A survey of scientists in China has found that a large majority of them use Google in their research and their work would be hampered if the search engine left the country.

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A Chinese Google user lays flowers outside Google China headquarters in Beijing in January. ((Vincent Thian/Associated Press))

The journal Nature surveyed 784 Chinese researchers and found that more than three-quarters of them use Google as their primary search engine.

More than 80 per cent of the survey's respondents said they use Google to find academic papers and more than half of them use the Google Scholar tool to search scientific literature.

David Bousfield, a London-based information and publishing consultant, told Nature that the findings are typical of scientists working in most countries in the world.

"Google and Google Scholar have become indispensable tools for scientists," Bousfield said.

A large majority of the scientists, 84 per cent, said losing Google in China would somewhat or significantly hamper their research.

Nearly 80 per cent said losing Google would somewhat or significantly impact their ability to collaborate with scientists elsewhere in the world.

"Research without Google would be like life without electricity," Xiong Zhenqin, an ecologist at Nanjing Agricultural University, told Nature.

Threatened to leave China

China has the world's largest internet population — 382 million people — but government filters, commonly known as the Great Firewall of China, block sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Google.com is not available to most Chinese people on the internet, but the search engine operates another search engine, Google.cn, that it voluntarily filters.

Google has said it will stop censoring its search results on Google.cn, set up in 2005, and has threatened to pull its business out of China altogether.

Google is the No. 2 search engine in China, behind Baidu.com, which has 60 per cent of the market there.

Nearly half of the scientists in the survey said they would switch to Baidu if Google's search engine were to shut down.

"Google has little advantage over Baidu on search algorithms for Chinese-language content," Guo Liang, an internet researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Nature.

However, Baidu is much less useful for searching English-language sites outside China. Guo has found that Google is much more popular than Baidu among academics and other highly educated Chinese.

Only 17 per cent of respondents in Nature's survey said they use Baidu as their primary search engine.