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FYI Number 135: November 29, 2006

New Benchmark Report Raises Caution Flag on Future of U.S. S&T Enterprise

“These benchmarks make clear our waning commitment,” warns a new report by The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation. This report, updating an initial 2005 report, charts a range of worrisome trends indicating that components of America’s leadership in research and technology “are at risk.”

Twenty-one months ago, the Task Force issued “The Knowledge Economy: Is America Losing its Competitive Edge: Benchmarks of our Innovation Future.” This 18-page report has been credited with helping to raise the awareness of policymakers about U.S. R&D leadership (see http://futureofinnovation.org/PDF/Benchmarks.pdf.) Numerous other reports, including those by the National Academies (“Rising Above the Gathering Storm”), the Council on Competitiveness, and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, raised similar concerns. Last February, President Bush sent Congress his American Competitiveness Initiative recommending doubling the aggregate budgets over ten years for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the NIST laboratory research program. The appropriations bills that would provide these agencies with the recommended increases for FY 2007 are still on Capitol Hill.

The new report, “Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness. Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II” was released on November 16 at a Capitol Hill press conference that will be reviewed in FYI #136. The 36-page report explains, “The Task Force on the Future of American innovation is a coalition of business, scientific and university organizations that came together in 2004 out of concern that insufficient investment by the federal government in research in the physical sciences and engineering was threatening the nation's global economic leadership and national security in an increasingly competitive world.” The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society are Member Organizations of the Task Force. The report acknowledges: “Special thanks go to Steven Pierson of the American Physical Society as primary editor and to the editing committee of Eric Iverson of the American Society for Engineering Education, Peter Harsha of the Computing Research Association, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Tobin Smith and Barry Toiv of the Association of American Universities.” The report may be read at http://futureofinnovation.org/2006report/

In comparing the two reports, the latest report states: “the problems we described last year - in areas that include federal support for basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, Ph.D.s in the natural sciences and engineering, students' interest in pursuing science and engineering studies, and the trade balance in high-tech products - have not disappeared. They are long term trends that the new figures confirm.” Among those indicators are research investments as compared to other nations such as China and India, knowledge creation as measured by U.S. patent applications and the declining U.S. share of S&E publications, high-tech economy benchmarks such as the widening U.S. high-tech trade deficit, various sector benchmarks such as semiconductor and nanotechnology production and research, education benchmarks including the number of S&E graduates, and workforce benchmarks including reverse brain drain. Additional excerpts from the report will be provided in FYI #137.

The report concludes: “Those who stand still will fall behind. The United States has been standing still in basic research in the physical sciences for more than a decade -- a decade of immense change and rapid growth in the global economy. The Benchmarks show that if the United States continues to stand still, it faces inevitable decline. Avoiding this outcome does not require huge outlays of federal funds - the research funds in the American Competitive Initiative, if approved, involve only about one-tenth of one percent of federal discretionary spending - but it will require a new attitude and commitment toward sustained investment in basic research. With this commitment, we believe that the United States can continue to prosper and lead in this still-new century.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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