China will be #1 publisher of scientific research in a few years

China could overtake the United States as the world’s dominant publisher of scientific research by 2013, according to an analysis of global trends in science by the Royal Society. The report highlighted the increasing challenge to the traditional superpowers of science from the world’s emerging economies and also identified emerging talent in countries not traditionally associated with a strong science base, including Iran, Tunisia and Turkey…

“The scientific world is changing and new players are fast appearing. Beyond the emergence of China, we see the rise of South-East Asian, Middle Eastern, North African and other nations,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, director of energy research at Oxford University and chair of the Royal Society’s study.

The increase in scientific research and collaboration, which can help us to find solutions to the global challenges we now face, is very welcome. However, no historically dominant nation can afford to rest on its laurels if it wants to retain the competitive economic advantage that being a scientific leader brings…”

Projecting beyond 2011, the Royal Society said that the landscape would change “dramatically”. “China has already overtaken the UK as the second leading producer of research publications, but some time before 2020 it is expected to surpass the US.” It said this could happen as soon as 2013.

China’s rise is the most impressive, but Brazil, India and South Korea are following fast behind and are set to surpass the output of France and Japan by the start of the next decade.

The quality of research is harder to measure, so the Royal Society used the number of times a research paper had been cited by other scientists in the years after publication as a proxy. By this yardstick, the US again stayed in the lead between the two periods 1999-2003 and 2004-2008, with 36% and 30% of citations respectively. The UK stayed in second place with 9% and 8% in the same periods. China’s citation count went from virtually nil to a 4% share.

The overall spread of scientific subjects under investigation has remained the same. “We had expected to see a shift to bio from engineering and physics [but] overall, the balance has remained remarkably stable,” said Llewellyn Smith. “In China, [the rise] seems to be in engineering subjects whereas, in Brazil, they’re getting into bio and agriculture…”

Llewellyn Smith welcomed the internationalisation of science. “Global issues, such as climate change, potential pandemics, bio-diversity, and food, water and energy security, need global approaches. These challenges are interdependent and interrelated, with complicated dynamics that are often overlooked by policies and programmes put in place to address them,” he said.

Of course, another significant difference in the rate of growth in science around the world will be how the home nation, people and politicians, accept the science as a national treasure – and allot a portion of direction and leadership to the scientific community.

The processes we witnessed in the growth of the Age of Reason in the UK and Europe will very likely serve as models parallel to this new age. Except in the United States.

Genius at work: 12-year-old is studying at Indiana/Purdue

When Jacob Barnett first learned about the Schrödinger equation for quantum mechanics, he could hardly contain himself. For three straight days, his little brain buzzed with mathematical functions.

From within his 12-year-old, mildly autistic mind, there gradually flowed long strings of pluses, minuses, funky letters and upside-down triangles — a tapestry of complicated symbols that few can understand.

He grabbed his pencil and filled every sheet of paper before grabbing a marker and filling up a dry erase board that hangs in his bedroom. With a single-minded obsession, he kept on, eventually marking up every window in the home…

Entirely normal for Jacob, a child prodigy who used to crunch his cereal while calculating the volume of the cereal box in his head…

Elementary school couldn’t keep Jacob interested. And courses at IUPUI have only served to awaken a sleeping giant.

Just a few weeks shy of his 13th birthday, Jake, as he’s often called, is starting to move beyond the level of what his professors can teach.

In fact, his work is so strong and his ideas so original that he’s being courted by a top-notch East Coast research center. IUPUI is interested in him moving from the classroom into a funded researcher’s position.

“We have told him that after this semester . . . enough of the book work. You are here to do some science,” said IUPUI physics Professor John Ross, who vows to help find some grant funding to support Jake and his work…

This is not what Jake’s parents expected from a child whose first few years were spent in silence.

“Oh my gosh, when he was 2, my fear was that he would never be in our world at all,” said Kristine Barnett, 36, Jake’s mother.

“He would not talk to anyone. He would not even look at us.”

RTFA. A delight. Not just for the tale of young Jacob; but, how his parents adapted and learned, experimented with freeing his latent abilities – sometimes regardless of the directions suggested by professional help more inclined to find the right box to put him into.

Great family story from all sides. And a young person I look forward to seeing in a larger picture someday.

Thanks, Mr. Fusion

“You can bet your ass I’m not going to be mean to Willie Nelson”

Willie Nelson’s latest pot bust could be settled for a song and $100, a west Texas prosecutor said.

“You can bet your ass I’m not going to be mean to Willie Nelson,” Hudspeth County Attorney C.R. “Kit” Bramblett told CNN Monday, confirming his plea recommendation.

Nelson, a treasured icon in the Lone Star state, was charged with marijuana possession after U.S. Border Patrol agents searched his tour bus on a Hudspeth County, Texas highway near the U.S.-Mexico border, about 85 miles southeast of El Paso last November.

No court date is set, but Bramblett said he would recommend a plea deal for Nelson that includes the legendary country artist singing his 1975 hit “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The courtroom performance would serve as his community service, he said…

Pot smoking on Nelson’s bus is no secret, Bramblett said. “They got a song out that says ‘I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again…'”

The final decision, though, will be in the hands of Judge Becky Dean-Walker, who seemed irritated by media reports Monday concerning the proposed plea deal. [She obviously thinks the War on Drugs means more to the world than Willie]

Bramblett joked that while Nelson was initially charged with possession of six ounces of pot, which would put the case out of his jurisdiction, he and the sheriff smoked or threw out enough to bring it into his jurisdiction.

