New Nature Index data shows China on top for natural sciences as US leads on health sciences research

For the second year running, China sees the largest increase in research output among top-ten countries. The Nature Index Annual Tables reveal the institutions that have helped China surpass the United States as the leading country in the natural sciences. 

The 2023 Nature Index Annual Tables examine the institutions and countries that contributed most to high-quality research published in 2022. The tables, released today, show that in the natural sciences China has moved above the United States to take the top spot. In the health sciences – included for the first time – the US is the leading nation. 

China has moved from second place to first for its overall contribution to research in the four natural sciences categories (physical sciences, chemistry, biological sciences**, and Earth and environmental sciences) covered by Nature Index, as measured by Share. With a 21.4% growth in adjusted Share compared with 2021, China had the largest increase among the top ten countries in the Annual Tables.

Share, Nature Index’s signature metric, measures contributions to research publications included in the database by taking account of the proportion of authors on an article with an affiliation at a particular location. Adjusted Share allows for a small annual variation in the total number of articles in the Nature Index.

China’s dominance in the natural-sciences categories is also apparent in the institutional tables:

  • Six of the ten leading institutions are Chinese – alongside two from the United States and one each from France and Germany, respectively
  • For the eleventh consecutive year since the Index was established, the Chinese Academy of Sciences leads with a Share of 2,054 in 2022. This is a distant lead over Harvard University, in second place with a Share of 813, and Germany’s Max Planck Society, in third place with a Share of 682
  • In Earth and environmental science, Sun Yat-sen University has seen growth of more than 50% in adjusted Share from 2021 to 2022
  • Fudan has seen a rise of 65% in Biological Sciences
  • And Chinese institutions make up 18 of the top 20 institutions in chemistry

Whilst China’s research output has taken the lead from the United States, the US is still a commanding presence in the tables. Both the US and China have 19 institutions among the leading 50 in the natural-sciences categories.

For the first time this year, the Nature Index database now includes articles from 64 medical journals so users can track trends in the health sciences*. Within this area, the United States has a sizable lead, with a Share of 5,352, which is more than four times the Share of China (1,287), in second place. 

  • Fifteen of the Top 20 institutions in the health-sciences category are from the United States
  • Harvard University leads with a share of 487, followed by the National Institutes of Health, in second place with a Share of 188
  • Only Canada, China, Sweden and the United Kingdom feature alongside US institutions in the Top 20

Commenting on this year’s Index, David Swinbanks, Founder of the Nature Index, said: “Trends in the Nature Index Annual Tables in recent years pointed to it being a matter of when, not if, China’s research investment saw them overtake the United States in the natural sciences. The size of their growth across 2021 to 2022 meant falls elsewhere were inevitable and we can see it across the other leading nations. China’s strength there however has not impacted health sciences, where the United States dominates the global field.

“Outside of China and the United States we are seeing a mixed global picture. We have seen significant drops in Latin American countries, with Brazil, Chile and Mexico all seeing large Share falls. There were also double-digit drops in adjusted Share for Australia, down 14%, Singapore, which fell by 15% and Russia, which dropped by 17%.”