On January 15, 2020, The National Science Board (NSB) released their biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report, which details the state of science and engineering in the United States. The NSB also held a briefing on Capitol Hill on January 15 to discuss the report, during which Dr. Julia Phillips, chair of the NSB’s Committee on National Science and Engineering Policy, summarized its main findings.
Among many important findings, the report indicates the relative global position of the U.S. in science and engineering is declining. As has been often remarked, other nations, most notably China, are drawing from the U.S. playbook of the last century to rapidly develop their R&D capacity.
In terms of global statistics, the report reveals that worldwide investment in research and development (R&D) has tripled since 2000. While the U.S. still leads in “fundamental research” (combined basic and applied research) spending, China now invests the most in “experimental development” (producing or improving products and processes). Since 2000, the U.S.’s share of overall global R&D expenditures has decreased, and the U.S.’s share of science and engineering publications per year has stayed roughly flat.
Within the U.S., the report shows that business has been the largest investor in R&D since the 1980s, while the federal government’s percentage has declined since 2000. Dr. Phillips explained that federal R&D funding is a necessary investment, as federal funds are key for such purposes as basic research and long-term projects.
In the science and engineering workforce, positive trends can be seen in the diversity of many fields with increasing numbers of women and underrepresented minorities present. But even so, these groups still hold a small percent of total jobs in these areas. Furthermore, despite the U.S.’s strong investments in science and engineering R&D, American K-12 science and math test scores continue to lag behind those of many other nations.
Dr. Phillips emphasized, “This dynamic, multipolar landscape is characterized by interdependence and competition. For the U.S. to play a leading role, we cannot be complacent in the face of these changes…” She further remarked, “We should react with excitement, not fear, to this new world. We are well positioned to compete, collaborate, and thrive, and if we are successful, not only will American citizens, but citizens of the world, benefit.”