Research in Asia, and particularly in China, is catching up with the traditional hotbeds of science. The next step towards a more even geographical distribution of research will be a higher proportion of top-level publications led by scientists at Chinese labs.
As one of the largest growth markets in the global economy, China has become the focus of business enterprises from around the world. In parallel with the rise in economic activity, the country's scientific output has surged. Papers from researchers based in China — once largely confined to Chinese-language publications — are making a significant, and ever-rising, contribution on the international stage1. The Earth sciences are no exception.
On a visit to research institutions in China, our solid-Earth editor Amy Whitchurch met a well-funded community of geoscientists, eager to focus their energies on problems of broad relevance and to publish in high-impact journals. Increasingly, they are succeeding: the number of articles in high-quality Earth science journals co-authored by researchers affiliated with Chinese institutions has risen disporportionally. At Nature Geoscience, we see the same trend.
One strong focus of Chinese solid-Earth researchers lies with a better understanding of their country's most devastating natural disaster of the past few years, the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (Fig. 1). The quake of magnitude 7.9, centred where the mountain range of the Longmen Shan meets the Sichuan basin, killed tens of thousands of people and left millions homeless. Research that is broadly related to the disaster includes investigations into the geological structure of the Longmen Shan and the mechanics of fault slip, as well as studies aiming to understand and control the ongoing landslide hazard in the region following the shake-up. So far, study of the quake from all angles has generated almost a thousand research articles, the majority of which include authors in China.
Among the ten top-cited articles on the Wenchuan earthquake (according to Thomson Reuters' Web of Science), seven are led by researchers with a Chinese affiliation. However, at least for Nature Geoscience, the rise in publications with a lead author based in China lags behind the rise in papers with Chinese affiliations somewhere further down the author list. Science is increasingly collaborative, and close links between researchers in different countries — such as China and the US — are often fruitful2. But to be seen as research partners on a par with Europe and the US, Chinese institutions must work towards taking the lead in the most relevant research more often.
At Nature Geoscience, we are doing our best to make language as small a barrier as possible for any of our authors who are not native English speakers. As long as it is clear what has been done, what the conclusions are, and why those conclusions matter, we will always consider submissions for their scientific value alone, and disregard any language imperfections. Language details are taken care of once the science has been evaluated and approved. The only barriers to publication in Nature Geoscience are the relevance and quality of a piece of research.
There is no shortage of ambitious projects in the Earth and planetary sciences in China. Since 2009, the country has maintained a presence at Antarctica's Dome A, the region thought to host the Earth's oldest ice3 — and one of the least hospitable places on our planet. China has also been exploring the deep ocean using submersibles, and is becoming more and more active in space. One example is the planned launch of a Moon lander, Chang'e 3, in 2013, following two earlier orbiter missions in 2007 and 2010.
Throughout history, exploration of the edges of the human sphere has been linked to geopolitical and economic interests. China's activities in Antarctica, the deep ocean and space follow on in this regard from the efforts of other nations since the early twentieth century4,5. Nevertheless, the country's efforts at pushing scientific boundaries offer a unique chance to learn more about both Earth and space.
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