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China now the most prolific contributor to physical sciences, engineering, math (bloomberg.com)
423 points by petethomas 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 291 comments

The quality debate about scientific merit aside, if the U.S. wants to remain "the best", then we need to incentivize the best scientists and researchers in other countries to come here and become U.S. citizens. A lot of famous physicists, mathematicians, and logicians have done this over the past 100 years.

Unfortunately, the attractiveness of becoming a U.S. citizen is waning because (1) current U.S. policies on science are extremely unfavorable to foreign researchers and (2) other countries are making it much more desirable to remain a citizen there than to become a U.S. citizen (this is a net win for humanity though)

I think (1) is in part due to a culture in the U.S. that really just doesn't care about science anymore. When I was in grad school a few years ago, most of my peers were from other countries despite the fact that the majority of undergrads at the same school were born in state. So in effect, the grad students would get advanced degrees in the hard sciences and take that knowledge back home with them, whereas the U.S. students would get a B.S. in literature, advertising, or business (generalizing of course).

I think the point that most grad programs don't have US students is revealing - for those who have alternative entry into the US economy, most people decide that a PhD program is a poor choice.

Most of the things people work on in their PhD programs are very niche, and most do not work in academia or on the same thing after they finish their PhD. And most people never really make a noticeable contribution to science with their thesis. So I'm a bit skeptical that we're losing all this valuable knowledge overseas, rather than PhD programs being about signaling their skill to employers and our byzantine immigration process. Not to say that people learn nothing valuable, but the number of people I've worked with who did a Math PhD and then never used that knowledge ever again is surprisingly high.

I think the US should be less concerned about whether it is on top wrt publications, but about whether English remains the language of scholarship, because if Chinese folks start publishing in Mandarin, that's going to be a far bigger loss to English speaking countries than if we do not originate as much research.

Good that you raised the point of language. This is already a problem in the area of chip (IC) manufacturing. A very large number of newly designed chips now have their specifications published only in Chinese.

>if Chinese folks start publishing in Mandarin

They may, and then it will be like during the cold war where Soviets published in Russian and we'd be lucky if someone translated that into English. If it were to happen today, someone would make a business out of translating the publications --maybe even crowdsource the translations.

If they start publishing in Chinese? The commercial CNKI database indexes 10,406 Chinese language academic journals, and 63 million articles. Arguably, much of it is of low quality (although there are plenty of Western journals of questionable quality as well), but that's a different discussion. If you rephrased the question as "When the leading Chinese scholar chooses to publish in the most prestigious Chinese journal, rather than Nature or Science" - would be a more interesting question.

Would bd so easy to translate in this day and age

Easier, but not easy.

During my PhD I've translated about a dozen papers into English, mostly from Russian. Google Translate and Yandex Translate did the actual translation (I would compare the two), but what they produce is not always intelligible or correct. On a few more important papers I went through the paper sentence by sentence to clarify the translation. It's not uncommon that I have to change certain phrases because the software translates a phrase literally when the equivalent is not a literal translation, for example. Sometimes I didn't know what the equivalent terminology was without research and guesswork. I also added footnotes as appropriate if I thought they would help the reader understand something which would not be clear if they were unfamiliar with the original language or research culture.

I would not be surprised if I spent over 100 hours on a particular series of 3 papers alone. I don't mind the time, as I enjoyed the process and learned a lot from it.

The good news is that I think the feedback I provided Google Translate improved the quality of the product's translation of scientific Russian, it is slowly getting better.

I always complain about the poor results from google translate between english and french. It works well for litteral translations, but I do not need help for litteral translations. I need help to translate from idioms in a language toward idioms in the other one. I often use https://www.deepl.com/translator which is slightly better than google translate.

I could care less.

Okay down voters, I guess I was being to clever by half.

My point was idiomatic translation is hard. “I could care less” means it’s literal opposite.

It's an iffy example, since many people consider 'could care less' to be incorrect.

But the point is machine translation needs to work on language the way it is, not the way it should be.

The Chinese language does not lend itself to easy translation to English. It always gets "easier", but not quite good enough. At least not for sophisticated purposes like research.

Unrelated, but I often notice that lots of stack overflow and github issues get translated into chinese by someone. It's kinda interesting to see

I don't think Mandarin Chinese is that well suited for scientific publishing. I'm not at a high level of reading proficiency in Chinese, but the language seems to be rather bad at incorporating foreign words.

On the other hand, cooperation among Chinese scholars is only going to increase, so papers will increasingly be published in Chinese.

Another factor is that China doesn't really have a reputation for honesty and transparency...

> I don't think Mandarin Chinese is that well suited for scientific publishing.

Ignoring path dependency the same could be said of English. And while that path dependency provides hysteresis, it doesn't imply inevitability; Arabic and Latin had good runs as dominant scientific language but were eventually overtaken by English, which will ultimately be overtaken in turn.

My point is that Mandarin has some genuine disadvantages over other languages. For example the effort involved in incorporating foreign words. Mandarin excludes a lot of syllables common in other languages, so you need to choose different sounds to replace the word. Worse, you have to pick characters for these syllables which preferably don't have ridiculous or offensive side meanings. Then everybody in the field has to learn the sounds and the characters. If as a non-native you want to talk about your subject in Chinese, it's almost as if you had to study the whole subject again.

Another really not nice thing about Mandarin is that its phonemes are generally less redundant. Let alone the tones, there are lots of consonants to distinguish, and in general, the average syllable contains more information than in other languages (Spanish or Hawaiian at the extreme end). So any noise in a communication channel, or a not-so-experienced speaker and it's unintelligible. That's also one reason why Mandarin still uses Chinese Characters. Especially with dialects, native Mandarin speakers can have trouble understanding each other.

Arabic has some of the same problems, if less pronounced, but its strength (in my opinion) was the reach of standard Arabic as written and spoken language of a major Religion, and it was/is used as trading language.

Latin was very good at assimilating foreign words. Again, it was the language of an empire and of a state religion.

I won't say that the success of English is only due to its linguistic advantages. Clearly, the cultural dominance of English speaking countries has helped. But still, it's a lot easier to learn than most languages, especially for people from indoeuropean backgrounds. Even for Chinese it seems to be easier to learn English than learn to write Mandarin to a high proficiency.

That's why I don't believe Mandarin will dominate over English, not even in a distant future. And there just is no other contender to the throne. The most likely alternative would be something that evolves from English, but with the current language being preserved in the cultural permafrost of books, movies and the internet, that's going to take a while.

This is very untrue--if you look at math or machine learning terminology, the phrases used are actually direct literal translations of the constituent words. It is very understandable, even from my perspective as someone only slightly literate in Chinese.

If you want to use these terms when writing your own texts in Chinese, then you have to know the actual characters, because they are still not chosen from an alphabet.

This is compared to English or most Indoeuropean languages were you copy the term unchanged most of the time.

Just a minor point. But it makes learning the terminology of a subject rather hard.

What's "hard"? Over millennia the sharp corners that make learning and using a language difficult have all been knocked off. Characters that are hard to recognize fade out or are modified. Grammar simplifies. And as an existence proof: more than a billion people speak various Chinese languages, almost all of them learning them as children; probably close to a billion can read and write it to some degree, many with little other schooling.

You likely come (as did I) from a background in which such languages are quite unfamiliar but that doesn't make them harder or easier in general. John DeFrancis wrote a funny essay about the "Japanese plan to replace the Roman alphabet within their empire after conquering North America" as a parody of the people who think that the Chinese and Japanese should replace their writing with an alphabetic approach.

You may not realize how hard it is for many speakers to learn English spelling where spelling is more conservative (to preserve meaning) than more phonetic writing systems like German, Spanish, Korean etc. The terms are seemingly more obscure. In fact it's to reduce that problem that we violate English "rules" to conserve the declension of the original noun (e.g. felid/felidae) which is uniform when the term is a loan word common across languages.

It's an objective reality that the Chinese language has a higher information density per syllable and that "transmission" of speech is more easily disrupted. Native Mandarin speakers sometimes even have trouble communicating face to face and "write" characters with a finger on the other's palm.

It's also an objective reality that it takes more pieces of information to learn the Chinese representation of an English term than the other way around.

It doesn't mean learning English is always easier than Chinese, though it actually is for maybe even most Humans on earth.

Then everyone will just learn Chinese,like everyone learnt English before.

The process of English becoming the global language has taken over 150 years. Massive cultural and economic forces have been at play to make English global.

It's not a simple thing, and what will likely happen is language balkanization for a significant period of time before any seismic shift from English to Chinese which is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons regardless.

Before World War II, French was more popular than English.

But none of what it takes for Chinese to posibly overtake one day is in place. Schools aren’t mass teaching chinese, chinese movies, music and authors aren’t captivating people’s mind, and there is already a modern latin (english), so learning chinese isn’t going to fix a problem people have, other than communicating with Chinese nationals who do not speak english.

> chinese movies, music and authors aren’t captivating people’s mind

Cixin Liu's "Three-Body Problem" sci-fi novel is pretty popular and is being made into a movie[1] this year. And some Chinese musicians, like Faye Wong, have been well-known in the the west for many years.

So while American, Japanese and Korean entertainment is much more dominant, I don't think that's an entirely fair statement.

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4547948/

I am sure you can name a handful more movies and bands. But compared to the tens of thousands of US and British movies, bands and writers that have influenced western culture (and beyond), this is still nothing more than annecdotic at this stage.

More people are learning German in the EU now, and now there is also Brexit, which removes English as an official language there. Simultaneously, the role of the UK as a trade hub will be heavily diminished. I would not be surprised if in 50 years German surpassed English in the EU.

China is heavily investing on Africa, so I would not be impressed if Africans start learning Mandarin more actively than they do now. African population is the one experiencing the fastest growth at the moment.

In the Americas, I would expect things to remain more or less the same.

Historically, the Chinese have been very hermetic when it comes to foreign policy. Chinese yuans (RMB) are not as liquid as dollars, and that seems intentional as they want to keep tight control of their currency value. But they do seem more expansive recently... opening overseas military bases in Djibouti, etc.

I am not sure where you saw that German is the most popular language being learned in the EU.

The following report from the French ministry of education from 2014 (in french unfortunately) [1] states that in Europe, 94% of the students study english as a foreign language (high school and university). Then comes French (23%) and German and Spanish (19% each).

As for Brexit, I don’t think english is used as the main working language in the EU because of the UK’s infuence, just because it is the foreign language most people speak.

[1] http://www.education.gouv.fr/cid74880/l-apprentissage-des-la...

Only if you count the recent wave of a million illegal immigrants, otherwise German remains difficult and not so popular to learn. If you disagree, please provide a source.

