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NSF’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2010

on January 27, 2010 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

The Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report is now available. Here are a few highlights:

  •   The United States remained by far the single largest R&D-performing country. Its R&D expenditure of $369 billion in 2007 exceeded the Asian region’s total of $338 billion and the EU’s (EU-27) $263 billion4 (figure O-2). The U.S. 2007 total broadly matched the combined R&D expenditures of the next four largest countries: Japan, China, Germany, and France.
  • Foreign nationals have earned more than half of U.S. natural sciences or engineering (NS&E) doctorates since 2006. Half of these students are from East Asia, mostly from China (31%), India (14%), and South Korea (7%).
  • Collaborative research is becoming the norm, as indicated by the increasing co-authorship of journal articles. Articles with authors in two or more countries have increased in number faster than any other segment of the S&E literature, indicating growing collaboration across national boundaries.
  • About half (49%) of the patents granted by the USPTO went to U.S.-based inventors in 2008, down from 55% in 1995. Japan’s share has been a steady 20%–22% over the period; the EU members received 14%–16%.

The report concludes that “Science and technology are no longer the province of developed nations; they have, in a sense, become ‘democratized.’ Governments of many countries have firmly built S&T aspects into their development policies as they vie to make their economies more knowledge- and technology-intensive and, thereby, ensure their competitiveness in a globalizing world. These policies include long-term investments in higher education to develop human talent, infrastructure development, support for research and development, attraction of foreign direct investment and technologically advanced multinational firms, and the eventual development of indigenous high-technology capabilities.”

In terms of the latest figures on the relationship between science and the U.S. public, Chris Mooney from Science Progress argues in "Is the Science Glass Half Full, or Half Empty?" that the figures can be used to support either a positive or a negative perspective:

On the positive side, for instance, the report consistently shows that Americans are not so scientifically benighted as one might think, at least in comparison with the rest of the world. We go to science museums more frequently. We claim a higher level of interest in “new scientific discoveries” than citizens in South Korea, China, and many parts of Europe. And in terms of sheer factual knowledge, we perform pretty much on par with Europe, and ahead of other countries like Japan, China, and Russia.

… And yet the image of an America little informed about science, and little engaged with it, still shines through in the latest report.

As Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 itself admits, seeing how the country fares on science in comparison with other nations isn’t the only possible means of judgment. If one’s standard is more ambitious—emphasizing, in the latest report’s words, “what a technologically advanced society requires (either today or in the future) to compete in the world economy and enable its citizens to better take advantage of science progress in their own lives”—then it is very hard to feel good about the current state of affairs in the United States.

For instance, just 13 percent of the public now claims to follow science and technology news “very closely,” and this number has been on a downward trend for the past decade, ending with the current low. So while Americans may profess great admiration for science in the abstract, they hardly feel compelled to pay it much attention.

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