July 10, 2005
Research Spending In China Places It In Third Place In World

Spending on R&D in China is rapidly rising.

Fewer Americans are earning doctoral degrees in science and engineering, 25,509 in 2001 (the last year for which comparative figures are available), versus 27,243 in 1996. And American governmental spending on R&D in the physical sciences, math and engineering has slipped from 0.25 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1970 to 0.16 percent in 2003, according to the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA). Meanwhile, China is steaming in the opposite direction. China nearly doubled its output of science and engineering Ph.D.s between 1996 and 2001, to 8,153. And in the six years between 1997 and 2002, national and local governmental spending on research in China doubled, to approximately $9.9 billion. On top of that, multinational corporations have been racing to set up research centers in the country and China's own industrial titans are now plunging into R&D, realizing they have to have their own technology to compete in global markets.

Combined private and public spending on R&D in China as a percentage of GDP has grown from 0.6 percent in 1996 to 1.29 percent in 2002. This is still far below the roughly 2.7 percent of GDP spent in the U.S. But it still positions China as the world's third-largest investor in R&D, after the U.S. and Japan, when measured in purchasing-power parity dollars, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Chinese universities are producing as many scientists and engineers as American universities.

A large part of China's growing success rests on a burgeoning and well-trained scientific workforce. The country produced 337,000 science and engineering graduates with bachelor's degrees in 2001, a figure that approaches the 398,000 produced in the U.S. Given that reliable statistics are several years old, it's possible that China is already producing more science and engineering bachelor's graduates than the U.S.

China's population is about four and a half times larger than the United States. The Chinese score above the US average on IQ tests. At the same time demographic trends in the United States show that the US is not going to be able to compete by building a smarter population. If the United States shifted its immigration policy totally toward brain draining the rest of the world and if it ended all immigration below some IQ threshold (say 125 or 130 perhaps) then the US might be able to retain its lead in brain work. But US policy makers are living in a fantasy land where demographics do not matter and US educational problems can be fixed with more money. It is a nice fantasy. But unfortunately reality bears little relation to that fantasy. Until policy makers and intellectuals admit that genetic differences cause most large IQ differences immigration policy will work against national science and technology strategy.

The big wild card down the line in two or three decades time is offspring genetic engineering. Will China or the United States more rapidly embrace genetic engineering for IQ enhancement? The Chinese, being more pragmatic and less religious, might be expected to embrace IQ enhancement more quickly. However, a high IQ population will pose a serious threat to the stability of China's non-democratic government. The leaders might decide that an IQ-boosted population will become impossible to rule autocratically and hence the leaders might block offspring genetic engineering. Or then again, they might embrace the technology and systematically require offspring genetic engineering for cognitive enhancement. Any guesses? I don't know the answer on this one.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 July 10 01:40 PM  Policy Science

Jay Oatway said at July 11, 2005 12:27 AM:

It's not a low-IQ population keeping the Chinese Gov't in power any more than it's a low-IQ population keeping the American Gov't in power.

The race, however, is on, whether the U.S. knows it or not. Anything China can do before the Americans, they will. National pride is very strong in China. Their sense of competitiveness has never been stronger. Their capitalism burns with desire for more consumer goods--proudly, Made in China. It makes American patriotism seem weak. The people love their country regardless of how the gov't comes to poer. Just look how the Chinese protested Japanese schoolbooks for glossing over War Crimes. The China I know wants to be number 1, even if that mean letting the Aristocrats run things. Perhaps the same is true for most well-running countries.

I'm sure that whatever China does to gain the upperhand, the rest of the world will scream, "No fair!" Just as they have over recent lifting of textile quotas. Just as they are about the RMB currency peg.

Patrick said at July 11, 2005 1:24 AM:

Discussing Chinese industry with Chinese manufacturers on the weekend, and they were running as hard as they could to go upmarket and high tech. And they were running SCARED. Scared of what? Of the Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Vietnamese, who are starting to make goods at prices the Highly paid (!) chinese couldn't match.

Strangely, India wasn't such a threat. The heavy over-regulation of Indian industry means it can't match the startup economies in the "Lesser-Indias" that surround it. If I were the Chinese, I'd be channelling money to the election campaigns of protectionist, more regulation, Indian politicians, but that's getting off the point.

Anyway, I'm convinced China is trying to go the way of Singapore, the only real 1st world country that still has a dictatorship. It did this with a largely Chinese culture, and so is a real role model they can follow.