I have to wonder if the plea bargain would have been the same for another darker-colored Texan – like, say, Lightning Hopkins?

Desperate ‘walk of shame’ revealed as publicity stunt

Xie Sanxiu, a poor migrant textile worker, was showered with money and sympathy after internet users heard how she had been forced to withdraw her daughter from Guangzhou Children’s Hospital because of a lack of funds.

The case became an online cause célèbre after a chat room user calling himself “Rich Son of Guangzhou” taunted the desperate mother, offering to pay her money for her daughter’s treatment for retinoblastoma, a form of eye-cancer, if she would humiliate herself…

“If you can kneel and crawl on the road for a thousand metres, I will immediately give you 20,000 yuan.”

Mrs Xie performed the shaming walk, with her sick child wrapped in a blanket in her arms, telling local journalists: “Regardless of wind or rain, I must go. As long as I can save my baby, I’m willing to do anything. I hope ‘Rich Son of Guangzhou’ you will honour your promise…”

Sympathy turned to anger, however, after investigations showed that “Rich Son of Guangzhou” didn’t really exist, but was an alias of Shi Jinquan, a content moderator for, one of China’s best-known discussion forums that had hosted the original plea for help from Mrs Xie.

Mr Shi was fired from his job for the subterfuge, after it emerged that he had coached Mrs Xie in how to reply to questions from media and public, and even advised her to start her ‘walk’ from outside the offices of the leading local newspaper.

The story has sparked an ethical debate in China about whether the online moderator’s noble ends justified his duplicitous means, but Mr Shi remained unrepentant. “You can say the means were not noble and people are angry, but I’m only trying to help,” he told state broadcaster China Central Television.

Mrs Xie said that she had gone along with the plan out of desperation after managing to raise just 400 yuan (£38) after months of begging for online donations…”I’m not a great mother, as the media reported. I’m just a poor mother, a mother who told lies. I was just trying to save my daughter.

The public reaction veered from anger at the deception, to equal anger that a mother should be driven to such lengths to get treatment for her child.

Most recent reports from China describe continued and growing support for Mrs. Xie – and contempt for Shi.

I think he should come to the West and get a job on Fleet Street or Madison Avenue. Lying, misleading is an honorable profession among the dishonorable.

That squeeze Sarkozy feels on his Left and Right ain’t a hug

The opposition Socialist Party comprehensively won French local elections on Sunday as the far-right National Front surged, between them pressuring President Nicolas Sarkozy a year before he faces the electorate.

With most votes counted in the second round of polls to elect ‘cantonal’ councils in half of France, the left had 49.9 percent against 35.9 percent for the ruling conservative UMP, according to Interior Ministry figures.

Socialist Party head Martine Aubry said she welcomed the results “with humility” given the low turnout and a strong showing for the anti-immigrant National Front.

The National Front, which has surged in opinion polls under new leader Marine Le Pen, scored 11 percent even though it put up candidates in only a minority of departments. In some areas it scored as much as 40 percent.

Despite a low turnout of around 46 percent, the polls will be seen as the last big test of sentiment before the April 2012 election, set to pit the unpopular Sarkozy against left-wing rivals growing in strength and a surging far right…

The prospect that Sarkozy might not even make it into a runoff has caused alarm and disarray in the UMP.

Anyone think the “ethics of Sarkozy’s UMP will prove different from their kissing cousins in the Republican Party? Their response to bigotry and racism will be to embrace the National Front with open arms.

Hugs and kisses all round for the 19th Century.

F.B.I. still operating under Ashcroft/Mukasey rules for snooping

Within months after the Bush administration relaxed limits on domestic-intelligence gathering in late 2008, the F.B.I. assessed thousands of people and groups in search of evidence that they might be criminals or terrorists, a newly disclosed Justice Department document shows.

In a vast majority of those cases, F.B.I. agents did not find suspicious information that could justify more intensive investigations. The New York Times obtained the data, which the F.B.I. had tried to keep secret, after filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act…

The statistics shed new light on the F.B.I.’s activities in the post-Sept. 11 era, as the bureau’s focus has shifted from investigating crimes to trying to detect and disrupt potential criminal and terrorist activity.

It is not clear, though, whether any charges resulted from the inquiries. And because the F.B.I. provided no comparable figures for a period before the rules change, it is impossible to determine whether the numbers represent an increase in investigations.

Still, privacy advocates contend that the large number of assessments that turned up no sign of wrongdoing show that the rules adopted by the Bush administration have created too low a threshold for starting an inquiry. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has left those rules in place.

Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the volume of fruitless assessments showed that the Obama administration should tighten the rules.

“These are investigations against completely innocent people that are now bound up within the F.B.I.’s intelligence system forever,” Mr. German said. “Is that the best way for the F.B.I. to use its resources?”

RTFA for the sort of details we have come to expect from our government – whether that government is Republican or Democrat. Padding out the spy bureaucracy may enable bigger budgets; but, I doubt if there is any bona fide proof of increased security or safety.

If anything, diminishing capacity of terror organizations around the world is doing more to protect American citizens than FBI agents responding to anonymous phone calls about someone secretly wearing a turban in his bathroom at night.