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[BEIJING] China has tripled its research published in ileading international journals in the last decade, a study has found.

The study, conducted by Nature China last month (24 June), reviewed the number of mainland Chinese research papers published in five international journals — Cell, The Lancet, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Science — from 2000 to 2009.

It found that the average number of published papers per journal has risen from seven in 2000 to 25 in the first half of 2009. By June 2009, mainland Chinese scientists had published 81 papers in Nature and 59 in Science. Their lowest output was in NEJM, with a total of just five papers.

Felix Cheung, editor of Nature China, told SciDev.Net that a separate analysis of the website's Research Highlights — digests of best papers produced by researchers from China and Hong Kong — over 2007 and 2008 shows that most of the papers published were from chemistry and materials science.

A 2006 analysis of papers registered by Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) found that 37 per cent of China's high citation papers that year were chemistry-related.  

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is also popular, ranked fourth among Nature China's Research Highlights in 2008. Cheung told SciDev.Net that he believes TCM is popular because the Western community is increasingly interested in natural medicine and alternative therapy.

"There is still a huge gap between Western and Chinese medicine, and the research will help bridge the two cultures," he said. 

A study published by Thomson Reuters earlier this year ranked China fifth internationally — jumping from 1.5 per cent of the world share in 1988–1993 to 6.2 per cent in 1999–2008 — by the number of papers published in journals indexed in Web of Science, a resource providing access to the world's leading citation databases.

Cheung says that scientists acknowledge that the biggest weakness of Chinese science is that scientists focus more on quantity than quality. "We need to stop producing papers en masse and focus on innovation, ideas and world impact," he said.

He added that Chinese researchers need to increase their publication record in top international journals, given that the total number of primary research papers published across the five journals is around 3,000 per year — while the most optimistic estimate for China is around 50 papers in 2009.

Cheung told SciDev.Net: "In fields excluding chemistry, China is not as strong — but the country is catching up."