From my own experience (I speak/write in 5 different languages and live in Germany since 2011), it takes between 5 to 10 years to learn German minimally. Other Western European languages are simpler to learn and more popular: Spanish, English, Portuguese, French.

Much of the difficulty is not at knowing the German vocabulary and pronunciation. It is simply that the language is very strict in its written and spoken form. By comparison, other western languages had global exposure over the centuries and today are fitting like a shoe to the native speakers of other languages, so the learning curve is far less steep.

Linguists don't really believe in objectively easy or difficult languages. Subjective difficulty depends on your interests and what languages you already know.

As a Norwegian, I found German far easier to learn than English, French and Spanish.

Hmm. It seems clear that where you start from plays a role. At the same time, it seems obvious that Latin grammar (3 genders, 6 cases, 4 verb conjugations, 5 noun declensions, multiple moods etc) is more complex than Italian... or am I wrong?

It also depends on where you are going. If your goal is native fluency including clean pronunciation and grammar I find most languages equally hard. (Have mastered or had runs at 7 other than English.)

To your second point, Latin inflections are for the most part very mechanical, even for verbs. Latin is difficult to master due to the fact that it's for the most part only read. It's far easier to gain fluency if you develop an active vocabulary through speaking and writing.

If you are looking for objectively hard things to master I would pick German noun gender or Japanese Kanji. They both require rote memorization of thousands of items. Both have relatively weak patterns to cut down the amount of cases you need to memorize.

> At the same time, it seems obvious...

English: "My wife sent me an email", but "My wife sent an email to me".

Yes, very obvious :)

LOL, I got a downvote. I didn't know there is a "Party against Grammatical Cases" on HN :)

Linguists don't really believe in objectively easy or difficult spoken languages. Written language is a different thing, and the difficulty of learning Chinese characters will be a drag on international acceptance in the scientific community.

Everyone thinks thier language hard, with strict rules and pronuciation. Those who teach english, or any language, always focus on rules. In reality, rules matter little to anyone outside classrooms. The ESL students in my class always pointed out my "mistakes", only for me to point out the same techniques being used by the great speakers and writers of history. During years of learning english nobody told them that if you speak well enough, you can do as you wish with rules.

> which removes English as an official language there

That's not true. The republic of Ireland and Malta (and possibly more) still have English as an official language.

Actually neither of them has English as their "official" language in the EU because you only get to pick one, and they both want to promote native languages (Irish and Maltese) instead.

Now there's a funny game of chicken to see if one of them will blink and switch to requesting English in the EU: https://www.politico.eu/article/english-will-not-be-an-offic...

But as a matter of practicality, I'm sure English will continue to be used as a working language across European institutions.

Portuguese and Spanish are on the top 10 today besides English, French is 18th by number of native speakers.

Spanish is on second place with the most native speakers, then comes English in third position and Portuguese on sixth from the European-based idioms: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of...

China tops that list, no wonder if they also produce a higher volume of literary works on their native language.

In diplomacy, yes. However, the US was the largest national economy even in the 1870s so in trade, no.

Source please.

Over 150 years? It is a far fetched claim that the influence of english started in the 1870's.

I would say it started 50-60 years ago at most.

It started with the rise of the British Empire. Pax Americana just helped solidify it. Even without an English speaking US, English would be about as popular as Mandarin: there are a billion Indians.

> there are a billion Indians

That is true... but only 10% of Indians can speak English. It might appear higher because visitors are likely to remain in urban or tourist-y areas, where the percentage of English speakers is much higher.

China also has many topolects. Only two thirds of Chinese speak Mandarin as first language.

English still has a lot of influence over India, though. I think this thread is confusing influence with supremacy, English has had a huge influence on other languages and cultures for centuries.

Yes, after WWII. Einstein still published his key papers in German (1905), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annus_Mirabilis_papers

I would absolutely not say that. The British Empire encompassed more than a quarter of the population, and in the 1870s the US became the world's largest national economy.

I think what you're thinking about is when English supremacy started, that can probably be dated to the post-WWII world when the US economy was far ahead of everyone else for decades.

The influence started with the rise of the British Empire. Obviously English wasn't dominant at that point the way it is now, but still internationally influential.

One does not "just" learn Chinese. Becoming proficient enough to read scientific papers takes many years, for any language, but for Chinese in particular.

That's certainly true, but it's worth noting that you can develop reading proficiency in a language quite independently of conversational proficiency. For example, I can read a scientific paper in Spanish without too much trouble, but I'd struggle to hold even a basic conversation.

That simply won't happen.

1. US isn't the only country which publishes in English. The entire Western hemisphere does. Not to mention India, already the most populous English-speaking country in the world, and has barely scratched the surface when it comes to English literacy.

2. Science needs interaction to thrive. Publishing textbooks in Mandarin is a very different ballgame than cutting edge research papers. I don't see that changing and China has invested massively in English education already.

Tldr: English will remain the defacto global Lingua Franca of science.

«English will remain the defacto global Lingua Franca of science.»

Just like Latin remained the defacto lingua franca of science? :-)

Latin was the Lingua Franca of science until the 17th Century, or 1300 years after the collapse of the Roman Empire (Sorry Byzantium), so if that's not evidence for the stickiness of languages, I'm not sure what else you'd need. Wait for 1000 years after the North America, India, Western European civilizations collapse, and we'll see what international language scientists are using -- there's a good chance it will still be English.

One could argue though that we live in highly accelerated times compared to when latin was used. It took quite a long time for the roman language domination to be built : between 509 BC to 480 AD (roman republic and western roman empire), whereas the english dominance came in roughly 70 to 140 years only (depending on the importance you give to the british empire, my opinion being that it is mostly since WW2). So, to sum up, it took around nearly 1000 years for latin to be carved into enough many countries/kingdoms/other entities so that it was used for the next 1300 years in science/church or as the base for the new languages that appeared (and moreover, latin was for quite a long time an official language for the administration). Today, I don't think it will happen, but I wouldn't bet against the possibility it could take only 50 years or less for english to be equaled in global use by another language, because english does not have the same foothold that latin had.

So, I'm not talking about total use. English isn't the most popular first language even today.

I'm talking about which language is the most popular second language used in international dialogue, especially research.

And the relevant speed there is not population growth but how fast the interconnections and traditions of science change. On the one hand, you have a lot of new scientists coming online, but on the other hand, the bigger the network of scientists, the harder it is to change -- e.g. the lockin effects are bigger.

Rather, I think today a lingua franca is much more sticky than it was in the past, when you were talking about scientists from just a handful of nations communicating with each other. It was mostly just Europe and North America. Now, it's global. The best chance of another language displacing english isn't today, it was in the past. Now, even if China, India, and Japan all ban English and adopt, say, Japanese as their Lingua France, the rest of the world will continue with English and they'll be pulled back into the orbit. Also, there is much more trade today than in the past, so you have a network that is bigger and more interconnected, that has settled on a lingua franca, and that system has much more inertia.

It's funny that in a startup/techie forum like this, nobody's yet brought up Metcalfe's Law. The network effects of language are incredibly strong, the switching costs are high, and English is well established.

It's hard to imagine what could shift this trend, especially to Mandarin. China's population is probably not going to get dramatically larger than the current 1.4 bn, which is only 20% of the world total. Maybe some sort of civilization-destroying world cataclysm like a meteor impact, pandemic, or nuclear warfare.

If I could live long enough to see the payout, I'd be willing to bet that far future humans will speak only one language, and that language will have evolved primarily from English.

I also think that the long run future of humanity is speaking a single language. The trend has not been to fragment languages but consolidate them because of the metcalf law effects you pointed out.

But even if that language is almost certain to be English, because english changes and has so many loan words, it would probably be unrecognizable to the english we speak today.

> Latin was the Lingua Franca of science until the 17th Century, or 1300 years after the collapse of the Roman Empire

That Latin persisted for 1300 hundred years after the fall of Rome has more to do with the Roman Church than the Roman Empire. European universities were essentially religious institutions until the renaissance.

That's a pretty gross oversimplification considering the dominance of Arabic as a scientific language during the Dark Ages (when Europeans preferred burning people to actually thinking). The word "algebra" is definitely not Latin.

That's a gross oversimplification of "dark ages" -- modern historians no longer use that term, because they weren't actually "dark" :)

To me, it was a very interesting time. For example, that's the period of time in which we built the most beautiful and livable town squares in the world. Even today, when you go to Europe to visit a city, the city square was probably designed in the middle ages (Paris being a notable exception) and the "old city" dating back to the middle ages, is more beautiful than the newer stuff around it. It was a period of beauty in urban design.

Also, the patterns of Feudalism were incredibly stable, compared to previous economic models, so a lot of the rich cultural traditions that were necessary to catapult Europe forward in the Enlightenment were rooted in the middle ages, and wouldn't have existed without Feudalism. If you tried to skip Feudalism and go straight into the 17th Century, Europe would have turned into a horror show -- just think of the French Revolution reign of terror, but assume it just never ends, because at the reciprocal commitments that became established in the middle ages tempered the radicalism of the enlightenment.

And although the pace of learning wasn't as fast as before, there were huge advances made in architecture and construction, culminating with the beautiful Gothic Cathedrals that are still wonders today, and survive today. How many buildings built today will stand for 800 years in the same splendor as the Cathedrals built in the middle ages?

It was also a time of great flowering of crafts and craftsmen, working in guilds scattered across small city-states and distributed political organizations. Distribution, rather than centralization, was the mantra.

For a more nuanced view especially of the cult of crafts, I recommend reading John Ruskin's essay "On the Nature of the Gothic" from his series "The Stones of Venice"


The dark ages usually refers to the periods from about 200-1000 AD. The middle ages are usually from about 1000 AD to 1700 AD.

And the dark ages aren't called that because human nature was "dark" during that time. They're called that because we know very little about them.

No, the start of the middle ages is traditionally set to the end of the Roman Empire, 476 AD.

The Middle Ages is in the "middle" of the Roman Empire and Modernity. It's further divided into "early", "middle", and "late" middle ages. People don't use "dark ages" any more, you want to say "early middle ages". And while we don't know as much about that period as about other periods, we do still know quite a bit.

The point being that with the fall of the Roman Empire and these roving bands of germanic tribes coming in from the east, as well as Arab invaders coming in from the south, ND Viking Invaders coming in from the North, you had full blown race wars being fought all across Europe. People needed to form protective associations, and this created feudalism. If there is anything that defines the middle ages, it is Feudalism, and its remarkably stable system of reciprocal obligations. The lord had to protect the people working the land from the hostile world outside, and in return, they paid rent. This created a patchwork of little city-states, manors, and fiefdoms which collectively pacified Europe by creating a common sense of identity ("Christendom") as well as deterring invaders since there was no great Prize to sack anymore, there were thousands of little Prizes each defended with their own little perimeter. Across this patchwork there were large informal networks of guilds, monastic orders, etc. This is not to say that there were no wars, but the wars were between nobility, they were not race wars, which is huge. Race wars tend to be gruesome wars of extermination or enslavement because you don't view the other side as being human. When the whole continent shared the same faith and followed similar customs, and was connected by the same set of monastic orders and guilds, you couldn't fight a race war anymore.

de facto lingua franca

Latin was for hundreds of years, if not longer, and it's still doing OK by the look of it.

