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FYI Number 137: November 29, 2006

Findings from the New S&T Benchmark Report

Earlier this month, The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation released “Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness. Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II.” The following are selections from this report; the complete document can be read at http://futureofinnovation.org/2006report/

“This outpouring of [S&T/competitiveness] reports from a broad range of interests has shaped the public debate. Certainly the American people are convinced. A strong majority believes the country needs to invest more in basic research. For example, a national survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by this task force showed that 70 percent of the public supports increasing federal funding by 10 percent a year for the next seven years for university research in science and engineering. The same survey shows that 49 percent of the electorate believes America’s ability to compete economically in the world has grown worse over the past few years. This number is up from 38 percent in 1991.”

“Economists attribute a significant portion of the extraordinary boom in productivity during the 1990's to technological innovation. Citing innovation as the reason for significant gains in productivity growth since 1995, then Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress: ‘Had the innovations of recent decades, especially in information technologies, not come to fruition, productivity growth would have continued to languish at the rate of the preceding twenty years.” The energy for this tidal wave of innovation came from basic research, much of which was performed years earlier on university campuses and elsewhere.’”

“While U.S. spending on military R&D is at a record high, recent increases have been devoted to applying existing ideas to the production of new weapons and equipment. We have been underinvesting in the basic research needed for the next generation of military technology. Since the end of the Cold War, the share of the Department of Defense (DOD) investment in science and technology devoted to basic research has declined significantly, from 20 percent in 1980 to less than 12 percent in 2005. . . . over the past five years alone, overall Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E) has grown by over one-third, yet investment in basic research has remained flat.”

“The National Research Council and the Defense Sciences Board (DSB) have both sounded alarms concerning our investment in basic research in fields critical to our national defense, such as high performance computing and microchips and semiconductors. The point they make is clear: If the nation does not reinvigorate its investment in the creation of new fundamental knowledge for national security, the United States will not have the most advanced weapons systems and military technologies.”

“The benchmarks presented in this paper show that countries such as China and India are increasing their innovative capabilities, from research investment and science and engineering (S&E) degree production to high-tech products, at a time when, using the same measures, the United States appears to be slowing. They demonstrate that to stay ahead we need to reinvigorate the foundation of our innovation economy.”

“We can quibble about specific statistics and metrics used to measure current trends, but the big picture is increasingly clear. If we wait to be absolutely sure these trends are what they appear to be, it will become ever more difficult and expensive to recover.”

“Fastest-growing economies continue to increase their R&D investments rapidly, nearly five times the rate of the United States: The countries of China, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan collectively increased their R&D investments by 214 percent between 1995 and 2004. The United States in that period increased its total R&D investments by 43 percent.”

“U.S. physical sciences and engineering research budgets significantly lag economic growth: As a share of GDP, the U.S. federal investment in both physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal funding for physical sciences research has been flat for two decades. . . . Support for engineering research is similar.”

“Innovators transform new knowledge into products and services. The United States has led the world in innovation and in the creation of knowledge that fuels this progress. Two benchmarks of knowledge creation, journal articles and patents, reveal that change around the world is eroding traditional U.S. leadership in these areas. Other countries are rapidly enlarging their stock of intellectual property assets and are expanding the boundaries of learning and discovery across all fields of science and engineering. Growth in patent applications around the world shows that these countries are also enhancing their abilities to put newly created knowledge to viable commercial uses.”

“U.S. share of S&E publications continues to shrink: In the first Benchmarks report, we reported that the U.S. share of worldwide science had shrunk from 38 percent in 1988 to 31 percent in 2001. The 2003 data reveal that the number continued to decline, due largely to increased Asian output.”

“High-Tech trade deficit continues to widen: The annual trade deficit for advanced technology products grew in 2005, for the third straight year. The deficit of $44 billion for 2005 is now larger than the largest surplus of the last 15 years. The 2005 value marks the fourth straight year that the United States has imported more high-tech products than it has exported. While many of those imports come from countries in which U.S. companies own manufacturing facilities, this shift in manufacturing helps build technological capabilities in those countries.”

“Across many sectors of the economy, signs of trouble for the United States are showing up in areas important to national security, technological leadership and industrial capacity, showing the ripple effects of lapses in support for research and education.”

“U.S. leads world in nanotechnology but competition is fierce: Two recent reports, one by Lux Research and one by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, confirm that the United States leads the world in nanotechnology, but that future leadership is not assured. Despite doubled spending on nanotechnology between 2001 and 2004, the U.S. share of the global investment in this field decreased from 30.3 percent to 26.2 percent.”

“U.S. teenagers lag most developed countries in math and science literacy: In the 2003 OECD ranking of the mathematics and science performance of 15-year-olds in the 30 OECD countries, the United States ranked 18th and 24th, respectively, scoring below the OECD average for each. The rankings are similarly poor when the list is narrowed to the countries of the G8. To quote the 2005 OECD report, Education at a Glance, ‘With its relatively high expenditure and its relatively low student achievements at the school level, the United States education system is clearly inefficient.’”

“The United States falls behind in the ratio of undergraduate natural science and engineering (NS&E) degrees to broader populations: While U.S. NS&E degrees as a percentage of the population of U.S. 24-year-olds increased from 4 percent in 1975 to 5.7 percent in 2000, this country fell below the OECD average of roughly 6.8 percent. In 1975, only two countries had higher ratios than the United States. By 2000, 25 countries had higher ratios.”

“U.S. universities are still best in the world: In its rankings of the top universities in the world, researchers at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University found that the United States had 8 of the top 10 and 35 of the top 50. A report from the Center for European Reform found that the United States has 18 of the world's top 20 universities, and 37 of the top 50.”

“Asian production of natural science and engineering (NS&E) Ph.D.s is on a steep trajectory; U.S. figure stagnant: The number of NS&E Ph.D.s granted in several Asian countries is climbing quickly and shows no sign of slowing. Their production surpassed the flat figure of the United States in 1998 and the gap has been quickly widening. Three European countries collectively have more than the United States but show a similar flat to declining trend in recent years.”

“. . . U.S. student interest in science and math has waned so much since the Sputnik days that there are now fewer Americans studying science and engineering in U.S. graduate schools than foreigners. Luring America’s young talent to science and engineering is essential to our future competitiveness, especially as more and more research and development opportunities develop in other parts of the world.”

“These benchmarks demonstrate America’s historical strength in science and technology, but they also reveal the impact of earlier decisions about the federal investment in basic research in physics, mathematics, engineering, chemistry and computing. The benchmarks help us see how inadequate investment has helped to set in motion an erosion of American leadership in science, in turn jeopardizing the foundation upon which our future economic and national security will be built.”

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

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