature. Perhaps relatively few laymen are aware of Nature, but virtually every working scientist regards it as one of the most outstanding of scientific publications, a reputation well deserved.

As but one example, the original paper by Watson and Crick on the double helical structure of DNA, along with the paper, by Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, providing the data that led to the Watson-Crick structure, appeared in Nature.

Nature is published by Elsevier, which has been around for a good long time. Elsevier, headquartered in the Netherlands at the time, published Galileo’s “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” smuggled out of Italy to escape Vatican suppression while Galileo was under house arrest. Descartes was also published by Elsevier. The list goes on over the centuries.

Measuring Progress

Now dear reader, you will have to bear with me for a few brief paragraphs to describe how NatureIndex makes the determination of quality in science. It is all spelled out in great detail at NatureIndex is built on a database of all the original articles published in 68 of the highest quality scientific journals in the world listed here. The selection of those journals is done by a group of prominent active research scientists listed here. All the selected journals are based in the West as are all but a handful of the selecting scientists.

In a given year at the moment approximately 60,000 original articles appear in these journals. Each author of the 60,000 papers is given a score based on the number of these articles to which he or she has made a contribution. This number is called the Fractional Index (FC). For technical reasons the FC has to be weighted for certain disciplines giving rise to another number, the Weighted Fractional Index (WFC) for each scientist.

Add up the WFC’s for all the scientists in China appearing in the list of contributors in a given year and you have the WFC for the nation of China. The same can be done for any other country. It is as simple as that.

Basically the WFC is a metric for quality because the journals chosen to be part of the Index are those that publish the very best science as best as it can be determined at the moment. Publication of a paper in these journals is a highly competitive business, and every scientist wants to publish his or her best work in them.

The WFC is no bureaucratic or governmental measure. Each article that appears has been reviewed and accepted, usually by at least three scientists acting completely independently, and in fact not even knowing who their fellow reviewers of a given manuscript are. That means we have at least 180,000 independent reviews per year.

And then there are the many more articles rejected by these reviewing scientists. That means the WFC for the countries surveyed is determined by hundreds of thousands of independent reviews each year! They all act independently of one another. Adam Smith would love the model.

This author has been involved for a lifetime in such scientific reviews, as both reviewer and reviewed. The reviews are generally tough, honest and mostly fair. And in general the more prestigious the publication, the more demanding the review.

Again the bottom line is the WFC for each of the countries surveyed. The higher the WFC, the higher the quality of the country’s total output. For the 12 months of 2015 the U.S. had the number one WFC by far. But second was China. (The order of the top 20 is: U.S., China, Germany, UK, Japan, France, Canada, Switzerland, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Australia, India, Netherlands, Israel, Sweden, Singapore, Taiwan, Russia, Belgium.)

Nature magazine began analyzing China’s output in 2012 and it recently (December, 2015) published a hard copy Supplement summarizing the Index in which the WFC for China for the period 2012 to 2014 was assessed. There is much of interest in the 38 pages of this Supplement.   It contains evaluations of the science by region, institution (which includes both academia and corporations) and city. The awe of those who prepared the supplement for the advances in Chinese science is palpable in the Supplement.

Changing Places

For those interested in comparisons, as we should well be if we wish to know accurately our place in the world, the following paragraph from the NatureIndex Supplement is striking: “But what sets China apart is its WFC. While China’s contribution (to the global total) grew 37% from 2012 through 2014, the United States saw a 4% drop over the same period.”

That paragraph should be read and reread by those who would dismiss the development of China as “merely” quantitative or completely fake.

Moreover, the decline in the WFC of the U.S. comes as no surprise to researchers in the U.S., my colleagues, who have watched many laboratories close and talented investigators forced to quit as federal funding failed to keep pace with expenses. It is sad indeed to watch this tragedy unfold, with all the attendant waste of talent, training and education.