We should all switch to Esperanto! :)

Kial ne uzi Esperanton? Why not use Esperanto?

Latin arguably still ia the lingua franca of science when you look at specialized vocabulary (species taxonomies are the most obvious manifestation of this). Otherwise we'd be calling the outside of the brain "brain bark" instead of "cerebral cortex".


3. China does not want Mandarin to become a Lingua Franca in anything.

Let's remember that China is a strongly nationalistic, protectionist, autocratic and most importantly successful country. Keeping Chinese for the Chinese give them enormous control leverage economically for their local market but also in entertainment, culture and more generally information.

I can see China simply promoting English in every field where it gives them a competitive advantage outside their border, like here in science.

Also there are technical and cultural difficulties for Mandarin to impose itself. Technically, Kanjis are a huge barrier to entry for learning, it takes years of personal investment to acquire basic literacy. You can't mix Chinese into English or English into Chinese very easily either. Culturally, probably by pragmatism because of the technical difficulties I mentioned, Chinese immigrants have not pushed for their language to the same level as South American for example.

So sure it is possible that this will changes, but that will take many decades.

> Let's remember that China is a strongly nationalistic, protectionist, autocratic and most importantly successful country. Keeping Chinese for the Chinese give them enormous control leverage economically for their local market but also in entertainment, culture and more generally information.

I think that bird has flown... there are already many many ethnic Chinese outside the PRC, across Asia, in Taiwan, and in America. Wikipedia says 50 million.

One of the additional appeals of English, is that no one cares if you do it poorly. I have seen foreign born CTO's of billion dollar American companies who have difficulty with subject verb agreement -- and no one cares. In general, we're not uptight about loan words and shifting usage, accents are so common, as long as you're intelligible it's not a big deal.

"Science needs interaction to thrive", doesn't it?. I would expend it a bit. Always everything needs interaction. from a country down to a person. A person who can communicate well thrive in an environment will be successful in that environment.

You're all missing one important point: The advancements of translation technology. In due time it might not even be necessary to learn any other language at all. I wouldn't even put a single penny on Chinese becoming the dominant language, even besides this fact.

How much has it really advanced? I hear this all the time, but I am always unimpressed when I see actual results.

I recently stumbled upon GAFAM [0] which is a french acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft and google translate auto-translated the page really well. I even went off to some the french sources and google translate handled them all amazingly well.

[0]: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/GAFAM

Not much admittedly. But the potential is there, just no one really put any effort into it yet.

Learn Mandarin. They learned English, we had to learn German and French.

US certainly has a cultural problem, out of all major countries out there, US has a weird position where a significant population denies evolution/climate change, and turned those topics into highly political charged issues.

Also the US education system prior to college takes an another interesting aim to cultivate students' confidence, not by equipping them with logical training, but circumventing hard subjects like math/science, which is really ironic. A very lazy excuse to insufficient investment in maintaining their domestic pool of potential STEM candidates.

While on the other hand, what China demonstrated here is, that it is totally possible for a poor country to bootstrap itself into a major science power, providing the society has strong focus on science education and an effective rewarding system to provide incentives to study science.

Plagiarism concerns aside, it is pretty successful, otherwise we won't be talking about it here, let alone compare it against US.

Maybe it's time for US to let it down its own myth about American exceptionalism, and revisit the true cause of its current lead in global research: large influx of foreign talents, first from Europe, then Soviet Russia and now China/India. US was lucky to have this constant grab of the best minds from the rest of the world, but sadly, or maybe not, I can't see this would continue.

Time to wake up.

> what China demonstrated here is, that it is totally possible for a poor country to bootstrap itself

All the American and European companies who moved production there bootstrapped China. The money had to come from somewhere. China saw the immense opportunity in western greed and ran with it.

USSR (for all its faults) achieved the same thing in a more hostile environment than the PRC.

The USSR achieved more than just the same thing. When you say more hostile environment, I'm assuming you mean they were in an essentially autarkic condition, unlike contemporary China. But beyond that, the Soviets produced far greater, actually novel results in sciences, mathematics, and technology while having only one-fifth of China's population.

If anything, the Chinese education system is a ripoff from Soviet Union, not the Western countries. It is probably still is.

>US certainly has a cultural problem, out of all major countries out there, US has a weird position where a significant population denies evolution/climate change

This is not a manifestation of stupidity, I think it is motivated by distrust of authorities.

Essentially: "If I agree that X is true, what will you do next?". If I don't trust what you will do, well then X cannot be allowed to be true. Since I need rhetorical ground to stand on and by giving up that position I'll have no position from which to argue against the policies that follow on, I choose not to agree with X. Sure there are probably stupid people that don't understand but they are not driving so to speak.

This logic is true for all political stripes.

>This is not a manifestation of stupidity, I think it is motivated by distrust of authorities.

I'm not seeing how those things are mutually exclusive.

I don't think the GP was saying that they are, only that stupidity is not the driving force. They even said as much at the end:

>Sure there are probably stupid people that don't understand but they are not driving so to speak.

For example, we're all aware of Einstein's flub wrt quantum mechanics, a mistake that was grounded in his religious beliefs. I think you'd have a hard time arguing he was a stupid man.

I wouldn't call them stupid. Though when irrational and unreasonable fear of a slippery slope result leads a significant portion of a population to deny the obvious to their detriment, I'm comfortable calling that a stupid action.

Sorry what makes you think the second largest economy in the world is by any measure poor? These countries are quite wealthy, despite the fact that a large chunk of their populations are poor.

oh-kumudo didn't call China poor, they said China was poor and now they're not.

Is it irony that tech companies spend millions every year on education initiatives, but don't do anything about climate change/evolution deniers on their platforms?

>Maybe it's time for US to let it down its own myth about American exceptionalism, and revisit the true cause of its current lead in global research: large influx of foreign talents, first from Europe, then Soviet Russia and now China/India. US was lucky to have this constant grab of the best minds from the rest of the world, but sadly, or maybe not, I can't see this would continue.

That actually is US weakness, US always had to import talent. Grad school is strong in US thanks to being constantly fed by world class academicians ready to work for peanuts just to get name of a prestigious university on their resume.

I will not say that US is that bad at growing homegrown talent, but it is worse at that than China. Much worse.

To understand what's happening there, you have to think that in China, non-academic tertiary education is much bigger and stronger, and it feeds both the industry, and higher tier academic studies.

In former Eastern Bloc, countries copied USSR's education system, and which itself copied from Prussia and pre-WWI German states.

Few of its distinctive features:

1. Doctoral level studies are SUPER TOUGH, and you will be laughed off if you try attempt them without at least 10 years of graduate studies, and/or nomination for at least a minor scientific award. That's why Eastern Bloc masters level equal Western PhD. It never saw the academic credential inflation after WWII.

2. People are told off to avoid academia until they are totally committed and able to make an academic contribution. This true when we talk about first tier universities.

3. Lion share of people are totally fine with 2 year technical school programs. Chinese 2 year tech schools are definitely better than undergrad studies in US. Some are so good, that even comparing them to masters level in US wouldn't be a stretch. This is made possible by the fact that Chinese secondaries graduate much more prepared pupils, with both strong STEM and basic industry related vocational education.

4. Plentiful supply of tech school talents feed the industry, and keep educated labour cheap. And delivers universities a higher quality of candidate pool. Person's resume speaks better than artfully worded application letters the US universities are known for.

5. This allows university level studies to be what they were supposed to be originally: academic research, and not doing degree milling. Because research universities can afford to be picky with applicants, they can stay very focused. 1 in 150 admission odds for are know for some universities. Be sure that professors pick people with the highest promise, right aptitude, and people whose personal interests match their studies.

6. The industry and academia are don't go very far apart despite there being an iron wall in between academic and practical tertiary education. In overall, the distinction is between grunt workers and "highly skilled" category much, much less obvious than in US. Companies can recruit more schooled workforce in general in China, than in US. Having assembly lines staffed with real engineers is not uncommon, and the same applies for the rest of the higher tech industries: chemical, biomedical, semiconductor. And nowhere it is as evident as in computer programming, with outsourcing sweatshops being staffed by people with 6 year education (Chinese computer science school is terrible though.)

Conclusion: Chinese academia being that strong is result of their undergrad studies being much stronger that American, and that itself is built on strong secondary education. But it is bad at retaining and attracting anybody qualifying as "world class"

You are highly mistaken if you believe Chinese undergraduate courses are anywhere near the difficulty of American ones. Chinese classes involve having students going to have participation counted and maybe a trivial exam at the end. There is no studying done outside of some cramming at the end of the semester. Contrast that to the stream of assignments and tests from even lower-ranked schools in the US.

You're right about the difficulty of getting into undergrad, but the system is well-known for having tremendously difficult years in middle/high school to prepare for the gaokao, and the students coasting through undergrad afterward.

I would bring up some articles to show but a cursory search doesn't reveal anything.


2 year Chinese tech schools teach practical skills and trades. They may well be laxer than high school studies, in regard that kinetic, practical skills are easier to learn than abstract academic disciplines, but that doesn't mean that they did their job wrong, it's exactly the opposite.

I'm 100% sure who will win if you compare a grad of US college/tech school vs a grad of average Chinese tech institute on their first day of the job.

A Chinese electric bike maker tried to open a shop in US where they simply assemble them from knock down kits. It didn't work for them: engineering undergrads they hired struggled to get around simplest circuits and weren't able to work without supervision whatsoever. In desperation, they started hiring people with way more senior EE background, only to find out that while those will do the job, but only after meditating over circuit diagrams for half an hour for each part...

Something they couldn't imagine back in China, where from their words 9 out of 10 new young workers can learn to assemble the whole bike without a circuit scheme in a day simply because they had a lot of practice in the school.

I myself been around the electronics industry since 2007, and I saw times and times again newcomers from the West failing at running manufacturing enterprises in China because they have zero regard for having real engineers at assembly line, and the level of education of workforce in general. They think that they can hire cheapest grunts possible, and then "smart managers" will somehow make it all work with some smart tricks.

Uh, I mean, I’m a graduate student at a pretty good Canadian school and this hasn’t been my experience with the Chinese undergrads I teach or grad students I’ve worked with. I’m not saying they’re weak or anything, I just haven’t really seen anything to suggest they’ve been through a much more rigorous education program.

