State of US science report shows disturbing trends; challenges

The National Science Board this week said leading science and engineering indicators tell a mixed story regarding the achievement of the US  in science, research and development,  and math in international comparisons. 

For example, US schools continue to lag behind internationally in science and math education. On the other hand, the US is the largest, single, R&D-performing nation in the world pumping some $340 billion into future-related technologies. The US also leads the world in patent development.

The board’s conclusions and Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 are contained in the group’s biennial report on the state of science and engineering research and education in the United States sent to the President and Congress this week.

While the report is massive, the board came up with 13 prime observations on the report or what it calls leading Science and Engineering Indicators 2008.    

The facts: 

·          U.S. grade school students continue to lag behind other developed countries in science and math, although fourth and eighth grade U.S. students showed steady gains in math since 1990. Only fourth graders showed gains in science compared to 1996.  

·          High school completion and college enrollment rates across ethnic groups increased steadily in recent years. But college enrollment and completion rates differ across socioeconomic groups. 

·          In 2000, the United States held about one quarter of the world's 194 million tertiary degrees -- degrees broadly equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate. Twenty years earlier, the U.S. share was closer to one third of the world's then 73 million tertiary degrees. 

·          From 1994 to 2004, U.S. firms increased the number of people they employed in R&D jobs outside the United States by 76 % and employment within the United States by 31 %, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their U.S. R&D employment by 18 %. 

·          The U.S. is the largest, single, R&D-performing nation in the world supplying an estimated $340 billion for R&D in 2006, a record high. 

·          Of the $340 billion R&D total, basic research accounted for 18 % or $62 billion; applied research accounted for 22 % or $75 billion; and development accounted for the other 60 % or $203 billion. In 2006, the federal government supplied about 60 % of all basic research funds, industry about 17 %, with private foundations, academic institutions and other governmental entities supplying the rest. 

·          Federal obligations for all academic research, basic and applied, declined in real terms between 2004 and 2005 and are expected to drop further in 2006 and 2007. This would be the first multiyear decline for academic research since 1982. 

·          Based on key indicators, the U.S. sustained a relative economic advantage over other developed and developing economies. Growth has been far more rapid in the emerging markets of China and India. 

·          The U.S. is a leading producer in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services, but several Asian countries, led by China, have rapidly increased their global market share. 

·          The U.S. leads the world in economically-viable patents, filed in the U.S., Japan and Europe.  

·          The U.S. comparative advantage in exports of high-technology products has eroded: the U.S. trade balance in advanced technology products shifted from surplus to deficit starting in 2002. Information and communications products geographically concentrated in Asia -- particularly China and Malaysia -- account for this deficit.  

·          U.S. public support for government funding of scientific research is strong and growing. 

·          In a 2006 survey, 87 % of Americans supported government funding for basic research, up from 80 % in past surveys dating back to 1979. Also, Americans who said the government spends too little on scientific research grew from 34 % to 41 % between 2002 and 2006. 

·          In 2006, Americans expressed greater confidence in leaders of the scientific community than those of any other institution except the military. On science-related public policy issues, including global climate change, stem cell research and genetically modified foods, Americans believe that science leaders, are knowledgeable and impartial and ought to be influential. 

·          Academic scientists and engineers are more diverse today, and federal funding remains important to them. 

·          From 1973 to 2006, in the academic, doctoral labor force the share of women increased from 9 % to 33 %, of underrepresented minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) from 2 % to 8 %, and of Asian/Pacific Islanders from 4 % to 14 %. 

·          Academic S&E doctorate holders employed in academia who received federal support has remained steady during the last 20 years: just under half, 47 % in 2006, and in the late 1980s. Among life scientists, this %age has dropped from 65 % in 1989, to 58 % in 2006, although the actual number of those reporting federal support increased.   

The National Science Board was established by Congress in 1950, and provides oversight for, and establishes the policies of, the National Science Foundation. It also serves as an independent body of advisors to both the President and Congress on broad national policy issues related to science and engineering research and education.


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