Singapore is quite open about subsidising the reproduction of those with Uni-degrees and high IQs. And trouble makers are.... given scholarships to Australia and the USA. By they time they come back they have gotten married and settled down and are ready for a child-payment or too. Or if they really don't suit the Singapore society, then they propably are happier staying overseas, and Singapore government is happy to see them go.

Kurt said at July 12, 2005 8:58 AM:

This is all good. Maybe I can sell more of my scientific instruments into China.

Eric Boyd said at July 12, 2005 10:44 PM:

I just saw a big article about Eugenics and China, good timing:

Eugenic Theory & Praxis In China

My blog on it:


remo wiliams said at July 13, 2005 3:08 AM:

There is no reason to think the Chinese will out-think US. If anything, they wil lag in nanotech and bio-tech enhancements, but I doubt the lagtime will be large enough to be meanngful. Technology diffues around the world faster each decade. By the time serious brain enhancements are available (2015 -2030??) the rate of diffusion will be very quick.

CS said at July 13, 2005 9:33 AM:

1. Humans take a lot longer to mature than Drosophila, and a clinical trial to catch unexpected side effects would take decades. Without knowing whether a modification to the development process will cause neurological diseases and insanity how many parents would take that risk? Would the PRC make an untested process mandatory and risk being blamed for tens of millions of deaths in a few years? If people refuse to use an untested process on their children then it will take 40 years for the first large cohort of engineered citizens to enter the workforce (less if trials last only a few years.

2. Gene therapy can be tested in standard clinical trials and applied immediately to enhance IQ among (educated) adults. Further, during the time it takes for an engineered child to grow into an adult gene therapy will advance by 20 years and probably render the kid's modifications obsolete.

3. Artificial intelligence may have already displaced humans in scientific research by the time the enhanced children mature.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2005 10:35 AM:


1) The risks of offspring genetic engineering will not be as great when using existing known genetic variations that already exist in the human race. Within 5 to 10 years cheap DNA sequencing technologies will allow a massive comparison between humans for the DNA sequences and combined with measures of cognitive ability that will lead to the identification of all the genetic variations that contribute to differences in cognitive ability.
I also expect cheap DNA sequencing to lead women to use sperm bank sperm that is tested being genetically ideal for what they want in their offspring. So without tinkering with embryo DNA desired offspring genetic variations could be selected for.

2) Adult IQ enhancement is not as easy as you make it sound. First off, skull size is a limiting factor, Second, lots of neurons already exist. New neurons that are genetically enhanced can be introduced via genetically engineered stem cells. But that runs the risk of making a brain where some neurons are faster than others and imbalances might result.

3) Just how hard will AI be to achieve? Once it is achieved will we quickly reach the "singularity" point beyond which predictions become impossible?

CS said at July 13, 2005 11:44 AM:

1. Yes, copying traits from the existing human gene pool will greatly reduce the risks of dangerous interactions, but it also limits the potential for improvement to the existing human range. Radical gene therapy might involve adding new proteins or using tailored viruses to alter existing cells. Such interventions are much more complex than sperm selection or gene splicing, but are they fully twenty years further into the future?

2. I certainly don't think that developing such technology will be *easy* but with many years to work with, and the computing power to accurately simulate protein folding and reactions in the cells, I find it hard to believe that massive adult intelligence enhancement will not occur. If such enhancement is additive with germline engineering then the latter will still have an effect, I don't think that it would be *easy,* but twenty years is an enormous amount of time for biotechnology to advance. Even gross anatomical features could be altered over two decades: surgical enlargement of the skull (perhaps done while installing a prosthetic one designed to protect against concussion) or the addition of new gray matter.

3. "Artificial intelligences take over scientific research" does translate into a Singularity, which sets a limit on the period in which germline engineering could have a substantial impact on the world. If the technology is widely applied with great success in 5 years, then the resulting offspring will start to enter serious scientific research around 2030. That gives enough time for quite a few iterations of Moore's Law. At the same time the robotics industry, which has been taking off as increased computing power makes useful robots affordable, will provide strong incentives for research into each marginal advance in artificial intelligence software. If human-equivalent AI has not been developed by that point it should be close. Unless the offspring of germline alteration have a major advantage over existing high-intelligence people taking smart drugs and the like (which would be true if the germline and somatic interventions had cumulative effects), they may not have time to change the world.

Flag said at July 13, 2005 7:37 PM:

By they time they come back they have gotten married and settled down and are ready for a child-payment or too. Or if they really don't suit the Singapore society, then they propably are happier staying overseas, and Singapore government is happy to see them go.