To return to the Nature Index Supplement for China for 2012-2014, here are excerpts from the opening section, which convey much of the magnitude and significance of China’s accomplishment:

“China has ambitious plans to source as much as 15% of its energy from renewable resources by 2020, at the same time its economy is expected to slow (to 6.8 -7.0 percent per year. JW). It also aspires to be the next space superpower while facing major health and environment challenges, such as an ageing population and water shortages. (China also has set as a goal the total elimination of poverty and the creation of a ‘moderately prosperous society’ by 2020. JW)

“The Chinese government knows that surmounting these challenges while achieving its goals can only be accomplished through science. Indeed, China is pegging its future prosperity on a knowledge-based economy, underpinned by research and innovation. For a country that invented paper, gunpowder and the compass, such lofty ambitions could be realized. This year (2015) pharmacologist Tu Youyou became the first Chinese researcher to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for helping to discover a new drug for malaria that has saved millions of lives.”

This should be quite enough to convince the reader of the extent, rapidity and quality of science in China. But is there corroborative data for the Nature Index study? Yes, from our own U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF released an assessment of China’s R&D in January 2016 entitled: “U.S. science and technology leadership increasingly challenged by advances in Asia: China is now the second largest performer of research and development.”

This assessment is drawn from Science and Engineering Indicators, 2016, which is in turn produced by the National Science Board (NSB) a leadership body of the NSF whose 25 members are presidential appointees. The assessment is worth reading in full, but the bottom line is the following:

“According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.”

That means of course that China now produces almost three-fourths as much R&D as the U.S., if we are to believe the NSF’s figures, and China’s output is growing fast. Here are some other quotes from the NSF assessment:

“Between 2003 and 2013, China ramped up its R&D investments at an average of 19.5 percent annually, greatly exceeding that of the U.S. China made its increases despite the Great Recession. (This last indicates to this writer a deep commitment to R&D.)

“China has also made significant strides in S&E (Science and Engineering) education, which is critical to supporting R&D as well as knowledge and technology-intensive industries. China is the world’s number-one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science and engineering. These fields account for 49 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in China, compared to 33 percent of all bachelor’s degrees the U.S. awards.

“In 2012, students in China earned about 23 percent of the world’s 6 million first University degrees in S&E. Students in the European Union earned about 12 percent and those in the U.S. accounted for about 9 percent of these degrees. (Note that China is now producing more undergraduate degrees in S&E than the U.S. and the European Union combined, i.e., more than the entire “West.” jw)

“The number of S&E graduate degrees awarded in China is also increasing. However, the U.S. continues to award the largest number of S&E doctorates and remains the destination of choice for internationally mobile students.” (But with the enormous numbers of undergraduate S&E degrees awarded in China, it would seem to be only a matter of time before graduate degrees follow. jw)

U.S. Retrenchment

Now let us see what the NSF has to say about the growth rate of R&D in the U.S., something it knows probably better than anyone else. Again we quote:

“Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years, reflecting the effects of the end of the investments of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the advent of the Budget Control Act, and increased pressure on the discretionary portion of the federal budget.

“Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

” ‘Decreased federal investment is negatively impacting our nation’s research universities,’ said Kelvin Droegemeier, NSB vice chair and vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. ‘Our universities conduct 51 percent of the nation’s basic research and train the next generation of STEM-capable workers. Federal support is essential to developing the new knowledge and human capital that allows the U.S. to innovate and be at the forefront of S&T.’”

I would pull from this quotation one phrase that is of special significance for the decline in federal funding for R&D, to wit “increased pressure on the discretionary portion of the federal budget.” Discretionary spending excludes earned benefits, principally Social Security and Medicare which are in the non-discretionary category.

Do I have to tell readers that the biggest portion of the federal discretionary budget is the Pentagon? According to OMB the military consumed 55 percent of the federal discretionary budget in 2015 whereas science got 3 percent!! “International Affairs” also received 3 percent. In other words, the U.S. is building -and using – vast amounts of instruments of destruction while China is building up its scientific and technical enterprise.

I have outlined the facts and evidence for China’s great leap forward in science and technology. In the light of China’s impressive record in both economic development and in R&D, should the U.S. not terminate its bellicose pivot to the Western Pacific and seek a peaceful win-win relationship with China?

