Interview: China making "great strides" in improving research quality, says Nature chief editor

Source: Xinhua| 2019-09-11 21:45:04|Editor: xuxin
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by Zhang Jiawei

LONDON, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- Named as the new editor-in-chief of Nature in 2018, geneticist Magdalena Skipper is the first woman to head the science journal, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. As a scientist, she has witnessed China's dramatic progress in the world of science.

"China has indeed made great strides in improving the quality and integrity of its research," said Skipper in an interview with Xinhua.

At Nature, the quality of research is evaluated on a number of key attributes, including its influence on a specific field and the whole of science, potential impact on society as well as the robustness and integrity with which the work has been performed.

"All of these measures have improved when we look at research done in China. And so, for example, while in 1997 only 0.4 percent of the original research papers published by Nature had any Chinese authors, by 2017 that rate rose to approximately 15 percent," she said.

China is the world's second largest contributor to high-quality scientific research papers, according to the latest edition of Nature Index, which tracks contributions to articles published in 82 world-class natural science journals, including Nature.

"China's contribution to the world's research output has grown impressively over the past years. Importantly, China's contribution has not been limited to the number of publications. We have also seen an important increase in high quality output, both in terms of impact and influence of the research in question but also in terms of the rigor with which the work has been carried out," Skipper said.

In recent years, China's efforts to increase investment in the field of scientific research have led to significant projects. For instance, the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) was completed in 2016. It is by far the largest and the most sensitive radio telescope ever built. With such tools, scientists can search for birthplaces of new suns so they can better understand how stars and life substances are formed, among other scientific pursuits.

"China's rise in science has been enabled by its rapid economic growth and increased investment in research and development," said Skipper. "This is impressive and very few other governments come close to this level of support. I hope that China can maintain the momentum to continue to make important contributions to the world of research."

In some specific areas of science, Chinese institutions' growth in recent years has been significant. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is number one not just in chemistry by fractional count (FC), but in physical sciences and environmental sciences, according to the Nature Index.

"Based on past performance, China is set to continue to make very strong contributions in chemistry and material science. Within life sciences, China's contribution to understanding human biology, most notably the etiology of cancer, has been growing," said Skipper.

"For me, perhaps the most interesting area to watch will be environmental sciences. This area has only emerged as a focus more recently in China, but very clearly the impact of this type of research has key implications that extend well beyond China itself," she added.

As China maintains its rapid progress in science, the number of scientific collaboration projects between Chinese researchers and their international counterparts has also been increasing.

"International collaboration is becoming omnipresent in research. There is ample evidence to suggest that collaborative research, which brings diverse partners together, can make greater contributions and impact on the advancement of science and on society," said Skipper. "China's willingness to participate in such collaborations is important and will serve it well."