China could surpass the US and become the world’s leading investor in scientific and medical research by 2022

A new study has claimed that the US’ status as the world’s leading nation in scientific and medical research is under threat.

University of Michigan researchers reviewed every issue of six top-tier international journals and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015.

While the researchers concluded that the US is still the world leader in research and development spending, and ranks first in the world for scientific discoveries, China’s increased investment in science over the past two decades means that it can now provide the US with serious competition and ranks fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries.

However, proposed budget cuts in the US, and the belief that Chinese R&D spending will surpass the US total by 2022 could mean that China eventually becomes the leading nation for scientific and medical research.

“It’s time for US policy makers to reflect and decide whether the year-to-year uncertainty in National Institutes of Health budget and the proposed cuts are in our societal and national best interest,” said Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D. and chief scientific officer of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

“If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

Rather than being a dominant force in scientific and medical research, the researchers discovered that the US were now more likely than ever to cooperate with other nations on peer-reviewed papers.

It is thought that stagnating budgets in the US, Great Britain and other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, have ushered in an era of “team science” in the last 15 years.

In 2000, 25% of papers in the six top-tier journals were by teams that included researchers from at least two countries.

However, in 2015 that figure was closer to 50%. The increasing need for multidisciplinary approaches to make major advances, coupled with the advances of Internet-based collaboration tools were likely have something to do with this, Omary said.

The researchers noted that while their study was based on data up to 2015, in the current 2017 federal fiscal year, National Institutes of Health budget increased thanks to bipartisan Congressional appropriations.

But the proposed cuts to research funding in the 2018 budget could hinder many areas of research and negatively impact the next generation of aspiring scientists.

“Our analysis, albeit limited to a small number of representative journals, supports the importance of financial investment in research,” Omary says.

“I would still strongly encourage any child interested in science to pursue their dream and passion, but I hope that our current and future investment in NIH and other federal research support agencies will rise above any branch of government to help our next generation reach their potential and dreams.”

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