India's top researcher worries about China

Bruce Einhorn

Some Asiatech readers say I’m anti-India because I have written (here and here) about how India trails China in the race to become a leader in science and technology. I guess that makes Indian science czar R.A. Mashelkar anti-India, too. Dr. Mashelkar is the outgoing director-general of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, India’s premier research institute. Yesterday, at a ceremony in New Delhi honoring young Indian scientists, Dr. Mashelkar acknowledged that yes, the two countries are indeed competing against one another and that yes, in the race against China to become a global player in research, India is not doing so well. Here’s The Hindu newspaper, quoting Dr. Mashelkar: "'China is winning hands down the competition with India,' he said, noting that in the past 10 years the number of research papers produced in India had increased from 11,000 to 19,000, but in China they had gone up exponentially from 10,000 to 55,000.”

Numbers of course don’t tell the whole story. Surely some of the Chinese papers are mediocre and some of the Indian ones are top-notch. And China’s scientists and researchers have suffered this year from a series of scandals related to allegations of fraud and misconduct. (See, for instance, this BW story from earlier this year.) Moreover, by some measures India does just fine. Many Indians are rightly proud of what the country’s IT and pharma industry has accomplished, and China doesn’t have world-class companies that can rival Indian leaders like TCS and Ranbaxy. But as Dr. Mashelkar admits, when the gap between India’s research output and China’s gets so large, there’s reason for Indians to be worried.