Journal Nature confirms China’s high-quality research output

Published in The Hindu on March 18, 2010

China flag
Science in China is maturing at a very rapid pace. — Photo: Wikemida Commons

Yet another confirmation of the high quality of research being done in China comes straight from the horse’s mouth – the Nature Publishing Group. A press release posted recently in the Nature journal site (http://www.nature.com/press_releases/pubindex.html) clearly shows that science in China is maturing at a very rapid pace. The release compares the performance of countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The ranking is based on the number of papers published during 2009 in Nature and its sister publications, and is updated every week. Nature is one of the most reputed journals, and has the highest impact factor.

Second in ranking

According to the Nature Asia-Pacific Publishing Index, Japan, with 232 articles in Nature and its group of publications comes first, followed by Australia with 98 articles and China with 93 articles.

But China improves its ranking when correction for the percentage of authors of the papers from a given country is done. In other words, the number of authors from China in papers published in the Nature group of journals is greater compared with Australia.

According to the journal, China published only three papers in 1998 in Nature and its sister publications; the number has increased 30-fold since then.

India comes seventh with just 14 articles.

It may be argued that this ranking is based on just Nature and its sister publications, and a ranking system based solely on the number of papers published in high-impact journals cannot be a true reflection of the quality of science being done in a country.

Proof of quality work

While this is certainly correct, it cannot be denied that the quality of work has to be of high standard for a paper to be accepted and published in journals like Nature and Science. So ranking based on number of papers published in high-impact journals does serve as an indirect way of assessing the quality of work done in institutions/countries.

Prof. N.V. Joshi, Associate Editor of Current Science, Bangalore adds a few qualifiers. “High quality is necessary but not sufficient for papers to be published in Nature,” he says. He then cites a few instances where highly significant work that has great societal benefit will not be published by Nature. “Physicists would prefer to publish their work in Physical Review Letters and not Nature,” he adds.

The Index allows users to extract further information about the authors, the most useful being their affiliation. While the University of Tokyo tops the list with 71 publications to its credit, and is followed by four more Japanese centres/universities, the Chinese Academy of Sciences comes fifth with 44 papers. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, with just three papers, has produced the most in the case of India.

Indian universities

The Index brings out the most obvious — paucity of quality research in Indian universities. While many universities in China figure in the list, there are just two universities in the case of India. “It is something well known. Education is their [universities’] mandate, and research is not compulsory,” says Prof. Joshi.

Weekly updates

For the users, the ranking gives an insight into science being done in a country. According to the release, “the weekly updating provides a means to keep track of where and in what fields and from which institutions and individual researchers some of the hottest basic research in the region is emerging.”

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