The next science superpower

Who has the inside track on dominating clean energy technology in the 21st century? One guess

Published February 2, 2010 12:21AM (EST)

Some data points culled from two recent articles on China, "Get Ready for China's Domination of Science," in New Scientist and "China is Leading the Race To Make Renewable Energy" in the New York Times.

  • Between 1995 and 2006, China's gross expenditure on R&D grew at an annual rate of 18 per cent.
  • China's university student population has "reportedly" grown from five million to 25 million in the last nine years.
  • According to data from a Thomson Reuters index of scientific papers from 10,500 journals, China's research output has grown from 20,000 articles in 1998 to 120,000 in 2009, second only to the 350,000 published by U.S. authors.
  • "Nearly 9 percent of papers originating from Chinese institutions have a US-based co-author."
  • China "produces 20 per cent of global output in materials sciences, with a leading position in composites, ceramics and polymer science and a strong presence in crystallography and metallurgical engineering."
  • China is the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama declared that "I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders."

But I don't think it's his choice. The U.S. government does not currently have the financial flexibility to pour resources into science, technology and education with Chinese-style determination. And judging by the long-term budget projections, by the time the U.S. finds its footing, China will be hard to catch.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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