The Institutes of Science and Development of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CASISD), the National Science Library of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and Clarivate released a Research Fronts 2021 report on December 8 at a joint forum in Beijing. The report identifies the hottest emerging scientific research areas, and is the eighth annual collaborative report of the three agencies.

With a new round of scientific and technological (S&T) revolution and flourishing industrial change, global S&T innovation has entered an unprecedentedly intensive and active period. A new generation of information technology represented by the Internet, big data and artificial intelligence has injected new momentum into economic and social development and is profoundly changing the development pattern of today’s world.

“As the main force of national strategic S&T, CAS has always regarded fundamental research as its foundation. And S&T think tanks plays a vital role in how to scientifically understand changes, accurately adapt and actively seek changes in the major evolving situation,” said Gao Hongjun, Vice President of CAS.

In order to accurately grasp the future S&T direction and focus, CAS has launched major S&T think tank research projects such as Research and Judgment on China’s Major S&T Breakthroughs that May Influence the Future Global Pattern, widely organized research forces, prospectively analyzed China’s major cutting-edge S&T breakthroughs on the basis of the global S&T frontier and national major needs, and served the strategic layout of national scientific and technological innovation, according to Gao.

Research Fronts 2021 identifies 171 research fronts, including 110 hot and 61 emerging fronts in 11 broad research areas in sciences and social sciences. Research Fronts are formed when clusters of highly cited papers are frequently cited together, reflecting a specific commonality in the research — involving perhaps experimental data, a method, a concept, or a hypothesis. Around one third of the Research Fronts identified this year were related to COVID-19. These include six among the top 10 Research Fronts in clinical medicine and three among the top 10 in biological sciences. The research being produced in these areas is instrumental to the fight against the disease and will have enormous impact on the world.

The 2021 report starts with 12,147 Research Fronts in Essential Science Indicators (ESI) provided by Clarivate from 2015 to 2020 and aims to discover which of them were most active or are developing most rapidly. Scientists at CASISD analyzed the 171 Research Fronts in great depth and interpreted them to highlight 31 key Research Fronts and two key Research Fronts groups.

“The research fronts are not mature disciplines, but the fronts of discovery. Through the scientific methods of ‘Data + Methodological Tools + Comprehensive Analysis of Experts’, we can find emerging or hot frontier fields in research. It shows an overall picture of the world’s scientific development and reveals the contributions of research institutions and countries in science,” said Pan Jiaofeng, President of CASISD.

There are two driving forces for scientific development: one is the internal contradictions of the S&T knowledge system that lead to cutting-edge revolutionary directions; the other is the major issues and demands of human society which constantly provide new impetus to scientific research, raise new questions and promote science development. “It is of great significance and value for our continuous release of Research Fronts,” said Pan.

“This is an important report because its content guides us to look to the future of research. It also clarifies our vision of the way the world creates, protects and advances innovation,” said Steen Lomholt-Thomsen, Chief Revenue Officer of Clarivate. “We are proud to see that this report has achieved increasing influence in the past years — not only in China but also in other parts of the world.”

In conjunction with the Research Fronts 2021 report, the three agencies also published 2021 Research Fronts: Active Fields, Leading Countries, which examines and compares national performance across the 171 Research Fronts. It reveals that the US remains the leading nation for research in 11 areas of sciences and social sciences, followed by China. The gap between the US and China has been reduced. The UK, Germany and Italy rank third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Source: Institutes of Science and Development,

Chinese Academy of Sciences

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