Have you considered the possibility that ones who study overseas are there because their exam scores simply made them ineligible to attend a university back home?

If anything I'd expect the opposite. US universities are more prestigious, you'd expect stronger students to be the ones who end up there (at least at better schools), because they'd have a much better chance of being admitted.

Prestigious they may be, but their entry requirements are laughable by Chinese standard, and, most importantly, most are fine just taking money.

There still is a reactionary part of Chinese society that is super obsessed with matters of class and status, or at least they are much more than Americans for sure.

Not having your child getting into a university can be seen as a social stigma, and parent of such child will be socially ostracised.

For such, having a child getting a place in US college for money with 100% certainty, is better than him/her taking risks with state exam back home.

You realize it takes substantial money to bypass admissions, right? And it's not easy to pull off as a foreign student. If you feel like donating $100k+ you can probably get your way in China too.

The few standardized tests that do help in admissions like the SAT are just glorified IQ tests. Very hard to practice for beyond a certain point. Not that there isn't a whole industry of people cramming for SATs for nothing...

In most of mainland Europe you can easily pay peanuts to get into the absolute "top" schools. Yet few want to. American education is that much more valued.

While it's true that many are eager to accept foreign students willing to pay more, the more prestigious schools still require good grades and test scores.

Yes, and American tests are silly in comparison to even a regular term exam in Chinese high school.

You cannot be further away from truth if you think the Chinese higher education nowadays follows the communist bloc model. I did my undergraduate at one of the best universities in China, and to comment on your point:

> 1. Doctoral level studies are SUPER TOUGH

It's common knowledge that in China, graduate school admission follows government policy mandates. Government says we need more top-tier talent, and this is translated to having more PhDs, and then to admitting more people into doctoral programs. It's not uncommon to have one professor advising 20+ PhD students at the same time. The students often are just cheap labor at university labs, and sometimes even work as free childcare for the professors. I am not kidding.

The schools then set an explicit bar for graduation: publish N papers in SCI-indexed journals. Imagine if your company has a rule that says you need to close N tickets with M upvotes to claim your paycheck. Guess what will happen.

> 3. Lion share of people are totally fine with 2 year technical school programs.

Only those who score below the national cutoff score in the National College Entrance Exam go to technical programs. It's not by choice! There is a reason there are a lot of for-profit "private universities" in China these days: because you can pay to get into a private university and avoid technical school programs.

People want to avoid technical school programs so much that the most lucrative part of running a high school is actually prepping high school graduates who "failed" the NCEE for retaking the exam next year.

> 4. Plentiful supply of tech school talents feed the industry, and keep educated labour cheap.

The strength of manufacturing has nothing to do with tech school talent. It's simply because there a lot of people in China (4x the US population), and generally the Chinese workers have great work ethics thanks to whatever is leftover of traditional Chinese culture. The society is fairly ordered, and kids all follow the sanctioned path. No backpacking-in-Europe-for-a-year. No opioid crisis. Everybody is laser focused on career advancement and making money, and everybody has a sense of urgency.

> 5. This allows university level studies to be what they were supposed to be originally: academic research, and not doing degree milling.

Talk to anyone who graduated from a Chinese university. Seriously, anyone.

> 6. The industry and academia are don't go very far apart despite there being an iron wall in between academic and practical tertiary education.

This is quite true, because it's rare for academic folks to work on fundamental research. In the current incentive setup, doing hard fundamental research is just stupid. You need to get to that N publications quick!

1. Under doctoral level, I mean doctoral level equivalent in Soviet system. In China, it is a postdoc researcher 博士後研究員

3. There are people with perfect scores who don't get admissions, and people who do chose tech schools on their own volition. In many places, a graduate of tech school will be preferred over a grad of a weaker university. A graduates of top tier tech schools are being taken faster than hot cookies - on employability those fare way better than university grads.

For a progressive part of society, that's not a stigma in any sense. For reactionaries, it is.

4. I can't agree, see my comments how Western entrepreneurs fare in China when they hire random people.

5. Can you actually tell where you studies took place? Real academia is there in China, but to some extend it did get sidelined by the credential-inflated undergraduate studies. As I said above, anything below 博士後 don't really involve genuine research activity. The grind shop, and actual research that universities keep in great care are a world apart.

I've relatively recently lived in the US (in SF) for two years and returned back to Europe. It's been a great experience, and there are many great things in the US, NorCal, and San Fracisco.

Still, I'd have a hard time settling in the US for the long run. The country comes across as so deeply troubled, drenched in toxic politics and a seemingly irrecoverably broken society. Even with lots of economic, scientific, etc opportunity, I'd be very worried about long term happiness in such an environment.

Maybe that's a rather personal take, but to me, what's the value of lots of opportunity if everyone still seems troubled and struggling?

Just don't watch the news and problem solved.

Life is great here and I rarely come across divisive political fights except on TV and the internet. The media thrives on it, so that's what they focus on.

I am/was in the same boat as OP. I moved back to Germany after almost a decade in the US (mostly Silicon Valley). Closing your eyes does not make the problems go away. Even if you don't care and avoid the tens of millions of left-behind people, for myself, looking at things like health care was enough to give me second thoughts. It is nice as long as it is nice. I had a colleague, enterprise sales, very good income, who ended up living in the streets in the Bay Area due to a few turns of bad luck that could happen to anyone. Health care cost issues were part of it, but it only got really bad because of a the self-reinforcing feedback loop since there was no help available early (and the very late help was privately organized from people who knew him once they became aware of his dire situation). I venture to claim that he would have been okay if similar bad luck had befallen him in his native Germany.

I'm not sure how seriously other people take this, but I find it curious that a huge part of entertainment in movies, shows and games made/consumed in the US is about violence horror, and/or the end of society or even the world (oh and "heroes" of course - always coupled with violence). That is not a global phenomenon, or it only is in as far as Hollywood has always been exporting culture. It also is not normal, I can say from my own (almost half a century) life experience (first part of it on the Eastern side of the German border).

Myself, I can empathize with scenarios of the post-apocalypse as shown e.g. in "The Last Of Us", especially the violence and distrust between surviving groups - imagining myself in the area of the US in such a world. I can't imagine the same scenario in Europe, at least not on the same dystopian level. I would feel significantly safer in Europe after the collapse of civilization (said this commenter before getting murdered an hour later by another desperate European end-of-society survivor, haha - yeah, sure, can happen, it's just my gut feeling).

I have to balance my post by saying I still feel strong and positive about many things in the US. I'm not a "dark side only" guy when it comes to the view of that country. Still, even if I were rich I would not go back to live there, I don't feel good about the overall direction, even if a lot of things were to improve. All this darn celebration of violence and "heroes", for example, and as was pointed out here, science (so many immigrants holding it up), economic policies, politics (result of a feedback loop with economics and business policies, e.g. incentives for the media - what kind of news sells? Plus incredible concentration in a few hands).

I'd speculate that part of the reason for why the U.S. is as dysfunctional as it is is that it still has yet to find its cultural bearings, and many people don't have the same sense of place that Europeans have. When you go to a small village in France, it seems to me that many people will be able to recount with pride (or shame) the most significant events that made that village stand out across hundreds of years of history.

In contrast, small villages in New York State or California only have around 300 years of history at best, and most residents were uprooted from their ancestral homes less than a century ago, so the same sense of grounding and appreciation for history is not there. Even the wounds of the American Civil War have not fully healed and probably won't fully until a few centuries from now.

> huge part of entertainment in movies, shows and games made/consumed in the US is about violence horror, and/or the end of society or even the world (oh and "heroes" of course - always coupled with violence). That is not a global phenomenon

It is a global phenomenon. Chinese 'Three-body problem' and wuxia/xanxia flicks. Japanese films and animes. Also numerous books and films from France, England, Russia, Australia...

> I can't imagine the same scenario in Europe, at least not on the same dystopian level.

Well, two most bloody wars in past century were in Europe... and they were pretty dystopian.

> It is a global phenomenon.

Maybe now, but as I already said in my comment. It was not so when I grew up, and I would dare to claim that much of what you mention is based on aping Hollywood success, especially as a business model.

As for the wars, what exactly is the connection to the phenomenon we discussed? Those were state-sponsored wars. Not that it changes anything, I stand by my gut-feeling based claims that I trust civil society in Europe more - not if war(!) breaks out, not sure why you try to change the topic - but when society breaks down as in those mentioned stories and people are left on their own. Also, since you want to go after who has done more wars, did you compare Europe's wars and the US's wars since WWII too? Statistics that selects only the data that happens to support what you would like to show is dishonest at best. Let's not even mention the story of how the US was made - with guns, by individuals as well as the state.

Not that I have anything to criticize, I would not have mentioned any of that because it is not relevant to what I said. It's just that you brought it up for whatever reason, being very selective.

> Statistics that selects only the data that happens to support what you would like to show is dishonest at best.

This. This applies to your post as well, don't you think?

> Let's not even mention the story of how the US was made - with guns, by individuals as well as the state.

Let's not, since I don't think there's a country in Europe (bigger than Monaco/Lichtenstein, ofc) or even in the whole world, that wasn't made "on guns".

> This applies to your post as well, don't you think?

You are very strong in whataboutism, it's just that I don't see a trace of substance in any of your silly replies. Instead of coming up with ANY useful point at all, all you have is "but what about this or that", none of which has any relation to the discussion. Is you name Dick? http://dilbert.com/strip/2015-06-07

Tbh I think it's a gender phenomenon. Men tend to like violence, war and movement in their stories and movies.

From media produced in other countries from now and before it is clear that it is not a national phenomenon. It's more than likely your experiences are purely anecdotal and dont even represent the norm.

> current U.S. policies on science are extremely unfavorable to foreign researchers

To U.S. researchers also - the proposal funding rate is so low on account of the resource/PI ratio that many U.S. researchers are moving to Europe where there is greater promise of hard funding.

The USA spends more on R+D in aggregate and more as a percentage of GDP than the European Union[1]. It is not substantially easier to get a Professorship or permanent research appointment in Europe than the USA, at least generally speaking. Without data to back it up, I don't see how this comment holds up.


What percentage is allocated to basic research? The US government is continuing to abdicate its responsibility towards funding it.

what is the US government's responsibility here? There are very good arguments that government funding of science has actually been a problem, starting with the big picture:


Lots of down votes but no explanation. I'll put a counterargument. Lots of good science has been privately funded: A lot of things in the early 20th and 19th centuries, Salk Sabin and the cure for polio, Peter Mitchell and solving the chemiosmotic effect, the entire HHMI, etc.

Do we actually need a lot of science? A lot of the low hanging fruit has been picked and it seems to me like the next advances will require deep reflection and study that isn't compatible with the tenure-track-driven-by-grant-receipt / grant-receipt-driven-by-performance-on-other-grants cycle of government driven science. At the same time, if government does anything else the scientific endeavor it funds will devolve into an exercise in channeling funds to a few golden children that are selected.... How? And will be detached from any reasonable standard of good governance and accountability.

So I challenge someone to explain why the us government has a responsibility to fund science, where that authority comes from, and how acceptable standards of accountability will be established.

I didn't downvote your contribution, but I suspect a lot of the downvotes were due to your argument being, at best, tangentially related to the point made in the article you linked to.

So the article makes the claim that left to its own devices, science wanders off into the weeds, spending a lot of money and brainpower on things which have absolutely no foreseeable application to the real world (e.g. stuff like string theory). FWIW, I do have sympathy for this viewpoint; while I think there is a place for purely curiosity driven blue-sky basic science, perhaps a smaller pie of the total R&D spending ought to be spent on such things.

From this you then conclude that government financing of science is bad (which goes against the econ 101 reason why the state must shoulder some of the R&D responsibility, so I won't bother to discuss that further here), whereas the article makes the opposite conclusion, namely that the state should take a much more hands-on goal-oriented approach to funding science (e.g. "get our boys to the moon before the commies").

Does me building a CRUD app for an internal business process at an advertising firm fall under this category of R&D?

> the proposal funding rate is so low on account of the resource/PI ratio that many U.S. researchers are moving to Europe where there is greater promise of hard funding.

Funding rates are low in many (all?) fields of science in the US, but I agree with @arcanus that some data showing US researchers moving to Europe is warranted.

In my field (astronomy), jobs in the US are tough to come by, but jobs in Europe are generally even more difficult to get. There seem to be fewer jobs in Europe and those jobs are often reserved for people who are already "in the system" and worked at the hiring institution. So many of those jobs to go people who've put in their dues by hanging around, rather than hiring the best people.

Europe does have large European Research Council (ERC) grants which are typically a few million Euros per award. If you win one of those, you're good to go and can fund a sizable research group (at least in astronomy) and can probably use that as leverage to get a faculty job. But those grants are tough to come by.

I can't speak for other fields, but the vast majority of people I've met in astronomy that are moving to Europe are doing so because they're from Europe and want to head home. But the availability of research/faculty jobs there is not good, compared to the US.

Yes, for instance, the NSF's budget has been static in nominal terms since the Bush years (or at least that's what the program manager told me the last time.i was on a panel). Getting a grant, especially for young researchers looking to establish a track record, is very difficult in this environment.

Now, I must revise and extend my remarks. I found this site: https://www.aaas.org/page/historical-trends-federal-rd

From which you can download R&D spending as a percent of GDP in an excel spreadsheet. They also have nice breakdowns for research, development, and facilities.

If you look at total Federal R&D (all of the 3 above), it has indeed declined as a percent of GDP (although not in real terms).

1976: 1.23% 1986: 1.2% 1996: 0.89% 2006: 0.99% 2016: 0.81%

Then there is a plunge:

2017: 0.67% 2018: 0.71%

but the plunge comes with an asterisk: "Beginning in FY 2017, a new official definition of R&D has been adopted by federal agencies. Late-stage development, testing, and evaluation programs, primarily within the Defense Department, are no longer counted as R&D. "

So, it's fair to say Federal R&D spending is at least stagnant and probably in a slow decline as a percent of GDP.

OK, but the NSF research budget (7 billion) is small potatoes compared to the NIH (37 Billion per year), and DOD (70 Billion). And it's about the same as the Department of Energy (7 Billion, not including the national labs).

There is plethora of other Federal agencies that fund research, such as the EPA, NIST, NASA, Federal Aviation Administration, Food and Drug Administration, even the Bureau of Land Management is in on the act. The VA funds research in prosthetics. The Health and Human Services department (including CDC) funds research.

As best I can tell, total Federal outlays for research are about 120 Billion. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ap_18_...

>but the NSF research budget (7 billion) is small potatoes compared to the NIH

Exactly! And they are the main organization for funding non-medical basic science in the nation.

I see, so is your argument not that we need more total federal dollars for research, but that they should be shifted away from the other organizations and towards the NSF?

Where does that funding come from? Why, your pocket. Imagine if the 1% who pays the 50% of that had that money back, how much better our society would be.

Yup. The stats at the bottom of this page are fairly depressing:


I think it comes down to US and UK in terms of general science research. I would include Japan but language is an issue (for many). Despite what the average math and science metrics in the US imply, I actually think it’s a direct result of more practical approach to education in the US. There are unbelievable opportunities for young students who want to excel in sciences. I was around graduate level research environment since the 8th grade. And I would say it wasn’t all that unusual as long as you knew where to look. Access to science research is unparalleled in the US.

My home towns school stopped giving homework when I was in high school because the budget ran out for paper halfway through the year.

There may be unparalleled access to science research in the US, but it is unevenly distributed

As a parent, I agree with you 100% and this is a big problem in the US because quality of teaching has gone down drastically over the past twenty years. I think teaching in public schools should be a mandatory public service (or highly incentivized ie loan forgiveness) for college graduates.

Having a bachelors doesn't make someone a good teacher. There is a reason teachers get teaching degrees.

Having a teaching degree doesn't make someone a good teacher. In fact, one of the most common criticisms of the U.S. public schools is the education degree which is one of the least rigorous degrees one can get, hence attracts people of low aptitude to the field.

Actually, there are student loan forgiveness programs in place for teachers for exactly this reason

My immediate reaction to this is you _probably_ had well-off parents in or adjacent to academia, and (separately) are likely to be in the demographic majority here.

Opportunities like OP described are not as rare as all that. I grew up in an agrarian town but was able to access a lot of the resources of the nearby university through programs like the Cooperative Extension Service. They are not things that fall in your lap, you need to find them and take part; but you don't need well connected or educated parents to get them.

No. I grew up in inner city, poverty, single parent. Believe it or not most scientists are extremely generous with their time and these programs do exist for students who seek them out.

How hard it is to access it as an adult with a career? I'm an immigrant software engineer but I'd love to work in research (I think).

Is there a path other than a PhD at this point?

There is no need to jump in as a PhD. Enroll as an undergraduate anywhere that has a good department in the area you're interested in, and then express interest and work as hard as you can -- if you show promise, the faculty and graduate students will notice you and enjoy your conversation. However, if you want a paid career as a researcher, you will absolutely need a PhD.

If you're a software engineer and willing to take a pay cut, plenty of research labs will be happy to take you on.

Try to hustle your way into a Research Software Engineer [0] role somewhere. The role isn't formally acknowledged in the U.S. (outside of Google) but you can usually find them posted on university job boards as "Programmer/Analyst" or something similar. Downsides include crap pay and the potential for your job to spontaneously disappear after soft money [1] runs out.

[0] https://rse.ac.uk/who/

[1] https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/30621/what-is-a...

If you know python and college level statistics you should be able to find someone. Everyone needs to crunch data (and some graduate students feel its beneath them :-)

>if the U.S. wants to remain "the best"<


The U.S. is fast becoming a retiree/senior citizen voting nation. Their top priority (understandably) is cutting taxes/costs to maximize their (poorly planned) retirements.

Being the best no long matters like it did when the boomers were young.


If the demographic shift you describe really does have the effect you describe, then most other countries are becoming even less interested in being the best than the US is becoming -- although I guess a person could argue that a country like China where the population cannot vote (on anything that matters much) will avoid the effect you describe.

Or maybe the US should actually look at its own citizens for once. It seems every time the US has a problem, they try to solve it by importing people.

That's not a quick fix though, you have to start with people who are five years old right now then see the benefits in twenty or more years.

There are huge amounts of fellowships and scholarships available for US citizens to go into grad school. If they don't want to go in whose fault is that. Admittedly, most of them come out with huge debt from undergrad, so I understand the decision to get jobs immediately.

> (this is a net win for humanity though)

Yeah. Maybe we want to take a more global approach and cheer when other countries are doing well and are attracting scientists?

There was an article a while back how a Chinese professor or maybe recent grad, couldn't find a position in US and the Chinese government made them a generous offer, an apartment, a guaranteed research fund, etc. Everyone was bashing and shaming US but it seemed kind of nice that China is able to do those things.

> So in effect, the grad students would get advanced degrees in the hard sciences and take that knowledge back home with

I remember that too, but that's kind of the goal of the F-1 / J-1 educational visas. None of them are designed for permanent residency or imply a path towards citizenship. The idea is that these students will get a graduate education then return home and and apply that knowledge in various countries around the world.

> Unfortunately, the attractiveness of becoming a U.S. citizen is waning

I don't think that's necessarily true. Despite the politics and rhetoric of the current administration, just today the front page of the NYTimes ran an article titled: U.S. Has Highest Share of Foreign-Born Population Since 1910 ( https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/13/us/census-foreign-populat... )

The article opens with:

> The foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest share since 1910, according to government data released Thursday, and the new arrivals are more likely to come from Asia and to have college degrees than those who arrived in past decades.

Not to mention the antiquated immigration system wherein, a country of birth is given preference over qualifications and pay for granting permanent residency, disadvantaging nationals from populous nations like India and China.


I know many of my peers from grad school are exiting US after a few years of grad school due to this.

Its also incredibly expensive to go to college here compared to anywhere else on earth. But in public education the math and science coverage tends to be horrific, but that's because we pay teachers such low wages they often have to live in their vehicles. Who wants a job that is completely stripped of human dignity?

The high cost of college here is honestly more about amenities than anything else. Whenever the discussion of making college tuition-free comes up in the U.S., people nearly always point to Europe as an example of an area where free education is the norm. What few people tend to take into account, however, is that European universities are pretty no-frills for the most part. I personally enjoyed the bare bones approach to higher ed during my time studying abroad (no stupid residential education office to overcharge me for crap housing, no forced meal plans, buying textbooks at my discretion alone), but I know a number of people from my undergrad who would be utterly lost without the amount of hand-holding and perks (gyms, expensive facilities that almost certainly are underutilized, etc) that occur in American universities.

There's another side to this that isn't discussed and that is - at least for me - the easier and more lucrative path was to take my bachelor's degree in physics and get a corporate job.

My GRE / GPA wasn't going to get me into Princeton anyway.

But the road to a PhD in Physics in 1994 was basically 1) Probably 8 years of study + teaching assistant work and 2) a quality dissertation.

That gets you in the CV pile for the next phase.

The actual career of being a physicist includes 1) multi-year post-doc(s); 2) University job, which would have been associate professor then, adjunct professor now; 3) "Publish or perish"; 4) Hustling grants; 5) Managing TAs and RAs.

