China tops India again

Bruce Einhorn

China’s science and engineering community has been distracted the past few months by a series of scandals involving accusations of fraud and plagiarism. But the incidents, however embarrassing, don’t seem to be slowing the rush of U.S. companies expanding their R&D operations in the country. For big multinationals, China’s low-cost talent pool, government support and huge market are what matter, and so companies are willing to invest in knowledge workers even with what could be a greater risk of wrongdoing. The latest example: last week Ruey Bin Kao, president of Motorola China, said that the U.S. telecom giant is adding another 1,000 R&D workers in China this year. (Here's the story from the Xinhua website.) In other words, by yearend Motorola will employ 50% more R&D staff in China than a year ago.

China’s progress is certainly making some people nervous. For some years now, many Indians have taken solace from the idea that China may be ahead in manufacturing, but can’t compare to India when it comes to R&D. Or, as Sunil Jain writes in India’s Business Standard, “Tradition has it that while China is the factory of the world, India is going to be the laboratory of the world.” But, Jain adds, a top science body in India, the Scientific Advisory Council, last week caused jitters among Indians after assessing a recent U.S. military report comparing the research output of scientists in China, India and other developing countries. Not only was India behind China in number of papers published, Jain notes, but far more Chinese research papers are landing in top Western journals. More worrisome still for the Indians – and encouraging for the Chinese – is the likelihood that the trend is going to continue: Jain writes that the World Bank’s “Knowledge Index,” a ranking that looks at a country’s scientific fundamentals including Internet and PC usage, patents, and IT adoption by local companies, also skews heavily toward China. In 1995 China scored 3.03 and now scores 4.21, he writes, but India has gone in the other direction, scoring 2.76 11 years ago and just 2.61 today. With scores like that, China can afford to suffer its share of embarrassing science scandals.

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