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More Chinese scientists in America are going back home
Returning researchers boost China’s scientific impact


A growing number of Chinese scientists working in the United States and other parts of the world are returning to their homeland, enhancing China’s research productivity.

越来越多在美国和世界其他国家工作的中国科学家正在返回祖国,而这一浪潮正不断提升中国的“科研生产率”(research productivity)。

In a new study, researchers found that more than 16,000 researchers have returned to China from other countries since that nation has opened up to international engagement. More than 4,500 left the United States for China in 2017 – nearly double the number who left in 2010.


These foreign-trained researchers are helping grow China into a scientific powerhouse, said Caroline Wagner, co-author of the study and associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.

该研究报告的合著者,俄亥俄州立大学(The Ohio State University)约翰·格伦公共事务学院(The John Glenn College of Public Affairs)副教授卡罗琳·瓦格纳(Caroline Wagner)指出,这些受过外国培训的科研人员,正在帮助中国成为一个最新科技成果的主要发源地。

“In our lifetime, China has joined the global scientific community to become world-class in a number of critical fields, such as AI and materials science,” Wagner said.
“As more of their researchers return home, that rise is going to continue.”


The study was published online this month in the journal Science and Public Policy.

该研究报告于本月(注:19年12月)发表在《科学与公共政策》杂志(Science and Public Policy,英国牛津的一个期刊)的网络版上。

For the study, the researchers made use of a scientific publisher’s (Elsevier) database that allowed them to track researchers based on their publications in scientific journals.


Overall, Wagner and her colleagues found that 12 percent of studies published by researchers in China were by those who had worked in other countries – and that is probably an underestimation, she said.


More importantly, those who worked abroad and returned to China published more high-impact research than scientists who didn’t work abroad, according to the study.


“Once they go home, those who worked elsewhere are more productive at the international level than people who stayed in China,” she said.


One reason for the success of the mobile researchers was that they published more studies with foreign-based collaborators. In previous research, Wagner has found that the more open a country is to cross-country scientific cooperation, the stronger its scientific impact.


That’s also one reason why China is fine with the fact that many of its scientists stay in the United States, Europe or elsewhere.
“Chinese leaders value the connections. It is a way to create lixages with the worldwide scientific community,” she said.


A variety of indicators suggest that China’s science and technology capabilities are on a sharply rising trajectory. For one, China’s spending on research and development as tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has increased faster than overall economic growth in the country.


And by one measure, China ranked second in the world in the number of papers published in indexed scientific journals in 2017.


Wagner said that returning scientists have helped build China’s scientific community, which in turns attracts more of the country’s scientists to come back home. But she said it is still in America’s best interest to try to retain as many of China’s best scholars as possible, and be welcoming to those who visit.


“The U.S. has retained its dynamism in science and technology because excellent scientists from other countries come here,” she said.
“If we lose that attraction, if we discourage people from coming here, it will take a toll on the U.S. scientific system.”