For peanuts (unless those grants are fat money) compared to a corporate job.

For foreigners, the difference between academia / corporate work probably isn't as stark economically.

Finding a good tenured position is comically difficult now. I know an assistant professor of engineering at Princeton who just left for Renaissance Technologies because he couldn't secure a long-term professorship there.

When the French executed Lavoisier, they said "the republic needs neither chemists nor scientists". The US seems to be of a similar mind at this point in time.

That's a bit unfair.

You are talking about an event in the Great Terror (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror), when thousands of people were executed by the Committee for Public Safety, both on the left and the right, as Robespierre descended into madness. Towards the end, he set up a festival in which he invented his own cult -- the cult of the Supreme Being, and posed as moses carrying the revelation of the Supreme Being from a mountain. That really started to freak people out.

Pronouncements from that era are not representative of French culture or thinking even a few months after the terror. For example, Napoleon was a great patron of science.

BTW, a fantastic source on the French Revolution is the revolutions podcast -- they cover it over 53 episodes


One of the more poignant episodes towards the end of the Great Terror was when, in one day, they executed a group of nuns whose only crime was living together communally, and a 16 year old pickpocket. Whereas before, the citizens were cheering on the Guillotine, towards the end, when the boy was beheaded, someone from the crowd shouted out "Please, no more children!"

> Unfortunately, the attractiveness of becoming a U.S. citizen is waning because (1) current U.S. policies on science are extremely unfavorable to foreign researchers and (2) other countries are making it much more desirable to remain a citizen there than to become a U.S. citizen (this is a net win for humanity though)

Don't forget (3) being tax compliant as a US citizen/perm resident. Since Obama made this worse with FACTA, Trump now with GILTI, etc., US citizenship and permanent residency has become extremely hostile to expats.

For those interested, here is a link to a Wolfram Alpha query that shows US vs China GPD PPP [1]

Also, here is a Wikipedia link to what GDP PPP (Gross Domestic Product Purchasing Power Parity) actually is [2]

[1] http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=US,+China+GDP+PPP [2] https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchasing_Power_Parity

Completely agree. The sad part is that I know many Chinese people who have studied in the United States and want to stay, but we do not make it even remotely easy to do so.

There is also the matter that for a smart young American, Law, Medicine and Finance are far more financially rewarding endeavors than Science.

The RAND institute published a paper supporting this position:

It's a bit old now (2003), but I think it still holds. https://www.rand.org/pubs/issue_papers/IP241.html

I wouldn't discount the fact that a lot of great STEM students elect to work in finance as opposed to science or R&D roles: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-rent-seekin...

I find it helpful to remove cultural origins and model it purely based on opportunity, and it makes a lot of sense. In this instance, take away Chinese / American from the article and reanalyze it with the kind of education they received.

The fact is that scientific research has extremely poor returns on investment, with high specialization requirements and little opportunity for wealth, fame, or impact. Ground-breaking discovery in niche fields tends to favor one dimensional specialists over generalists, whereas in pretty much any other industry, being multi-talented can be extremely impactful.

In a wealthy country where most people are educated to be multi-talented, it's suboptimal for them to go into research because there are so many better opportunities. Whereas if you're a country with a billion people but doesn't have the luxury to educate people to be multi-faceted, if you have the talent to be a researcher, it's a great opportunity for you.

An illustration in RPG terms:

well educated, multi-faceted individual (can be from the US or China, doesn't matter)

communication: 70/100

networking: 70/100

leadership: 70/100

scientific discovery: 70/100

(with science aptitude)

communication: 70/100

networking: 70/100

leadership: 70/100

scientific discovery: 90/100

A not-as-well educated person

communication: 40/100

networking: 50/100

leadership: 30/100

scientific discovery: 40/100

with science aptitude:

communication: 40/100

networking: 50/100

leadership: 30/100

scientific discovery: 90/100

It's just a lot more common to find the latter in a country with 1.3 billion people, and the former in the richest country in the world.

For the latter example, being good at science opens up opportunities for them. But for the well educated, they probably have a lot better opportunities within their reach. And with the prevailing metric of a good researcher being novel discoveries or breakthroughs, they both have an equal chance to make contribution to the field, so there's no incentives for the well educated person (Chinese or American) to pursue research.

revisiting the thought, it may not have to deal with skillset as much as opportunity availability. There are more opportunities for American citizens that are equivalent to a PhD, whereas that may not be the case for non-Americans.

> U.S. that really just doesn't care about science anymore

Not just "dont care", they routinely ridicule and make fun of scientific research personnels, everywhere. Hollywood being the worts offender.

Can you give an example of one of those unfavorable policies and how China does it more favorably? The post speaks in general terms.

A moot point for humankind: we really do not care.

It seems it is working out quite well by the Chinese remaining in China. Well done!

I would like to know what HNer’s think about RAISE act, which directly affects legal immigrants.

> So in effect, the grad students would get advanced degrees in the hard sciences and take that knowledge back home with them, whereas the U.S. students would get a B.S. in literature, advertising, or business (generalizing of course).

One could argue that the US students are simply more rational actors and perceive the fact that a PhD has no economic value.

> we need to incentivize the best scientists and researchers in other countries to come here and become U.S. citizens

This may be outside of US control. There are always exceptions, but based on experience of my friends who came to the US from other countries and stayed, scientists generally did not go to the US; they go from something: economic shock, persecution, hungry kids, crime, no science funding (not low, zero), etc. and will to go whatever decent, stable country that would take them. Big inflows of energetic, educated folks happen after wars (e.g., WW2). Collapse of communism made lots of folks from Poland to Uzbekistan search for another home.

Those greatly benefited US but were one-time events that cannot be easily extended. To lead in science a country needs to grow its scientists organically and encourage them to stay in science. My 2c.

Right... More scientists and researchers making less than minimum wage is surely the answer

The impact of publications in technical fields is so long tailed that 1000 mediocre publications doesn't equal one single breakthrough paper (eg the AlexNet paper in deep learning). Even according to the source cited in the article (http://www.nber.org/papers/w24829) impact per paper is much lower in China.

Once China beats the US in both volume and quality, we'll know the balance of intellectual capital has really shifted.

I'm skeptical this will happen. The US has a much better culture of intellectual freedom. It's much more likely that China will surpass the US economically than intellectually. Business culture is so strong in China and probably even better than in the US already.

People over-obsess about how China is beating us in science and technology, and not enough about how China is becoming so entrepreneurial while US citizens are becoming extremely risk averse.

Except that's no longer the case, China's private sector is moving backwards and being squeezed out. The era of an ascendant private sector is over, Xi has shifted gears out of growth desperation. The Chinese Government is pushing all resources toward state enterprises again, and depriving credit to the private sector. It makes sense that when you consolidate power into one monolith, that monolith will prefer to consolidate power into fewer levers they directly control (massive, ineffecient state enterprises). That's a shift away from what had been an increase in decentralized economic control in the prior Deng-policy era.

See: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-11/china-tur...

"As growth stumbles, Beijing is falling back on a tried and trusted solution: using large, government-backed companies to spur activity. That’s squeezing out private and small firms."

"Higher borrowing costs, weak household spending and rising prices point to the beginnings of what could be a wider consumption downgrade. Meanwhile, fixed-asset investment growth is near record lows, and the fiscal situation is looking increasingly constrained."

"Operating conditions for small companies are getting worse, they’re holding inventory for longer, and the time it takes them to convert working capital into cash is increasing"

"The number of money-losing private industrial companies jumped about 40 percent as of June from a year earlier, while the number of unprofitable state-backed firms stayed flat. "

That's actually sad to hear. From my limited experience in China it seems like an amazing entrepreneurial place, in spite of all the barriers. You can't even access Stackoverflow there! But the culture there is really "no excuses" which I respect a lot.

Are people becoming more risk averse, or do we have more people in precarious positions where they face more serious down sides if their gamble doesn't pay off?

The US social safety net is drastically better today than it was in the recent past (eg 1980 or 1990). It's now comparable to the OECD median. I know this is an unpopular statement, because for decades it has been a common attack point to go after the US on this front. However the US is spending a lot more per capita on its welfare policies, inflation adjusted, than it was a few decades ago. Particularly since the mid to late 1990s there has been a very large jump and it has had equally large, tangible results. It's important to point out the positive results, so that progress isn't rolled back.

Poverty and homelessness are both near all-time lows (homelessness is at all-time lows). Homelessness is an area where the US has made very big strides in the last two decades, and it's not talked about enough. The poverty rate is down to 12.3% and has been declining since the great recession ended, accelerating the last few years. There are only two short periods of time in modern US history where the poverty rate was much lower (the peak of the late 1990s boom, and for about three years in the 1970s).

In the last ~25 years the US has also reduced by about 50% the number of people that aren't covered by healthcare (currently 8.8% of people), mostly thanks to the ACA and Medicaid expansion. We're spending over $600 billion per year on free healthcare for the bottom quarter of people. In 2005, 42 million people (14% of the population) were covered by Medicaid, today that's 66.8 million (20.5% of the population). Cynics will claim that's a negative, it's not, it's an improvement in the US social safety net courtesy of expanding who is covered by Medicaid. CHIP and SS disability have further broadened free healthcare coverage in that time frame as well.

Do you know how that increased welfare spending breaks down? How much of the increase is going to pensioners vs poor working age people?

and how much of the increase is going to juicing the bottom line of corporations like Walmart and farm conglomerates? Both parties love food stamps. Total government expenditure, by itself is not a good measure of the actual outcome

Great job actually looking at the numbers rather than just repeating “common knowledge”.

It seems like a lot of debates on HN could benefit from having actual facts like this.

Why aren't those 8.8% covered?

I'd think that china had many more people in precarious positions than we do in the US. Perhaps it is that people are much more comfortable in the US and do not need to be entrepreneurial to have a decent life?

Betting everything you've got when you have nothing doesn't compare.

It's the same difference, as far as innovation is concerned.

Regulation and government involvement is also contributing to lower entrepreneurialism in the US.

Are you saying that the US government has more or less involvement compared to China when it comes to entrepreneurship...? Which do you think is "better"?

>They document a rapid expansion between 2000 and 2016, as the Chinese share of global publications in physical sciences, engineering and math quadrupled.

I really hate to risk being the guy who says "they will never best us," until they do, but in my field and many others Chinese papers are known to be of a lower quality standard and a lot more mill-like. This may come as a surprise to many, but the simple fact is that integrity issues are common in Chinese academia - a pattern not specific to China, but repeated almost everywhere. Globally, a high-quality academia with a strong sense of integrity is the exception rather than the rule.

