FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

National Science Board Releases "Science and Engineering Indicators 2008"

Richard M. Jones
Number 11 - January 25, 2008   |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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"The Board hopes that both the Administration and Congress find the new quantitative information and analysis in the report useful and timely for informed thinking and planning on national priorities, policies, and programs in science and technology."
-National Science Board Chairman Steven C. Beering

The nation's most valuable compendium of quantitative information about the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise was released last week by the National Science Board. "Science and Engineering Indicators 2008" consists of a main volume of approximately 600 pages, and an appendix of 275 tables providing detailed statistical data. Described as "the gold standard" by National Science Board Chairman Steven Beering, this latest submission to the President and Congress is the 18th in this series that is required every two years by the National Science Foundation Act.

NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics is responsible for the preparation of this report, which was extensively reviewed before its publication. As described in the report, "SEI is factual and policy-neutral. It does not offer policy options and it does not make policy recommendations."

Louis J. Lanzerotti, Chair of the National Science Board Subcommittee on Science and Engineering Indicators (who is a member and Chair Designee of the AIP Governing Board); Arthur Reilly, a member of the subcommittee; and Beering discussed the report at a briefing in a House Science and Technology Committee hearing room on January 15. They were joined by National Science Foundation Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Kathie L. Olsen.

The Indicators present a complicated assessment of the nation's science and engineering enterprise. Lanzerotti presented a series of exhibits highlighting some of the major Indicators. One shows that the United States continues to "hold its own," he said, in its estimated share of global R&D expenditures In addition, the U.S. share of high-tech manufacturing revenue has doubled since 1995. Another exhibit entitled "intellectual property" demonstrates that the U.S. is in a healthy position when compared to the European Union and Asia. Overall U.S. R&D spending continues to increase. Another exhibit, of "some concern,"shows that federal funding for academic research (most of it basic research) is now declining after adjusting for inflation, with this trend continuing in 2008 and 2009. This is the first time this has occurred in the last quarter century. Federal R&D spending continues the three-decade trend of being heavily weighed toward defense programs (mostly development), with significant growth in health research spending. Global S&E PhD degree attainment is again rising in the United States. Lanzerotti commented that it is "very gratifying" that public attitudes toward research are strongly positive. The percentage of those asked whether the federal government should fund basic research is at its highest point (87%) (beginning in 1985), as is the percentage (41%) of those who feel that the federal government is spending too little on research.

The scope and depth of the full report are great, including an overview and eight chapters on "elementary and secondary education," "higher education in science and engineering," "science and engineering labor force," "research and development: national trends and international linkages," "academic research and development," "industry, technology, and the global marketplace," "science and technology: public attitudes and understanding," and "state indicators." Realizing that a "capsule snapshot" of major indicators would be beneficial to many readers, the Board and NSF also issued a "Digest of Key Science and Engineering Indicators 2008." The Digest reviews R&D investment patterns, selected education indicators, and selected global marketplace indicators. Twenty indicators are presented in a one-page format consisting of a summary statement, an illustrative figure, an explanation of why the indicator is important, key observations, and related discussion.

The National Science Board also released a companion document entitled "Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy." Excerpts from this policy document will be provided in a forthcoming issue of FYI.

The full report, appendix, digest, and the companion document are available at the following site:

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics