Indicators 2014: The global outlook

The National Science Board serves as one of the main science and technology advisors to the President. To this end, the NSB publishes the Science & Engineering Indicators report every two years. This report analyzes the trends affecting the scientific enterprise in the U.S. and around the world by a variety of measures including financial investment, degree production, workforce composition and global competition. Last week, the NSB released the S&E Indicators 2014 report.

The trends with regard to global research and development are cause for some concern in the U.S. While R&D expenditures have been increasing fairly linearly for more than a decade, the U.S. share of those expenditures has declined. Asian countries, led by China, South Korea and Japan, have increased their share of R&D spending such that their combined investment is slightly more than that of the U.S. The lion’s share of this increase has come from China, which doubled its R&D budget between 2007 and 2011. As a percentage of gross domestic product, though, China, South Korea and Japan have been increasing their investment in R&D while the U.S. investment has remained relatively flat (See Ch. 4 and 6 of the Indicators report and the S&E Indicators 2014 Digest).

This report, however, does not mean the end of U.S. dominance in global R&D. In total dollars, the U.S. still spends more than double its nearest global competitor, China. Furthermore, in a variety of aspects including employment and scientific infrastructure, the U.S. R&D enterprise weathered the Great Recession best of all its global competitors. Finally, the U.S. still produces a large volume of high-quality, high-impact publications and patents. These data suggest the U.S. is poised to remain the leader of global R&D for quite some time.

The ASBMB reported on scientists’ perception of the U.S. leadership in global research in our report “Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity.”An overwhelming majority of scientists in this report stated that the difficult funding environment has allowed global competitors to catch and even pass the U.S. in some scientific fields. The Indicators 2014 report confirms the impression of many of the scientists profiled in “Unlimited Potential, Vanishing Opportunity”. America’s global competitors, especially those in Asia, are rapidly closing the gap in R&D investment and knowledge. However, the U.S. remains the clear cut leader in global R&D and is in a position of strength to effectively compete against the emerging R&D powers.

For more insights into the S&E Indicators 2014 report, follow the ASBMB Policy Blotter!

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