In my branch of physics, the best Chinese papers are beginning to make leading contributions to their subfields.

As it turns out, if you make a well-funded and sustained effort at something, you can get good at it.

As an example, within my specialty: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0431-5

Ditto in Machine Learning; although this is mostly either from HK (CUHK-Sensetime-Alibaba), or from MSR-A. I haven't seen much come out of mainstream chinese universities.

When will we have to learn Chinese to get to state-of-the-art results? Honest question from someone that need to read paper from its field.

How many paper's are published? Would it be economical to have them translated? Could we have a few people translating papers as a full time job?

There are a number of factors at play here. It's not that fraud, cheating and corruption does not happen here but it doesn't taint the entire system but when it happens elsewhere it tends to 'stick' to them.

In this case you may have perceived fraud or lower quality in a specific area and you are generalizing it to entire Chinese academia when like everywhere in the world they have high quality and low quality institutions and equal incentives for fraud.

There has been multiple frauds in western academia [1], the Stanford experiments was the most recent discussed here, but no one uses these instances to paint the entire system as fraudulent, in social sciences there is a giant reproducibility crisis.[2]

And given they are developing its inevitable the quality will rise with more investments and resources and developing a culture and infrastructure of research that others already have for decades, more investments in science and advancements is better for humanity. It's not a competition.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientific_misconduct_...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Replication_crisis

The problem in China is that ethical standards right across society are severely corroded. My wife is Chinese, we visit regularly and she has relatives in various business and state institutions. Corruption is endemic, it is the system. It’s hair raising. The problem with being ruled by a corrupt system of government for generations is that it infects everything. It’s really terribly sad, China is making terrific progress in so many ways and has huge potential, but so much of it goes to waste.

The one mitigating factor is that the commercial sector is so savagely results driven that actual success really matters. That’s the one thing that stops the whole system devolving into a soviet style downward spiral of bureaucratic failure. Ruthless social and economic Darwinism has it’s costs, but at least it keeps some aspects if the system honest by pure necessity. I doubt state sponsored research and academia benefits much from this, but I don’t have any direct experience of that as none of my relatives are academics.

We have a family friend who is a university lecturer in CS. The one anecdote I can pass on is that, apparently, students there can graduate in CS on a course based on Java at his institution without ever having to demonstrate a program actually running. Apparently it’s all theoretical. I find it hard to believe or understand how that can be, or how prevalent that is but that’s what he said. This was 3 or 4 years ago.

>> students there can graduate in CS on a course based on Java at his institution without ever having to demonstrate a program actually

That is absoluteley not limited to China. There are some CS grads that can't write code, and that doesn't mean they are idiots. I studied with some of them. Some are actually more inclined to abstract theoretical problems and are not very good at implementation. Others just learn by memorizing everything and never gotten the hang of analyzing and solving a problem.

>> Apparently it’s all theoretical

Well... yes, for me that is what CS really is about. You don't need a computer to do CS at all. All you need is a pen, a paper and some knowlegde of formal systems. In my opinion, a college/university is not the place to go to for learning how to code.

>You don't need a computer to do CS at all.

I am sympathetic to the idea that CS is not a vocational subject, but it is a practical discipline. Purely theoretical CS is like studying physics with without ever performing an experiment. There is a role for theoretical physicists, but to complement and inform the experimental side otherwise their theories could never be tested or confirmed. You need both to make it a complete discipline.

There once was a man whose house was burning down, having been lit by a fire that had started at his neighbors'. When the firefighters arrived he warded them off: "my house is burning?" he continued, contently, "their house is burning."

The article points not just to number of publications but citations too, which hint that they aren't just paper mill papers. In my field, China is actually committing to investing in my kind of research in terms of facilities and such while the US is cutting of course.

I'm skeptical of citation rate as well, although I'm not sure I have anything better to offer in terms of metrics. Hype, after all, is related to citation rate. I think what we need is something that is more like "sustained rate" or something like that.

It's pretty clear China is progressing in the sciences substantially, so I don't want to discount that--no one should--but this progression is occurring in what I consider to be a crisis of academic integrity globally. The result is that metrics like publication rate and citation rate are much fuzzier to interpret, and something I distrust a lot because they are somewhat meaningless relative to replicability or something of that sort.

I generally feel like academics and industry at large is suffering from a kind of hype crisis or bubble. I think it's strongly related to income inequality (inflated attributed value of higher-income individuals relative to lower-income individuals) and all sorts of other societal problems at the moment. How this relates to China I'm not sure but overall it makes me skeptical of any attempt to measure or rank countries relative to one another (I'd say the same thing about the US or any other country for that matter).

I have been thinking about kinds of citation rates that distinguish between "trendy" journals, ones what attract lots of citations relatively quickly, and "deep impact journals", where papers published tend to be cited a long time later.

Given this classification, you can weight an individuals impact factor by a factor representing how trendy vs deep the venues citations appear in.

Publications and citations don't really matter. All that matters at the end of the day is patents [1]. That's the real story here, this is all about patents and IP. The entire Chinese university system is being forcefully redesigned to become a machine that systematically produces high-value patents.

The goal here is very much to beat the US at its own game [2]. The US and Western Europe have trapped the whole world in an extremely harsh intellectual property regime and China, rather than fighting this regime, intends to dominate it.

It's very sad because what's being ultimately being legitimized is just Feudalism 3.0. It's also very corrosive to China's real strength, it's entrepreneurial spirit, which, until very recently, gave fuck all about patents. Now many Asian VCs won't even talk to you unless you have some valuable IP. Many people view this rapid "IP enclosure" in China, where IP is becoming everything and often the only thing, to be a very bad thing.

[1] http://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2018/article_0002....

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/world/china-watch/business/...

There is certainly good research coming out of China, but there are also journals set up to primarily publish articles citing their own papers, or papers in peer journals to boost citations...

I don't know if you know this but that it's a China only thing, most groups cough self cite because everyone does.

Citations are so easy to game though: you just need to create citation rings and that number can rise quickly along with a bunch of mediocre publications.

I agree. In my field there are entire journals which I regard as rubbish and which are 95%+ Chinese/East Asian. Part of the problem is integrity, but a larger portion of the bad papers are just meaningless cargo-cult science.

i mean that's true across the board. A large portion of bad startups are just meaningless cargo culting, etc.

Also the recent rash of articles documenting low rates of being able to reproduce results of many well cited papers.

Not really. There are other journals that I do read.

Fraud is one thing. Continued experiments to learn are another.. even if applied in different domains. Take applied math. It can be written is a math journal, biology, chemistry, physics etc.. I would be suspect of clinical trials specifically but any preclinical work should be replicated. CS work is easy to replicate. So I think the specific threat of fraud is limited. Me too publications suggest learning but probably lack originality. The challenges are the inductive leaps which are usually counter intuitive and outside of the mainstream. Funding agendcies need to promotes those.

80% of China’s clinical trial data are fraudulent, investigation finds


What I've read is that whereas Western academics and scientists are paid by salary or grant, Chinese scientists are paid substantially by number of papers published. So $500 for a paper in a top-tier journal, etc.

Thus scientific papers provide indirect benefits in the West, but direct benefits in China - encouraging the "paper mill."

This 2017 study[1] found the average payout for Nature or Science was $44k in 2016. Much less for others but still more like 2-3k per publication. Average professor salary: $8,600.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608266/the-truth-about-ch...

Publishing papers in the West provides a pretty direct benefit - there's a reason behind the saying 'publish or perish'.

Exactly it's often just slightly less explicit, emphasis on slightly.

Academia is toxic because again it is being measured. If a university cannot determine the quality of faculty other than counting publications and impact factors, the university itself is seriously lacking quality, alas there is a plague of it.

I wonder if it is directly related to the bloom/infestation of university administration sizes and top salaries.

I'm of the opinion that a university ought to be something like what you'd think a temple to discovery and knowledge ought to be, instead of a mill for producing credentials for students and a shitty game for faculty advancement.

if I had a billion dollars... (to the tune of the Barenaked Ladies)

It's always been this way to some degree. Every now and again a messiah comes along that illuminates and exposes a new way of thinking, and academia goes through a revolution. Then the weaker minds establish boundaries based on the teachings of their fearless leader, the leader dies, and academia settles back into it's natural state of dogmatic adherence to ideas it understands but can't expand upon.

There will be another Einstein. There will be another Darwin. And they will change everything. It is only a matter of time.

But I doubt they will come from China. While many a genius may be born in China, they may as well have been born on Mars because it is not a country that rewards exceptionalism and original thinking.

Also... I'm still trying to imagine what Dijon Ketchup would taste like.

Universities themselves are chasing university rankings, which count publications and impact factors. Does a 17 year old kid or their parents know how to judge a universities quality? No, they use prestige (rankings).

Nobody has time to read everyone's papers, or evaluate someone's knowledge thoroughly, so we fall back on things like degrees, impact factors or university prestige.

Once you realise academia is all about signalling - being able to quickly judge people - everything makes sense.

I agree that the incentives behind "publish or perish" are quite problematic. However, this does not seem equivalent to directly earning cold hard cash for each individual paper.

I don't see what's so magical about cold hard cash compared to other economic incentives that eventually translate to cash too.

In any Western university there's people fighting for tenure, which tends to hinge on publishing high-impact papers. This is an enormous economic incentive. The difference between getting tenure or having to leave academia and starting an industry career at a disadvantage can be measured in dollars, and it's large. In fact, even without measuring anything, I think it's quite clear that the overwhelming majority of people in this situation would take tenure over a $10K cheque. So it's disingenous to say that the Chinese incentivize publishing more because they pay cash.

If anything I find that the system of paying cash is more transparent, and it may be somewhat more balanced than others. For example, in Spain people fighting for tenure have a very large incentive for the reason mentioned above (and a PhD has zero or even negative value for most industry job offers here, so the value of the incentive is really huge). Youngish tenured professors have a not so large, but significant incentive (there are salary supplements one can get linked to journal publishing in 6-year periods. They are not too large -around €100/mo- but each one you get is for life, so for professors in their 30s we can be talking about more than 30K for publishing a few papers. This is pretty much cash for papers too, but no one bats an eye because we are Western, I guess). A full professor 5-10 years away from retirement has practically no incentive at all, by the time they can get another of these supplements they will be retired or almost retired so they won't get much, if anything. So it is quite common to see professors in this situation just not doing research at all. The distribution of incentives would be more uniform with cash.

To sum up, I think the outrage many people in the West express about Chinese universities paying for papers is pure hypocrisy. Either giving economic incentives to paper publishing is a good idea or it isn't. If it is, I don't see anything wrong with the incentive being cash, and if it isn't, we should probably criticise our own systems as much as the Chinese's.