The reality reviewed here suggests that confrontation with China belongs to the colonial and neocolonial past, which for China ended decisively in 1949. The U.S. establishment must recognize that reality or court disaster for America and the world.

John V. Walsh is a frequent contributor to,, and He is a founding member of “Come Home America.” Until recently he was Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  He can be reached at


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  • Sarastro92

    “In fact that day may have passed already for all practical purposes.”

    The Chinese (and Russians too) can effectively blind US military communications satellites and sink most of the surface fleet with hypersonic weapons, right now, today. That leaves the US only with nuclear weapons, which is why conventional warfare will almost immediately escalate to thermonuclear exchanges.

    While US Federal R&D is retreating badly, corporate America cut back R&D even more so. These days trillions in corporate funds are blown propping up stock prices with buybacks and dividend payouts. Free money from the Fed lets companies with falling sales and slumping profits inflate the value of equity shares. At least for now. The rot that permeates the system is tangible.

    The US oligarchs have bled the system dry and on the road to nuclear war.

    • cstahnke

      I see a lot of comments saying we are headed for nuclear war but I don’t see that at all. Nuclear war is bad for business and will not take place. Most of the belligerency the USA projects is part of the strategy of tension with two audiences, one is for the public in the vassal states (the “international community”) and the other is for the American public who are conditioned to be fearful so the oligarchs create a series of semi-credible Orwellian “enemies” often create or tacitly supported by the Deep State. The corporate oligarchs laugh all the way to the bank–they could care less which nation state dominates the world because nation states are the servants of these oligarchs post of the hoopla about international rivalries is more pro-wrestling type angry gestures.

      • Sarastro92

        No one “wants” nuclear war. But if parties are reckless enough the threshold for war is lowered to a hair-trigger. Since “Use it or Lose it” guides nuclear strategy, when tensions are heightened either side can easily over-react or misinterpret events when the window for action is only 12 minutes or so.

        The US/ Russia and China are vastly increasing nuclear weapons and delivery systems. That’s FACT. NATO is surrounding Russia with first-strike capacity. That’s FACT. The US has a Contain China policy. That’s FACT.

        Increasingly the belligerents are encroaching on airspace- territorial waters and sensitive defense installations. That’s FACT. Jet fighters are buzzing war ships. That’s FACT. How long do you think all this goes on before a weapon is fired… a sailing vessel or aircraft is lost?

        And then the escalation starts…

        • cstahnke

          Nuclear war is possible but even those that seem to favor it in the National Security State do so in order to curry political favor within a political playing field that values assholery, cruelty, and machismo and don’t actually want to destroy the world. But, at any rate, the finance oligarchs who are the senior partners in the American power structure will not allow the American state to drift into nuclear war just as they would not allow an attack on Iran some years ago. The agents of this power structure are in every major part of the National Security State with orders to kill if required.

          To be clear, the US military did believe that they could “win” a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis but no one in the know believes that such a war could be won today.

  • wunsacon

    >> Do I have to tell readers that the biggest portion of the federal discretionary budget is the Pentagon?
    >> According to OMB the military consumed 55 percent of the federal discretionary budget in 2015 whereas

    55% is according to the OMB. Have you added it up yourself? Go to the federal budget and ask yourself “which of these is actually related to the military and police state we’ve constructed”? Are you sure you can even account for it? Ask not just about big-ticket items like the Dept of Energy budget largely spent on nukes. Also consider: why were federal agencies like the FDA supposedly ordering ammo? How much does the Dept of Education spend now on LEO’s and swat teams to defend schools? How about the prison complex, part of our high-school-to-prison pipeline since we shipped out the decent no-degree jobs?

    • John V. Walsh

      I agree with your point, but I did not really want to enter into that topic given the purpose of this article.
      So I took a figure that certainly low balls the estimate – although the low ball is quite bad enough.
      Thanks for the comment

    • gamesjon

      Don’t forget Veteran’s Affairs… I mean that should technically be counted right, since by definition veterans are such because of the military :P. I think the last combined total I saw was for 2014 which was roughly $1.6 trillion.

