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Japan falls to 10th place in global influential scientific publication rankings

In this file photo, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japan ranked a record worst 10th place in the number of influential natural science academic papers published around the world between 2017 and 2019, the education ministry's National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) announced on Aug. 10.

    China, meanwhile, came on top of the ranking for the first time, surpassing the United States, according to NISTEP's analysis.

    Papers in the analysis were deemed to be influential if they were among the top 10% in terms of how many citations they had received in other research articles.

    The institute under Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology studied academic papers published worldwide from 2017 to 2019 and calculated an annual average for each country. When a paper is coauthored by multiple researchers from different countries, the institute uses fractions to indicate contributions by each nation.

    For the total number of academic papers, China ranked top for the second straight year with 353,174, followed by the U.S. with 285,717 and Germany with 68,091. Japan remained in fourth place with 65,742 research papers.

    For the number of academic papers in terms of citation in the top 10% of each area of study, meanwhile, China produced 40,219 works. The U.S. came in second with 37,124, followed by the U.K. with 8,687 and Germany with 7,248. Japan-based scientists were responsible for 3,787 papers in the top 10% most cited publications, falling one place from the previous period (an average between 2016 and 2018) to 10th, just behind India.

    The U.S. maintained its dominance among the top 1% most cited works, followed by China. Japan's ranking remained unchanged from the previous period at ninth place.

    The more a paper is cited it can be said the higher the work's profile, and such papers are received as influential in scientific development. While Japan has taken a downward path in the ranking from the mid-2000s, China has increased its influence around the same period.

    Masatsura Igami, director of NISTEP's Center for Science and Technology Foresight and Indicators, sees China's surge largely affected by an increase in the number of researchers and research funding, while saying that the less time spent on research among university lecturers in Japan has led to the country's struggling figures in academic papers.

    While critics have pointed out the negative effects of the Japanese government's policy of selecting certain areas of study and concentrating public funding in them, Igami told the Mainichi Shimbun that further analysis is necessary to properly assess its effect.

    Based on the number of academic papers, the NISTEP also looked into the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on research activities. While the provisional number of papers published worldwide in 2020 increased from the previous year, the rate of increase in the eight main research fields, except for clinical medicine and fundamental life science, dropped. This is possibly due to the effect of the pandemic, including researchers not being able to use their labs, but NISTEP's Igami said the impact of the pandemic "could really show up in statistics in 2021 or later as there's a time lag between research activities and when papers are published."

    (Japanese original by Shimpei Torii, Science and Environment News Department)

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