The US is no longer a "colossus of science" according to a new report looking into the country’s scientific output. Written by information-services provider Thomson Reuters, it says that although the US still holds a "commanding" lead in terms of its research impact, its forerunner status is being eroded. The report blames this on a rapid rise in scientific publishing from countries in Asia and Europe.

The report, released yesterday, notes that the Asia-Pacific region has now overtaken the US in terms of published papers and spending on research. In 2008 the US invested $384bn while Asian countries invested $387bn in total, and while researchers in the US published around 310,000 papers in 2009, over 330,000 were published by scientists in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the physical sciences, the report notes that investment in physics and engineering in the US has "taken a back seat" compared to the biological science at a time when countries in Asia are increasing their spending on research in the physical sciences. "In physics, the trend for the US in terms of world share is distinctly downward," says the report.

Materials decline

The report also warns that while some counties, such as the UK, have maintained their share of the world’s scientific output while faced with growing global competition that fraction in the US has fallen. Indeed, the report highlights research into materials science as one particular area of decline. In 1994 the US published nearly a third of all papers in materials research but this has now reduced to 15%, while China now publishes 23% of papers, and the 27 nations that make up the European Union (EU) publish around 30%.

"Considering the recent rapid acceleration of physics output in China the data in the report is no surprise," says Werner Marx, an information scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany. "Europe is already beginning to match the US’s performance in terms of citation impact and the question now is how rapidly countries in Asia will catch up".

However, it is not all gloomy news. The report says that the current state of scientific research in the US remains strong, with "excellent academic institutions that are a magnet for the best minds worldwide" and that the US provides "significant" funding in research and development, which stood at 2.8% of Gross Domestic Product in 2009.

The Thomson Reuters report into the impact of US research comes days after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization released its Science Report 2010. The report, which is published every five years, says that China is now "a hair's breadth" away from having more researchers than the US and the EU and that it now publishes more scientific articles than Japan.