      Another point worth mentioning is that military spending has been where most the major R&D spending and discoveries came from in America, following WWII at least. So, while I am totally opposed to pretty much every aspect of our budget, it is only fair to mention that fact since it would indicate that it is not that “defense” takes up too much of our money, but that contractor fraud, wasteful procurement, and greed has redirected it from research into pockets.

  • cstahnke

    It appears that the corporate elites have already written of the USA as the main engine of their economic development. My sense is that the power-elite are not interested in nation states as such but in societies that look to be useful for their goals. At the moment China and India seem to be ideal high value sources of good scientists and technological workers because virtue and discipline are more highly valued and bred in the bone than in the more hedonistic and less civilized USA where science has gradually become a dirty word. The age of the nation state is just about over and even Donald Trump cannot bring it back. The American Century will be over by 2020 about twenty years short of its century long reign.

    • berger friedrich-wolfgang

      INDIA Already is Upgrading “IDF – WELCOME – COMPLEXES” !!!

  • In other China news, May 10th, 2016 China scrambles jets to force US ship off disputed reef

    China Defense Ministry: two fighter jets were scrambled to warn Guided missile destroyer the USS William P. Lawrence, which was travelling within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef, one of several islands known internationally as Spratlys, referred to as Nansha Islands by China.

  • Brockland A.T.

    That seems like so much puffery to flatter the Chinese and lower their guard, since they do seem to fall for flattery from thinly disguised competitors and outright enemies just like during imperial times.

    Chinese elite culture is a culture that burned the original books of Confucius to preserve petty minded social order, adopted eunuch-making and foot binding women in patriarchal excess and mysogyny, burned the legendary Treasure fleet, allowed mass Christianization and opium trading, adopted Marxist-Leninism, adopted the Western-inspired one child per family policy, kicked out but then allowed the Christians back in again, and embraced neoliberal financializtion. The communists even almost stomped out traditional martial arts till they belatedly realized the honest West found value in it. They will save face at the greater expense of the body, the more unnecessary the expense, the more likely they will fall for it.

    The only question is, after falling for so much self-lobotomizing self-genociding foreign influence, why are there still any Chinese left and what will they screw up next?

    There is so much psudoscience in the corporate West, the notion that China escaped that kind of Americanization is a little on the implausible side. If China enjoys an edge in quality science, its a thin one due to Western slacking and corruption.

    For example, China’s pollution problems stem from adopting obsolete Soviet then Western technology instead of cutting edge green technologies during its modernization drive in the 70s and 80s. They don’t know what makes sense to copycat, let alone invent on their own.

    Similarly, China’s economic woes come from adopting Western-styled central banking and financializtion instead of public banking. Chinese medicare even uses America’s private insurance model rather than a European socialized medicine. The Chinese don’t demonstrate any sense of what was good to preserve from the past.

    What counts in science is what science translates into tomorrows genuinely competitive, winning, market-dominating patents that set the standard for industries of culture, manufacturing, and commerce. If China has never had the common sense to know what to copy and what to preserve, the idea that they can innovate as leaders in the new millennium is laughable. Especially since the key to innovation and success is counterintuitive and obnoxious to control-freak culture.

    The Chinese can’t match the Western tradition of loving knowledge and science for its own sake and celebrating the results, the sort of personalities that are the true wellsprings of innovation. Not that the West hasn’t ripped off, persecuted, and repressed its genuinely great people who were inconvenient to vested interests or easily taken advantage of and stolen from, but those attempts (until recently) tended to fail to prevent advances in civilization. Its only in postmodern times that the West has the ability to defeat itself conclusively via the overwhelming surveillance state.

    The West defeating itself is China’s only competitive advantage, which against its own long history of own-goaling, might hardly be enough to prevail.

    • berger friedrich-wolfgang

      Did you ever Hedge the BELIEVE , that your “Bronce AGE” Thieving TRIBE , Get Away with an Other “PAPERCLIP” ???

      • Brockland A.T.

        It was an iron age thieving raiding tribe that started it. Leibniz ring any bells? The Chinese people have never understood they were in a culture war knife fight at all times since contact with West and especially the Church.

