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Science and Engineering Indicators 2010: A Report Card for U.S. Science, Engineering, and Technology

A recent report from the National Science Board on the state of science and engineering in the U.S. underscores the importance of initiatives like the "Educate to Innovate" campaign and new commitments to research and manufacturing technologies.

Cross-posted from the OSTP blog

Today, in an event at the White House, the National Science Board released its Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report. This report, produced every two years by the Board—the governing body for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics, is the major authoritative source of U.S. and international data on science, engineering, and technology and is packed with a wealth of indicators on research and development (R&D) spending, trends in higher education and workforce development in science and engineering (S&E) fields, public attitudes toward science and technology, and new patterns of international collaboration in research. In a way, it’s like a report card on U.S. science, engineering, and technology, comparing U.S. performance with other nations. It also tells us where the U.S. stands and compares American S&E performance to that of other nations.

The latest edition of Indicators tells us that the state of U.S. science and engineering is strong, but that U.S. dominance of world science and engineering has eroded significantly in recent years, primarily because of rapidly increasing capabilities among East Asian nations, particularly China.

OSTP Director John P. Holdren, who also serves as President Obama’s science adviser, received the 2010 edition of Indicators on behalf of the President this week and promised to put the report’s insights to good use in the Federal Government’s policymaking. OSTP, as the lead policymaking body within the White House for matters related to science, engineering, and technology, recognizes that good science and technology policy depends on reliable, comprehensive, and useful data. Indicators is the premier source of science and technology data and will enrich this Administration’s policymaking for years to come.

As Dr. Holdren has noted repeatedly, the Obama Administration is committed to evidence-based policymaking and making data used for policymaking accessible, relevant, and timely. Indeed, the President himself has on many occasions reiterated his deep appreciation of the importance of science, engineering, and technology to finding solutions to the many challenges that today face the country, including building a prosperous and innovative U.S. economy of the future, reducing dependence on foreign energy sources while mitigating the impacts of harmful climate change, and delivering high-quality health care to every American.

The Indicators report is factual and policy-neutral. But a number of Administration policies are already taking aim at the challenges outlined in the new report.

Just last week, for example, President Obama announced a new set of public-private partnerships in the “Educate to Innovate” campaign committing more than $250 million in private resources to attract, develop, reward, and retain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers. This initiative is responsive to data, presented in Chapter 1 of Indicators, showing that American 15-year-olds are losing ground in science and math achievement compared to their peers around the world.

Similarly, in his April 2009 speech at the National Academy of Sciences and on several occasions since then, President Obama set a goal for the United States to invest 3 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on R&D. Chapter 4 of Indicators tells us that in 2007 the U.S. R&D/GDP ratio was 2.68 percent, with roughly one-third of that investment coming from Federal funding and two-thirds from the private sector, and that the U.S. ranks eighth in the world in this measure among major economies, some of whom—such as—Japan and South Korea—are already investing in excess of 3 percent. The Indicators report tells us why the goal is reasonable and prudent and how close we are to achieving it. Moreover, a careful reading offers a raft of ideas on how the Federal government can do its part to meet that goal.

A third example: Last month, the Administration announced a new Manufacturing Strategy, in effect a policy framework for revitalizing American manufacturing as a key component of an innovation-based U.S. economy. We have a remarkably good measure of manufacturing’s importance from Chapter 6 of Indicators, which shows us the U.S. is still, by far, the world leader in value-added manufacturing. But we also know from Indicators that recent trends haven’t been favorable for the U.S. because of the increasing importance of East Asian economies in high value-added manufacturing. Most of these data don’t yet incorporate the impacts of the global recession, but they begin to tell a worrying story. So evidence from Indicators on the decline of U.S. venture-capital funding in 2008, for example, supplemented by more recent data, help explain why increasing access to capital for new businesses is a key component of both the Administration’s Manufacturing Strategy and its broader Innovation Strategy announced by the President in September.

These are just a few examples of how the data contained in the Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report can help the Federal government make better policy. We invite you to take a look at the report for yourself—even keep a copy on your computer or desk as we do!—and make use of this rich set of data and analysis, fully accessible to the public on a very user-friendly site. Dr. Holdren and all of us at OSTP join the science, engineering, and technology community in thanking the National Science Board and the National Science Foundation for their excellent work. Our commitment is to put it to great use.

Kei Koizumi is Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development with the Office of Science and Technology Policy