Sam said at July 14, 2005 10:50 PM:


All this talk about gene manipulation/screening reminds me of one spooky and worrying movie. Gattaca. Do we really want to live in a world like this? AI... need i mention the countless movies. However i personally think this eventuality is a long way off.

Josh said at July 15, 2005 9:21 AM:

Why should I care? If Chinese companies become world leader in producing certain technological goods and services, I'll just produce something else. Doesn't mean I have to be a migrant farmer or anything. Seriously, just becasue their are politcal boundries drawn, why should I care if it's Chinese that are making the world a richer place?

Randall Parker said at July 15, 2005 10:42 AM:


Why should you care if a non-democratic authoritarian dictatorship becomes the most powerful government in the world? Why should you care if the United States tries to stop nuclear proliferation but China supplies the needed technology or protects the proliferators thru aid and support on the UN Security Council?

What, me worry? As long as markets keep getting bigger it is sunshine from now on.

Sam said at July 15, 2005 6:42 PM:

I was first going to reply to this by saying, if western nations stopped wasting money on fruitless expeditions like the Iraq and Afganistan invations, then governments would have more money to invest in R&D. But then i thought about it and realised that the US doesn't spend billions of dollars to

1. Stop a petty WMD program that were never there in the first place.
2. 'Free' the Iraqi population from the 'EVIL' dictatorship of Saddam.
3. Fight the war against terror in Iraq rather then on home turf.

These reasons (excuses rather) are written chronologically by the way. Do any of these reasons outway the obvious foothold on petroleum reserves, in Iraq, that the US will have a stake on when oil reserves start to diminish globaly? Rest assured that the government of the US isn't in Iraq for fruitless purposes. They have a clear goal that has the future of the US firmly in mind. After all, now and in the foreseeable future, economic growth is majorly dependant on the availability of cheap fuel for consumers.

Randall Parker said at July 15, 2005 7:04 PM:


You give the US government's strategic thinkers more credit than they deserve. If energy was the goal for the Iraq debacle then there are much cheaper ways to get it than to invade Iraq. For the cost of invading Iraq we could build a couple hundred nuclear reactors and fund tons of photovoltaics and battery research. We could retrofit large numbers of buildings with energy savings technologies. War is a cost ineffective way to get energy for a country as wealthy and technologically advanced as the United States.

I think Iraq was invaded in part because the neocons incorrectly thought that doing so would help the security of Israel, in part because Bush Jr wanted to show Bush Sr how to be a real man on the international scene, and in part because Bush really believes that democracy can be spread in the Middle East. I happen to think that liberal democracy isn't going to work in the Middle East for several reasons including Islam, consanguineous marriage, Arab culture, lower IQs, and several other factors. But Bush has swallowed conventional liberal multicultural wisdom about how all cultures and peoples are pretty much the same. So he's a fool.

Anthony Lux said at July 18, 2005 6:28 PM:

Randall, your response to Josh reveals an understanding of the situation that I deeply wish more people in politics would recognize. Yes, China seems to be a reasonably good trading partner at the moment, in that they are a great untapped market for U.S. products and services, and they can provide us with other products and services at marvelously low cost. However, we must not ignore the fact that we have before us a rapidly growing militaristic dictatorship that has openly expressed its hatred (or at least contempt) for our nation.

Our policy makers are hoping the uncontrollable chaos of a free market will override the iron-fist of a surprisingly successful regime. It is a dangerous gamble.

Jay Oatway said at July 20, 2005 8:16 AM:

A rapidly growing militaristic dictatorship that has openly expressed its hatred (or at least contempt) for our nation? Huh?!

What China are you talking about? The China I live next door to wants to be known as the friendliest neighbour in the world. China loves America--or at least American consumers. The capitalist way is the Chinese way. China wants business not war, and this has nothing to do with US trade policy--the Chinese do lots of business with other countries too, you know. It's like you've gleaned your understanding of the current situation from a 15-year-old CIA World Fact Book.

You've got it all backwards: the real militaristic authoritarians are Washington's Neo-Conservative Republicans. But you're right that they are making dangerous gambles, but not about what you think.

crush41 said at July 20, 2005 2:23 PM:


No, they speak with enmity bordering on insanity.

"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition onto the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," Maj Gen Zhu told an official briefing for foreign reporters... "We will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."

This does not reassure one that China loves America.

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