Eventually, I think the criticism of the Chinese way boils down to prejudice. The whole mysticism about cash is an excuse to not say "incentivizing publication in the West is good because we are going to publish good papers, incentivizing publication in China is bad because they are dishonest and are going to churn out lots of crap if they are incentivized to publish".

I could be wrong, but I would have guessed we were onto the next phase by now, that could be labelled: "Brilli-ant rhymes with grant"

That tenure would come from earning grants. Now keeping the grant gravy-train running smoothly does require churning out papers, but it is not the papers themselves that would be so important.

This or another similar article on HN said $40k in a top tier journal. Also companies produce 'research' and then offer it to scientist to have their name on it.

Gatekeeper alert

Please don't do this here.

As a Chinese I have to say simply number is totally meaningless. China's research is still closely connected with government behavior and all of the top universities are founded and managed by the government. A few top universities are actually government departments. In China the only way to get more salary and promotion in title is too give as much as papers as one can. Thus a considerable amount of them are totally rubbish which was published only for appraise and competition.

So basically what we're seeing is publish or perish on steroids by your assessment?

A better index that measures QUALITY scientific research is the Nature index. By that measure, China is #2 in the world, tho far behind the US still.


I'm surprised at how high up Canada / Switzerland is in the rankings. Both pretty small for that much impact.

I’m currently a postdoc at ETH Zurich. I think it’s very similar to a highly ranked US university in that the majority of researchers past master level come from all over the world and tend to be some of the smartest from each place. It’s really a matter of attracting talent. The US should be careful not to loose that leadership e.g. due to overzealous new immigration laws. Populist politics (and I count some of the leftist ‘postmodern’ agenda there as well) are immensely dangerous to a nation’s ability to lead in science and modern economy.

?? Canada's population is roughly 1/10 of that of the US and the article count shown for Canada is also roughly 1/10 of that of the US. Exactly how is it surprising?

Well, as a Canadian, I guess I'm surprised we're so similarly outmatching the rest of the world. I figured there was more going on in Italy or Brazil than there seems to be.

It's interesting to weight these numbers by population. They seem to be more or less the number of papers in select venues with an author of a particular nationality. As with sports, it's easy to say that the country X gets a lot of medals because they have a large talent pool.

The US has a pop. of 325M and a score of 26k so a weighted score of 0.080 publications (per thousand people). Germany scores 0.094, the UK 0.10, Australia 0.097.

These "academic" countries hover around 1 publication per ten thousand people. A lot of small countries punch slightly above their weight, mostly those with a long history of academia.

Adjusted for population (1.37B), China would score 0.0095 - an order of magnitude less. That's not necessarily an indication of lack of quality, but it does suggest that they're not at capacity yet.

Using national population is naive. There are probably a lot of interesting metrics you could dig out of this to get an idea of the resaerch efficiency of a country. For example China has more researchers than the US[1,2] (1.69M vs 1.38M), but not in proportion to its increased population size. The US has, proportionally, four times as many researchers than China, but doesn't spend four times as much on R&D (2.7% US, 2.1% China).

Israel is a good disproportionate example, spending 4% of GDP on research to get a pop-weighted publication score of 0.12. They also have a lot of researchers - second only to Scandinvaia at around 7k per million inhabitants. So their publication success is probabily attributable to having an above-average number of scientists coupled with a huge research budget.

[1] http://uis.unesco.org/en/news/rd-data-release [2] http://data.uis.unesco.org/

EDIT: Most of this data is 2016-2017, might be some muddling of years. It's also 3AM so maths maybe squiffy.

If you use the number of researchers instead of population, the US publishes 14.2 "good" papers per thousand researchers, China publishes around 5.3. Maybe that's a better basis for quantity vs quality.

You could phrase this as "Given a researcher in a particular country, what are the odds of them publishing a top tier paper in a year?" and following on, "Do we expect that, given how much this country spends on research (per scientist)?"

Using GDP from Google (11.2t and 18.57t) and figures from [2], the US spends about $365k on R&D per scientist. China spends $140k per scientist. That fits rather well - the US spends 2.6x more and gets 2.7x more top publications per scientist.

Lets not forget that China has over 3x the popn of USA so to surpass scientific output is to be expected at some stage. They havent got there yet because there is a history, culture and political environment to overcome and that will take a few more decades.

In the fields that i pay attention to (Im not a scientist, just a curious part-time pythonista) such as materials science, practical uses of AI and vision, it seems (just an opinion, dont ask me for stats) most of the work are coming from China scientists. In some other fields like programming languages, computer networking they seem significantly fewer. Of course this may be biased by my sources.

On a social level when one has a government where the top level politicians are mostly scientists and engineers this is a result to be expected. When govt is dominated by lawyers one can expect things go in other direction. China realised a long time ago that they had to educate and work to improve their position - productivity and improving standard of living comes from real productive stuff not from legislation.

My 2c.

There's also the fact that some studies have show papers pushed from China are outright stolen research or fictional. I don't mean to downplay the actual science that many in China do...but there is a lot that is actually nonsense and contributes nothing.

One of the reasons the 18th century scientific revolution was so fruitful in europe was the culture of sharing, publishing & debating across a large, catchment area. Instead of esoteric knowledge of mysterious origin, 18th century science produced de-mystified knowledge.

This culture crossed language barriers, borders and such. Common cultural "hero's" of a scientific community (Newton, Copernicus..) helped a lot in developing this culture.

One of the (related) reasons for US science/technology success in the 20th century was making that "empire of the mind" physical, in places like MIT. The wide catchment was achieved through migration. This was very obvious in the post war period, when scientists and technologists from everywhere came to these places.

The Soviets also made use of their expanded talent catchment areas, and had some pretty impressive innovations at that time.

China is now learning the power of inward migration. They are starting to open up and subsidize international students. I think political goals (eg Taiwanese students in China smoothing the path to unification) where the catalyst, but internationalizing the institutions themselves will be an inevitable side effect.

Why, this is a great news! Facing the prospect of losing the primacy, and the face, on the world stage the US Congress is a lot more likely to pony up some cash.

China is well on its way reversing the roles with the US where the in the past the US was supplying knowledge and technology their way, it is increasingly the other way around. They have less and less need for US produced research and technology since they are able to do much of it under their own power now. Some time soon, they will out pace the US GDP as well.

US universities have been running for decades on foreign grad students (many of which are Chinese). At the same time the US education system is not producing a lot of domestic talent at this point. Not surprising given years of under funding, budget cuts, the excessive cost of getting educated, etc.

The fix is simple: invest, spend, nurture instead of divest, cut, and kill. Modern economies are primarily knowledge driven. Not investing in that is bad for business.

Off topic: Has anyone noticed purge of Muslim students from Chinese labs? I follow some Chinese professors, and they onboarded 2 Pakistani students and within two months, both were removed from the website. Same story with 4 more students in a different university and different laboratories. Incidentally, Xinjiang concentration camps started being mentioned in the news soon after.

Also, noticed an uptick of Indian students doing research in China.

This is disturbing given the paeans to the working relationship between the two countries, if not just down to poor Pakistani education quality

I don't even know if it is a widespread problem, or even if there was any malice involved in those cases. I found it a bit curious that the names were purged from the websites, not even put in the Alumni column. There can be myriad of reasons...

More hard data from NSF global R&D spend. China seems laser focused on its momentum. But percentage-wise US allocation for pure science or basic research is roughly 17%. While China is at 5%. With a decided tilt toward product and materials based development.

2018 Overview of the State of the US Science & Engineering Enterprise in the Global Context


My feeling is US could stand to double its R&D spend from 4% of GDP as a goal by 2040.

Because nothing beats "volume of papers produced" for measuring scientific contributions. Time to call this what it is: utter shit journalism.

Yeah. Well...it's the same measure universities use with their academics isn't it?

Please everyone don't underestimate China. Sure we can find 100 criticisms, but you can't deny their massive efforts in education, research, technology and manufacturing.

Steady progress builds results over time. I really encourage doubters to go visit China and see for yourself.

Automatic defensive response: yeah, but they are subpar.

Yeah, like those Japanese cars and devices were "subpar" compared to the US ones in the 60s and 70s...

Incredible fear from America: https://i.imgur.com/bOqjzCs.jpg

wechat is the modern day chinese "forwards from grandma" in the mobile age.

Got this from reddit. I don't think this is fake if that's what you're implying.

Good, competition and more spending is always welcome.

It would really suck to have the global language of science change to Chinese though. And Beijing strikes me as the sort of place to suddenly require all their scientists to publish in Chinese one day, once they felt they had sufficient leverage.

Back when I was studying physics, in the university library of the exact science campus I found a couple of shelves full of identical thick volumes in the physics section. Curious what they were I took one out and I forgot the exact name but I think it was Chinese Physics B / Acta Physica Sinica (overseas edition), which is basically the english translation of a selection of the local Acta Physica Sinica. Browsing the articles and actually reading the ones that seemed interesting, I can confirm these were of high quality. Apparently they cover all branches of physics, including fundamental particles but notably excluding nuclear physics. Before that moment I had a very Western-centric view of exact sciences, but quickly realized that this is merely an illusion: whenever we search and find articles we search in our own language, and since then I have encountered countless references of theorems and discoveries and observations which were also discovered abroad, but due to different communication language the concepts have typically different scientist/mathematician names attached to them. What you describe is partially true but partially it was always the case or at least for quite a long time now. Not just science in chinese, but also of course in russian, probably the dominant language in india too etc...

I forgot to mention this also has a strong parallel with a different phenomenon in within society: a lot of the people who think education is useless, even though they actually use many of the skills, think so because it is easy to pretend one learnt something on their own (which is kind of true) once others (teachers, authors of books etc.) have invested the time and effort to explain the subject. It's easy to pretend or believe you have no one to thank for such a simple thing as being able to read and write!

Hopefully competition from China will spark a re-investment in education elsewhere in the world.

Once the US stops prioritizing stuffing the coffers of rich donors and actually puts American interests first, things will dramatically improve.

Right, so never ever. :/

I don’t feel so hopeless. There are a lot of initiatives to reduce the influence of money in politics coming down the pipeline.

I hope you're right. Do you have specific policy moves in mind?

I think this [0] is a step in the right direction. I also think legislation regarding campaign finance, which would supersede Citizens United, is desperately needed.

[0] https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/warren...

This is just a speech. There's nothing specific in here at all.

If you’d rather not listen for the details, here they are:

1. Members of Congress, judges, and high-ranking executive branch officials would be forbidden from owning individual stocks while in office. It would force the president and cabinet members to divest assets that could present conflicts of interest.

2. Members of Congress would be forbidden from lobbying after they leave office, existing lobbying restrictions would be tightened, and greater disclosure of influence peddling would be required.

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