“Global society operates as a network of creativity and innovation.”–John Sexton, writing in Scientific American.

In the October 2012 issue, we publish our Global Science Scorecard, a ranking of nations on how well they do science—not only on the quality and quantity of basic research but also on their ability to project that research into the real world, where it can affect people’s lives.

The United States comes out on top, by a wide margin, followed by Germany, China, Japan, the U.K., France, Canada, South Korea, Italy and Spain. (More about our methods below.)

In the accompanying issue, we explain some of the more salient trends behind the globalization of science and what it means. Why, for instance, does Germany still make things? While the U.S. and other developed nations lose manufacturing to countries with lower labor costs, Germany has managed to keep a high-tech edge through a close partnership between government, academia and industry. We take a close look at China’s rise to world-class research status, which shows that the Middle Kingdom still has to figure out how to raise the bar not just at the very best labs but throughout all its universities.

We also look at the factors behind the success of the U.S. and the challenges of staying on top. One of the reasons scientists in the U.S. do top-flight work, argues Paula Stephan of Georgia State University, is that the best are better paid–in other words, income disparity in science is not all bad. And Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, gives us his bold plan for raising scientific literacy: reinvent the way science is taught.

“There is a massive collaboration going on in science,” says Paul Nurse, former Rockefellar University president and now head of the British Royal Society, in a Q&A. “Science is a catalyst that can break down the gulf between nations.”

Our ranking drew heavily on preliminary data from Digital Science, a sister company to Nature Publishing Group (which publishes Scientific American). Digital Science has assembled a database of research papers published in top peer-reviewed journals around the world and has organized them by nation of origin.

That tells you much about how much raw science a nation produces, but it doesn’t tell you much about whether a nation is taking advantage of those good ideas. For this, other metrics come into play. The output of graduates trained in the sciences is an important indicator of how substantial, and sustainable, a research program is. For that, the OECD gathers data on the number of new doctorate graduates. What industry spends is also a factor, which OECD data on R&D expenditure captures. And patents issued (available from the U.S. Patent Office) give you a rough idea how well a nation turns science into technology.