Written by a team of independent experts who are each covering the country or region from which they hail, the UNESCO Science Report 2010 analyses the trends and developments that have shaped scientific research, innovation and higher education from 2005 until 2010. The Chinese version of the report was launched officially today in Beijing during an event organized by the Chinese Association for Science and Technology (CAST).
The report depicts an increasingly competitive environment, one in which the flow of information, knowledge, personnel and investment has become a two-way traffic. Both China and India, for instance, are using their newfound economic might to invest in high-tech companies in Europe and elsewhere to acquire technological expertise overnight. Other large emerging economies are also spending more on research and development than before, among them Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey.
If more countries are participating in science, we are also seeing a shift in global influence. China is a hair’s breadth away from counting more researchers than either the USA or the European Union, for instance. Over the past decade, China has multiplied its spending on research and development (R&D) sixfold, doubled the number of scientific papers it publishes, and significantly increased the proportion of doctorates in science and engineering.
China is also on the verge of overtaking both the USA and the EU for the sheer number of its researchers. The research pool nearly doubled between 2002 and 2007 from 810,500 to 1.42 million. Chinese researchers now represent about 20% of the world’s stock. China has also seen its share of global scientific output, as measured in scientific publications listed in the Science Citation Index (SCI), double between 2002 and 2008 from 5.2% to 10.6%, placing it second only to the USA in numerical terms.
But, impressive as these figures are, China still has a long way to go to catch up to the developed world. At US$ 368.1 billion, the USA’s spending on R&D was about 5.5 times that of China in 2007. China may count almost as many researchers as the USA but it has a density of researchers of 1.83 per 1000 labour force, compared to 9.40 in the USA. At 9.17, the Republic of Korea comes much closer to rivalling the USA for this indicator.
Although China has increased its GERD/GDP ratio substantially in the past decade, the Republic of Korea has realized an even bigger feat: its own ratio has gone from 2.5% in 2003 to 3.4% in 2008. Moreover, the government plans to raise this ratio to a staggering 5% by 2012. The Korean government sees science and technology as being key to becoming an ‘advanced country’ and world power. Even in Japan, where the global recession has slowed growth, the ratio of GERD to GDP remains one of the highest in the world, at 3.7% in 2008. China, says the UNESCO report, ‘is still in a catching-up phase,’ with its economic structure heavily dominated by non-technology intensive activities.
Even countries with a lesser scientific capacity are finding that they can acquire, adopt and sometimes even transform existing technology and thereby ‘leapfrog’ over certain costly investments, such as in infrastructure like land lines for telephones. Technological progress is allowing these countries to produce more knowledge and participate more actively than before in international networks and research partnerships with countries in both North and South.
This trend is fostering a democratization of science worldwide. In turn, science diplomacy is becoming a key instrument of peace-building and sustainable development in international relations. Taking up from where its predecessor left off in 2005, the UNESCO Science Report 2010 proposes a world tour of the status of science today that should enable ‘science watchers’ everywhere to decipher the trends that are shaping our rapidly changing world.