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China; A Technological Backwater No Longer September 13, 2021

Posted by geoff in News.
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I think it was around 10 years ago that I attended a blogger meetup in Denver. Ace was there, as was NiceDeb (Deb Heine) and our own Cathy. Was sipping on a pint with the three of them, minding my own business in my shy and retiring way, when NiceDeb points at me and says (in quite a mocking tone of voice, mind you), “And you! You’re all about China!”

I don’t know if I was all about China, but I was certainly a lot about China. One point I made at that table, having set down my pint to form a hasty defense, was that in my field (heat transfer & fluid flow), technical journals which 10 years prior had 90%+ of the articles written in the US, now had fewer than 50%. And China was now one of the big sources of those articles.

Now the draft of a report commissioned by the Department of Energy confirms what I saw then has continued with a vengeance:

In all cases studied, the analysis of the top 20% of cited literature clearly showed that the U.S. is losing ground to foreign competitors and, in some cases, is already lagging behind (see Figure 1 on page 16). The U.S.’s relative position improves when analyzing top 5% cited literature (see Appendix), but qualitative trend remains similar. In the emerging area of Quantum Information Science, for example, the EU is clearly leading, with China and the U.S. close behind. In other areas studied China is emerging as a worldwide leader. The changes in leadership in these areas correspond to a period of rapid increase in research investment in China and a flattening in the research funding in the U.S., suggesting that investment in key areas has a significant impact on leadership.

What they’re talking about is research in leading areas of Basic Energy Science, which are pretty good areas (table screencapped from the report):

So what’s the point? The point is that China is now leading the EU and the US in many of these cutting-edge technologies, and is pretty much tied if it’s not leading. Given their rapid progress (and penchant for helping themselves to other people’s work) in another 10 years it’s likely that we’ll be trailing them by quite a large margin. And it’s not just these energy areas – Instapundit is constantly pointing out how aggressive China is getting in the Space Race.

The United States has had several things going for it that ensured its position as the world’s superpower. They were:

  • Large economy
  • Dollar standard
  • Technological leadership
  • Foremost military
  • A culture where entrepreneurship can thrive

All of those are being threatened today. Saddled with massive debt, a ridiculously inept educational system, and a corrupted value system which elevates social justice to the pinnacle in society, . . . I don’t see how we turn this around.

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