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Research Funding

Scientists’ work impacted by NIH probe

US researchers with China collaborations saw fewer publications and citations compared with others

by Andrea Widener
April 21, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 14


US scientists who collaborated with colleagues in China published fewer papers overall and saw them cited less often after the US government’s investigations into China’s influence on academia, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (2022, DOI: 10.3386/w29941) that has not been peer-reviewed.

Social scientists at the University of California San Diego assessed papers published from 2010 to 2020 cataloged by PubMed. They analyzed work from 32,056 US-based scientists who collaborated with Chinese scientists and from a control of 70,746 who worked with scientists in other countries.

Collaboration by field
Chemistry papers are among those most likely to show US-China collaboration, according to an analysis of 2010–20 publications cataloged in PubMed. Shown are selected chemistry-related fields, not all fields.
Bar chart with percent of papers showing US-China collaboration.
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, "The Impact of U.S.-China Tensions on U.S. Science," April 2022.

In particular, they looked at publications before and after 2018, which was the first year of the US Department of Justice’s China Initiative and the year the National Institutes of Health began sending letters to universities asking them to investigate hundreds of grant recipients, primarily those with Chinese collaborations.

China has been US scientists’ top international collaborator on PubMed publications since 2013, but its lead began to decrease in 2019, the analysis shows. Scientists with Chinese collaborations published 1.9% fewer papers and were cited 7.2% less in 2019–20 than in 2010–18. The control group saw no such declines.

The number of papers from scientists who had collaborated with colleagues in China declined across US institutions, which suggests “a broad phenomenon,” the researchers write in the paper. Scientists with Asian names and those with NIH funding were most affected.

An analysis of the data by field found that those with the most NIH funding and the highest number of US-China collaborations were most affected. They include materials engineering, physical chemistry, and several other chemistry-related fields. The authors say those fields also “experienced slower growth in scientific output than fields that are less affected.”



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