Science’s Seismic Shift Towards Asia

AsianScientist (Jan. 27, 2021) – “The Asian century is set to begin,” ran a 2019 headline in The Financial Times, in anticipation of a major inflection point in the global economy. For the first time since the 19th century, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world, Asia’s economic output will likely be bigger than the rest of the world combined.

It seems likely that historians will remember the last two hundred years as a blip in human history, a brief period when the West, thanks largely to the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution alongside colonial enterprises, was in the economic ascendancy.

Asia’s re-emergence as a manufacturing powerhouse in the twentieth century, first with Japan and South Korea in the post-war period and more recently with China and India, has underpinned much of the region’s growth. Today the region’s most advanced cities, including Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Singapore, are service- and knowledge-economies at the leading edge of global innovation networks.

Many countries in Asia boast a supportive sociocultural environment for the hard sciences alongside significant government investments in the sector. Innovations such as the discovery of artemisinin to treat malaria and the creation of the lithium-ion battery have established Asia’s leading scientists today as fundamental to the progress of humanity.

Perhaps the region’s allure to scientists today is in its sheer diversity, in the fact that Asia’s futuristic societies and customs often exist alongside archaic ones.

Consider demographic change. Asia’s population quadrupled in the 20th century and stands today at over 4.5 billion people, or some 60 percent of the world’s total. It is projected to be 250 million bigger by 2030. By then, Asia will paradoxically be both young and old. As a region, it will account for over half of the world’s 15–24-year-olds and in India, it will have one of its youngest countries; all alongside significantly aging populations in places such as China, Japan and Thailand.

An increasing share of Asians are living not just in cities, but in megacities. Asia is home to roughly half of the world’s middle class. While the prevalence of first-world diseases like diabetes is rising dramatically, Asia also has almost half a billion people who are undernourished, representing well over half of the global total.

Asian researchers therefore strive to balance tradition with modernity in a region where some of the world’s richest and most advanced healthcare systems (e.g., Singapore) sit alongside some of its poorest and least mature (e.g., Laos).

Or take environmental protection. Asia’s unprecedented recent population expansion, income growth and urbanization have collectively placed unique stresses on the region’s agricultural and environmental backbone. Smoggy cities, polluted rivers and farms festering with infectious disease are the all too familiar blots on the Asian ‘miracle.’

Yet faced with this grim reality, countries in Asia have quickly also become global environmental leaders, for instance with solar energy production in China or electric vehicle adoption in Japan.

Asia is exciting today precisely because of its numerous contradictions and challenges.

In the infographic below, take a glimpse at Asia’s leading scientists previously honored on the Asian Scientist 100.

From the picture they collectively paint, it is clear that both the world’s economic and scientific centers of gravity are shifting towards Asia—where, given current demographic and economic projections, they will probably long remain.

Dive deeper into Asia’s scientific landscape by downloading our recently-released white paper, Five Years Of The Asian Scientist 100, here.

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Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


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