doi:10.1038/nindia.2013.77 Published online 6 June 2013
New data on China's rapid scientific expansion and India's trailing way behind has not come as a surprise to Indian academics and policy makers, who attribute this to India not investing enough in science.
The data released recently in the Nature Publishing Index (NPI) 2012 China supplement, is a measure of the output of research articles from nations and institutes. The parameter used in the index is the number of papers published within the last 12 months by the country's scientists in Nature and its 17 sister publications.
While Japan is leading the pack of south-Asian nations, China in the second place "is fast becoming a global leader in scientific publishing and scientific research," according to the index. India in the seventh place continues to trail behind the small country Taiwan in scientific publications. Chinese scientists published 376 articles in Nature journals between June 2012 and June 2013 against 38 from India in the same period.
China's budgets (for science) are stupendous. We do not compare favourably
China's growth rate has outpaced all other nations in the region accounting for 30% of all Asia-Pacific articles, according to the NPI. China's top ten institutions — led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) — dominate the NPI, "but the addition of more than 100 new entrants in 2012 shows the breadth of the country's scientific enterprise", the NPI notes.
C.N.R. Rao, Science advisor to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says the reason behind this lag is that India is not investing enough in science. Rao, a recipient of CAS's highest honour — International Scientific Cooperation Award for 2012 — is not surprised by the widening gap between scientific outputs of the two countries. "Chinese investments in people and institutions are high and their budgets (for science) are stupendous," he told Nature India. "We do not compare favourably with China in these aspects."
The 2012 NPI contains 738 institutions and universities from the Asia-Pacific region. The top 200 of which includes 51 institutions from China — up from 47 the previous year — against five from India (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Raman Research Institute, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Viswabarathi University).
China also boasts four institutions in the global top 100 list — up from three in 2011 — while there is none from India in that list. The growth in China's contribution to the NPI since 2011 "is a clear indication of the increase in top-notch scientific output," according to the NPI. "This growth is reflected both in the number of institutions represented and in the number of papers in Nature journals they produced."
Government can give funds, build labs. It is the researchers who should do research and write papers
"The quantity of scientific output from China is terrific and China will soon overtake the U.S.," Rao says. "Our hope is to improve the quality of our science greatly," he added. "(For that) we have to work much harder, with dedication and pride."
But despite India's effort in the last five years to inject more funds and create new scientific institutions there has been no sign of the India-China science gap narrowing. "The reason is simple," says Subbaiah Arunachalam, information consultant and a leading science policy analyst.
"The government can give funds, build labs, increase remuneration for researchers and give quick promotions, but it is the researchers who should do the research and write the papers."
Even our 'best' institutions do not have a good track record of publishing in high quality journals or publishing papers that are cited very often. The Chinese do science of the quality acceptable to higher impact journals. Indians, for some reason, are unable to get their work published there."
Publication in one particular set of journals is not the only assessment of quality
However, Subhash Lakhotia, a cytogeneticist and emeritus professor at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi does not agree that publication in one particular set of journals is the only assessment of quality. "Publication in these journals often requires good contacts," he feels. However, he also says that a majority of researchers in India are "mediocre" and the country's research environment "continues to be bureaucratic."
"We cannot expect widely excellent output with this kind of human resource. We have very few isolated peaks (of excellence) while others are not even at the ground level," he says. "The red-tape that pervades almost every funding agency and administration of institutions and universities does not facilitate excellence." Lakhotia says India is yet to undertake massive and aggressive recruitment of young talent. "As long as the country continues to rely largely on 'imported' manpower for quality, we cannot reach anywhere close to leadership."
Lakhotia also points out that the NPI ranking of academic institutions does not take into account the large numbers of capable researchers of Indian origin in institutions outside India. He is optimistic about the young talent in the country. "We only need to identify and nurture them so that they blossom in-house rather than outside India."
There are many things that India can learn from China
Science historian Rajesh Kochhar says there are many things the Indian government can learn from China and incorporate them into its own political system. Kochar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research at Mohali and former director of NISTADS says, "India is more than content with being in the good books of the West."
"China in contrast wishes to challenge and eventually dethrone the West from its present position of eminence," he adds.