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FYI Number 98: August 23, 2002

Latest NSB "Science and Engineering Indicators" Report

Earlier this year, the National Science Board released the latest in its biennial series of reports on science and engineering (S&E) trends, performance and funding: "Science and Engineering Indicators - 2002." According to the transmittal letter from National Science Board Chairman Eamon Kelly to President Bush, this massive compilation of information, produced by the National Science Foundation, "contains quantitative analyses of key aspects of the scope, quality, and vitality of the Nation's science and engineering enterprise," and is intended "to provide a broad base of quantitative information...for use by public and private policymakers." Below are selected highlights from the report's overview:

The United States in a Changing World: "As the 21st century begins, the United States occupies a position of strength in the support and conduct of research and development (R&D). U.S. R&D expenditures equal the combined total expenditures of Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy. U.S. scientists and engineers produce nearly one-third of the articles published in the world's most influential technical journals.... The Federal government has fostered a broad base of research activity, especially in academia, where Federal funds represent about 60 percent of total R&D spending.... Although overall inflation-adjusted Federal R&D funding declined by about 9 percent during the 1990s, it increased by 42 percent for academic R&D - a rise driven largely by increases in the life sciences... During the same period, however, funding for the physical sciences and engineering slowed, a development which has sparked critical commentary by many in the scientific and science policy communities."

U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education: "Long-standing concerns about the overall quality of the system, and of mathematics and science education in particular, have prompted various reform efforts.... In international comparisons, these reforms have yet to fully demonstrate their intended results.... U.S. students in the early grades tend to do well in cross-national comparisons of mathematics and science achievement. However, toward the end of high school, U.S. students tend to fall below international averages and to rank substantially below students in a number of other countries."

U.S. Higher Education: "In the 1990s, about 35 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 30 percent of the master's degrees, and more than 60 percent of the doctorates were awarded in S&E fields.... The number of doctorates awarded in S&E rose rapidly after the mid-1980s, but little growth was seen in the number of doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens.... Virtually all growth of doctorates earned by U.S. citizens reflected degrees earned by white women and minority students of both sexes."

Status of U.S. Workforce: "In the late 1990s, the active U.S. S&E workforce numbered about 11 million out of a civilian labor force of about 140 million.... Industry, the largest job source for scientists and engineers, employs 75 percent of those with S&E bachelor's degrees, more than 60 percent of master's degree holders, but less than one-third of those with doctorates. Overall, the academic sector has been the second largest employer of scientists and engineers but the largest employer of S&E doctorate-holders."

Foreign-born Scientists and Engineers in the U.S. Workforce: "The percentage of foreign-born individuals among U.S. scientists and engineers is growing at all degree levels, in all sectors, and in most fields. By the end of the decade, one in four S&E doctorate-holders had been born abroad." A separate section of the overview notes, "If other countries and regions build up their indigenous S&T capabilities, they may diminish the relative attractiveness of the United States as a destination country.... The large unknown factor is the action of multinational firms.... Many of these firms maintain R&D, technical, and design centers worldwide, drawing on local strengths but also allowing highly trained personnel to rotate to other parts of the world. These activities mean that technological know-how is being transferred around the globe and will become part of other nations' economic development strategies."

Indicators of U.S. Competitiveness: "Many decades of support for basic research have provided the basis for past and current innovations that generate economic benefits.... By the end of the century, the United States remained the leading producer of high-technology products, providing more than one-third of the world's output.... U.S.-based pharmaceuticals, computer, and communications equipment industries gained in world market share over the decade; only the aerospace industry lost market share."

U.S. Industrial R&D: Manufacturing and Service Sectors: "Since the early 1980s, R&D spending in the United States has consistently accounted for 2.3-2.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In the latter half of the 1990s, R&D growth has been particularly strong, rising faster than total economic output and reaching a 2.7 percent share of GDP; pushed upward primarily by a rise in industry-funded R&D.... After adjusting for inflation, Federal R&D funding has actually declined since the second half of the 1980s and was essentially flat during the past decade."

Expanding R&D Activities Around the World: "[B]road international expansion is reflected in a gradual decline of the U.S. share of total R&D performed by member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).... Nevertheless, at 44 percent of the estimated $518 billion 1998 OECD total, the United States remains by far the largest single performer of R&D." The overview later adds, "The expansion of R&D efforts in many countries is taking place against the backdrop of growing international collaboration in the conduct of R&D.... A rising share of the world's scientific and technical publications have coauthors who are located in different countries."

National and International Research Alliances: "Key economic sectors have learned to exploit R&D advances rapidly, which has shortened product cycle times and increased market risk. The underlying research is increasingly multidisciplinary.... Firms and research performers have responded to these developments by outsourcing R&D and by forming collaborations and alliances to share R&D costs, spread market risk, and obtain access to needed information and know-how. Alliances, cross-licensing of intellectual property, mergers and acquisitions, and other tools have transformed industrial R&D and innovation."

The complete two-volume "Science and Engineering Indicators - 2002", including appendix tables, is available on the web at A CD-ROM of the Indicators can be ordered, free of charge, from the same site. For a hardcopy version, contact or call (301) 947-2722.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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