China nipping at the heels of American profs.

The South China Morning Post reported today just how much ground China has gained in scientific research in just the last few years. It’s really quite impressive; they just leapfrogged to the no. 2 spot and may overtake the US as early as 2013.

However they still lag in citations, which you can see above, but I think that is also just a matter of time. I only wish America would take education half as seriously as the Chinese!

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8 responses to “China nipping at the heels of American profs.

  1. Dear Natasha,
    Rosie’s former tutor here; I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting you. Look me up if you attend an event (reunion, tailgate, whatever) at ND.
    First of all, please note that mere quantity has nothing to do with quality, so the first measurement is worthless. Second, you could equally well wish that Britain, France, Japan, and every other country “took education seriously”, in light of China’s catapulting up in the rankings; in fact, they come out even worse than America does, because China has actually overtaken them. In short, while I have a *lot* to say about the American educational system and the disastrous destruction of education that the politicized teacher’s unions have wreaked (speak to your mother-in-law, we have been corresponding about this), the statistics you cite have to do with China’s finally beginning to produce an educated middle class and pull its relative weight in the industrialized world as a result. And since there are so very many of them, the sheer size of the Chinese educated class will end up greatly dwarfing the size of the educated American class- this is inevitable. Let us assume China and America had precisely comparable education systems, and that the relative percentages of the educated populace were precisely equivalent (which they are not; please remember that a goodly proportion of the US populace is coming from the third world in adulthood). Since the size of the Chinese populace is 1.3 billion, whereas the size of the US population is a “mere” 300 million, if all else were equal we should expect the Chinese to be over four times ahead of us in publication rates- but they are not.
    Also, remember that the government of China has funnelled its populace into science (and that is all those measurements relate to). Here, Deo gratias, there are still people who believe in the humand spirit and expend their intellectual efforts on the Humanities . I think you would find that the Chinese rank dismally in that category. In my own field, I can assure you that there is not one single Chinese scholar publishing- let alone publishing anything of value. In short, take the newspaper scare stories with the very large dose of salt they deserve.
    Yours cordially,

  2. Nb Apologies for the typo- I wrote this in great haste, since I really should be preparing tomorrow’s lectures…

  3. natashamlawler

    Debbie, Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. Anyone who can tutor Rosie must be a complete genius. And bonus points for taking your talent to ND! You make a good point about China’s population being much smaller than ours. While you’re right that they are still significantly behind the US when size is taken into account, it’s hard to deny that they haven’t made huge academic strides in just a few, short years. Your point about their focus on science is again spot-on, although I will point out that their version of humanities would be quite different than ours and so even if they’re not publishing much on 19th century British Literature, they could very well be publishing about Confucianism or Chinese literature and we wouldn’t even know about it. What I personally take away from this chart is that the Chinese are very effective at marshaling resources and energies towards a specific goal–and I imagine our education system and great bureaucracy might find a thing or two to learn from the Chinese about how to make great academic strides so quickly.

  4. Dear Natasha,
    Your admiring comments about organizing a vast bureaucracy, top-down, in the Chinese manner reminded me of Tom Friedman’s longing that the U.S. government could free itself of the constitutional limits of republican government and be as “effective” as the Chinese in mandating whatever whim might strike them; I suppose this is all well and good if one places no value on human freedom and feels that involuntary organ “donations” sold by arrogant, hubristic government mandarins is a small price to pay for enhanced bureaucratic efficiency- but I am afraid I take a much more humanistic and original-sin-tinged view of human nature and institutions. And I haven’t noticed that the US educational system has improved for the better since the centralized, top-down Department of Education was established- quite the contrary, in fact.
    Your point about the humanities doesn’t hold, I am afraid: What I study is not English literature, but medieval Islamic history- and China’s population has several orders of magnitude more Muslims (they actually annexed East Turkestan- Uighurs, anyone?) than does the United States- or Japan, for that matter, which has no Muslim population at all to speak of- yet I cannot name for you one single Chinese scholar of note in my field, whereas I can name several fine Japanese scholars.
    Again, it is inevitable that when an extremely underdeveloped country finally undergoes the industrial revolution, its relative place in the rankings will shoot up, even if other countries on the list also show improvement. To take an example from a different area: Let us assume for a moment that life expectancy in Japan, the longest in the world (it has no third world immigrants and no significant minorities- there are too few Ainu to count), is rising. However, since it is already so high, if Russian life expectancy were suddenly to jump from, say, 45 years to 60 years, its relative place in the charts would jump phenomenally, and it would be the world leader in relative percentage gain. That is, the farther behind one lags in the beginning, the more impressive the jump looks- even if one is still underperforming. If i began playing golf, my improvement would be greater than Tiger Woods’s improvement in any given decade- because he has already maximized his potential, whereas I had not yet even begun developing mine.
    Again, I write all this not to praise the US governmental educational system, which I (and the entire US Congress as well, incidentally; can you name one congressman mad enough to enroll his children in the DC public school system?) deem largely unfit for public consumption, except in municipalities small enough to control their own curricula and staffing, but rather to explain why the tables above are inherently meaningless. They indicate nothing other than the fact that China is finally starting to educate its population and to develop its country (at the cost, of course, of rendering much of it carcinogenic and polluting the world- but that is another story).
    Warmest good wishes,

  5. Debbie-
    China has serious issues with human rights violations, lack of basic freedoms, and so forth. That doesn’t obviate progress they’re making in economic areas although it may eventually impact their ability to sustain said progress. So noting that they are making strong gains in their education system does not mean that one is “longing for” a top-down approach or a vast bureaucracy…it’s simply an observation of the facts. Interestingly, China is trying to copy the Western education system in many ways; as they should, our universities are the best. Unfortunately, our primary and secondary education systems are regressing while theirs improves.
    I would also note that you cannot dismiss their gains just because they are aided by a low base effect. Yes, it’s surely easier to improve when you start from a poor position. However, they do have many more people than us and when they are improving their position rapidly and focusing heavily on the sciences, that will have implications on the competitive position of the US in the future.

  6. Dear Nick,
    I heartily concur. And the effect will be especially pernicious in light of the fact that, thanks to our profligate government, the American tax-payer is funding their entire military build-up with the various borrowed billions- what am I saying? Trillions!- in boondoggles that have us hemorrhaging money from now until our great-grandchildren’s day, even assuming these spendthrifts could refrain from borrowing another cent…

  7. Forgot the eschatocol:
    All the best to you both,

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