Good going, America. China is about to surpass the US as the world's leader in science.

Good going, America. China is about to surpass the US as the world's leader in science.
A hospital staff member teaches primary school children about the structure of the eye in China's northern Hebei province.
Source: STR/Getty Images
A hospital staff member teaches primary school children about the structure of the eye in China's northern Hebei province.
Source: STR/Getty Images

The United States is still well-known for its contributions to science, but it needs to make room at the top for other rising stars like China, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan argue that "American dominance is slowly shrinking." It's a conclusion they came to after analyzing 15 years of original papers published in six "top-tier" and four "mid-tier" scientific journals for biomedical research.

From 2000 to 2015, the U.S. was ranked No. 1 for biomedical research discoveries, but that may not be the case for long. After years of research investments, China has risen to fourth place.

Chinese lab technicians study mosquitoes with the hope of improving treatment of Zika virus.
Source: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

"It provides a clear example of a country that has made significant investments in research," Bishr Omary, professor of physiology and medicine at the University of Michigan, said in a phone interview. "The effect of that is that their scientists have been able to publish outstanding studies."

Here's why that matters

Basically, as the U.S. slows down, China has been speeding up — and scientists are wondering whether Americans will end up getting lapped. The study suggests the U.S. has shown a steady decline of biomedical studies published in high-ranking journals between 2000 and 2005, while China's output has steadily increased.

This news comes just after the Trump administration proposed major cuts to medical research. Under the new proposal, the overall budget for the National Institutes of Health would be reduced from $31.8 billion to $26 billion. In general, the U.S. has been making cuts to medical research for over a decade.

"It's hard to put dollar values on this. These things are priceless."

"Every year, it's basically a fight to try to squeeze more funds, and the uncertainty from year to year is also a problem," Omary said. "The question of [support] ends up being a political question rather than a societal one."

It's obvious why biomedical research matters — it's essentially humanity's search for a better, higher-quality life for the future. This latest bit of research shows China seems to understand that, but the U.S. could be losing sight.

"One downstream product of this [for China] is that great things will happen in terms of discoveries — you know, cures for disease and understanding how we can be more healthy," Omary said. "It's hard to put dollar values on this. These things are priceless."