The structure and comparative advantages of China's scientific research: Quantitative and qualitative perspectives

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In recent decades there has been a sharp increase in China's scientific
output. Behind its fast growth, little is known about China's
comparative advantages in different academic disciplines. Meanwhile,
despite China's rising position (now in second place worldwide for
research output), its research quality has been long in dispute. Based
on citation rates, many studies expressed negative opinions on the
quality of China's scientific output. This paper argues that citation
reflects more social impact than quality. On the other hand, the time
lag between being cited and the eventual publication of citing papers
masks the real recent situation in developing countries. In particular
prior to 2006, almost half of research papers in China were published in
Chinese journals, which were not visible (or readable) to people outside
of China. Consequently, it is not surprising that citation rates of
Chinese researchers were rather low. Given that the publication
structure in China has changed tremendously in recent years, evaluation
of the quality of Chinese science needs to be carried out according to
the latest research output from China. This paper examines the
comparative advantages of each academic discipline as well as their
shifts over the years. Focusing on the top 5 per cent journals by each
discipline, we evaluate the quality of China's scientific output
compared to the rest of the world. Different from the criticism stated
in previous literature, this paper finds that the quality of China's
research in terms of publications in top journals is promising. Since
2006 the growth of scientific publications in China has been driven by
papers published in English-language journals. The increasing visibility
of Chinese science paves the way for its wider recognition and higher
citation rates.

Keywords: Bibliometrics, Scientometric analysis, Revealed comparative
advantage, Publications, Scientific output, Publication quality,
Citation, High-impact journals
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMaastricht
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Publication series

SeriesUNU-MERIT Working Papers

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