        “As Slavoj Zizek once said: “The true victory (the true ‘negation of the
        negation’) occurs when the enemy talks your language.” The West would be
        irrational to adopt Asian concepts. That would be like holding the candle [passing the torch?] to China. Moreover, the Middle Kingdom is notorious for assimilating all invading cultures in the past. Why queuing?

        The “barbarians” always had superior weapons and technology, but, as Gu
        Hongming in 1920 noted, lacked true humane intelligence. How’s that? Well, it’s
        a bit like Star Trek wisdom: if prehistoric humanity evolved from the beasts,
        then the most advanced human societies would be the least physically aggressive
        ones, no?

        In 1697, the German philosopher Leibniz famously argued that the Chinese were
        far more advanced in the humanities than “we are”. He never specified, but, I
        think, it is all revealed when he urged all Germans that they must not use
        foreign words, but use their own language instead (German is a compound
        language, so it’s an infinite source), in order to build and enlarge the
        German-speaking world.”

        The article praising Chinese innovation has to be taken with the same skepticism as Western praise for Russian ‘democracy’ under Yeltsin.

        “Since 2012 scores of authors, many of them Chinese, have been snagged in a peer-review scandal involving papers published in international journals. Journals
        discovered that authors or their brokers had suggested their own reviewers, provided email addresses to accounts controlled by the perpetrators, and then reviewed their own work. The findings, first reported by the blog Retraction Watch, prompted major publishers to retract scores of papers. In March, the London-based BioMed Central
        (BMC) began retracting 43 papers, and on 18 August Springer, which owns BioMed Central, said that it would retract 64 papers. Elsevier and SAGE have also retracted papers en masse.”

        Corrupting science, especially medical science (vaccines, GMOs), is a long-established scam in the West. China must have fully adopted it to be receiving such establishment praise.

        The economist article also cited is from three years ago, before relations between China and the U.S. took a major downturn after China quietly moved to back Russia over the Ukraine, Syria, and economically against sanctions and boycott. Western intel agencies apparently belatedly realized another iron in the fire was bearing fruit and the natural honesty of genuine science had to be kaboshed to reinforce a psyop/propaganda weapon.

        Is there any benefit to liberty in such a Western ‘victory’? Hell no; the humanity burning engine of Empire at the periphery powers enslavement of the core.

        Christian missionizing always spawns chaos spawns in indigenous cultures. The culture of repression and misinformation they failed to sustain over Renaissance Europe succeeded in China, allied with neo-Confucian regressives. History may not repeat, but it rhymes.

        • berger friedrich-wolfgang

          Thanks for Your ” Honest Replique” ! The Problem , You Face , Brought to the “Court of REASON” ; is as Old , as “MANKIND” itself ! Our , Mankind#s DEVELOPMENT , starts with Being ANIMA / Just BEING here ! By Opening our Eyes (Senses) , We Percept FEELINGS in a Reactionary Manner to our Environment ; –> “SOUL” ! Perceiving the Answers to our Needs , Forms / Brands the “PSYCHE” ! Further “DEVELOPMENT” Runs by Experience & Intellectual “INTERPRETATION” ! In this “PROCESS” our “CONSCIOUSNESS” Grows as a “COLLECTION of Varying – Contradictory COMPLEXES of Knowledge” !!! That’s the “Course of Life” for us “PSYCHOS” !!! Until now , “We were Allowed , to Develop our Personality According to a Frame of Strict RULES” !!! The “GLOBALIZATION” of “Free TRADE” , was “in One”, Also the Globalization of Our “Societal LIBERTY” in Relation to Our “Personal PREFERENCES” l NEGATING Other “Particular SELFS” Catapults us Back to “UNWANTED & UGLY EGOS” !!!

  • Haour

    Traditionnal indicators of innovation do not work very well for China, because so much of its ingenuity is in processes, business models and services. As I argue in my recent book (Bloomsbury, 2016) “Created in China; how China is becoming a global innovator”, Chinese firms have an uncanny ability to rapidly and effectively extract value out of an activity and that China is well on its way to be a major source of innovations for the world.
    Georges HAOUR