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New R&D Report Says U.S. Remains (Just Barely) the Global Leader in Science & Technology Areas

First, the good news..The United States still leads the world in supporting science and technology R&D according to a new report by the National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. The bad news: This position soon could be overtaken by rapidly increasing Asian investments in knowledge-intensive economies.

Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 provides trend analysis regarding the overall status of the science, engineering and technology workforce, as well as education efforts and economic activity in the U.S. and abroad.

"This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise," said NSF Director Subra Suresh of the new report's findings. "[We] must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position."

Some of the key findings found in Indicators 2012 are:

  • The largest global science and technology (S&T) gains happened in the "Asia-10" (China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand) as those countries integrate S&T into economic growth. Between 1999 and 2009, the U.S. share of global R&D decreased from 38 percent to 31 percent, but it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the Asia region.

  • In China alone, R&D growth increased a "stunning" 28 percent in a single year (2008-2009), "propelling it past Japan and into second place behind the United States."

Over the last decade, "the world has changed dramatically," noted José-Marie Griffiths, chair of the NSB committee that oversees the report's production. "It's now a world with very different actors who have made advancement in science and technology a top priority. And many of the troubling trends we're seeing are now very well established."

Suresh oversees NSF's $7-billion-dollar budget which funds basic research and education across diverse science and engineering fields. Each year, this independent federal agency makes over 11,500 new funding awards, and reaches all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions.

NSF has launched a number of new initiatives designed to better position the U.S. at home and throughout the world. They include:

  • NSF investment in advanced manufacturing (e.g., cyber-physical systems, advanced robotics, nano-manufacturing, and sensor- and model-based smart manufacturing);

  • the Science Across Virtual Institutes program (fosters interaction among scientists, engineers and educators worldwide);

  • the NSF Innovation Corps program (will connect agency -funded scientific research with technological, entrepreneurial and business communities); and

  • the Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program (designed to spark innovations for tomorrow's clean energy).

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