Among the top 1% papers cited, China ranks first


To break the rumor of “water injection”, both quality and quantity are emphasized.

Author | Edited by Wang Yue | Chen Caixian

Recently, Japan’s National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) released a statistical analysis result: 27.2% of the top 1% of the world’s most cited papers are from Chinese scholars, ranking first in the world.

Usually, the more times a research paper is cited, the more proof its gold content is recognized by the academic community. In the top 1% of papers cited in the circle, we can often see Nobel Prize winners. Because the top 1% of articles by citations tend to be very international, co-authored by authors from multiple countries, the calculation of credit for each country is complicated accordingly.

For this study, NISTEP used a scoring method called fractional counting. For example, if a French institution and three Swedish institutions jointly completed a paper, the French contribution would be considered 25% and the Swedish contribution would be 75%.

According to this scoring method, in 2018, 2019 and 2020, Chinese research accounted for 27.2% (4,744) of the world’s top 1% cited papers, surpassing the US’s 24.9% (4,330) and the UK’s 5.5 % ranked third.

According to NISTEP, the increase in the number of highly cited papers in China has been remarkable. You know, 20 years ago, China only ranked 13th on this list, and every step requires great effort.

At the same time, we can see from this list that Japanese science and technology seems to be “gradually declining”. Japan ranks 5th in the latest ranking of total publications, 10th in the top 1% of most cited papers, and even dropped to 12th in the top 10% of most cited papers, surpassed by Spain and South Korea.

90 Legend: Top 10% cited papers ranking

The meaning behind the data

In 2016, China surpassed the United States for the first time in the number of published papers; in the 2020 report, China surpassed the United States in the total number of scientific papers; in the 2021 report, China surpassed the United States in the number of papers in the top 10% of cited papers. However, in the face of such a rise, criticisms against Chinese academics have been constantly voiced:

Critics believe that Chinese academic institutions offer rewards to authors based on the number of papers published, and “add officials and rank”, thus fostering an underground industry that uses money to directly buy paper signatures. Coupled with the fact that there are many followers and few original authors, Chinese academia has always been suspected of a large number of papers flooding. Although the number has surpassed that of the United States, the gold content of the research itself is worth discussing.

The new research results of NISTEP make the above groundless speculation and accusations no longer tenable. The number of highly cited papers proves that China’s academic performance is getting better and better, and the authenticity and high value of papers have been recognized by scholars all over the world.

Although the ranking is already at the forefront of the world, we should still look at this advantage rationally. Cao Cong, a related scholar at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, said that this scoring method may have exaggerated China’s contribution to international co-authored papers, “Is the person who led this research a named Chinese scholar, or a scholar from another country? “After all, the leader of a study is the soul of the study.

At the same time, some people believe that just as the top few countries in the Olympic medal rankings are all big countries, just counting the number of highly cited papers is beneficial to the ranking of big countries. The State of US Science and Engineering 2022, released in January by the National Science Foundation (NSF), uses a different approach to computing and offers another perspective.

This NSF report measures the Highly Cited Article Index, which is the ratio of each country’s share of the top 1 percent of scientific and technological publications cited to that country’s share of all scientific and technical publications. This allows for comparisons across countries, rather than solely on the total number of papers favoring the big countries.


As can be seen from the above figure, among the papers published in 2018, the highly cited article index of the United States is around 1.8, which is still significantly ahead of other countries and regions in the world.

However, the impact of published papers is only one measure of a country’s scientific strength. Indicators like research spending and the number of doctorate degrees awarded also reflect a country’s scientific strength, and the U.S. is still ahead of China in these metrics. And judging by metrics such as paper impact and patent filings—there’s no doubt that China’s scientific enterprise is booming.

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