On 15 January 2008, the National Science Board (NSB) released the Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 (Indicators), available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators. The NSB, whose primary role is oversight of the National Science Foundation, is required by law to report to the President and the Congress on the state of science and engineering research and education every two years. This edition, the eighteenth in the series, compiles data from a variety of national, international, and private sources and provides key analyses on the national science, engineering, and technology workforce and education, research and development trends, public support for science, and federal support for academic scientists and engineers. Additionally, it provides indicators and analyses for individual states and the District of Columbia.

According to NSB chairman, Dr. Steven Beering, “These indicators come at an important time. The confluence of a range of indicators raises key questions about future U.S. high-technology industry’s competitiveness in international markets and implications for highly skilled jobs at home.”

Some findings include:

U.S. student achievement:

  • In 2000, U.S. grade school students continued to lag behind other developed countries in science and math, although U.S. fourth and eighth graders showed steady gains in math since 1990 and fourth graders improved in science compared to 1996.

  • High school completion and college enrollment rates across ethnic groups increased steadily in recent years, but college enrollment and completion rates differ across socioeconomic groups.

Comparison to international workforce:

  • In 2000, the U.S. held about one-quarter of the world’s 194 million tertiary degrees (equivalent to a U.S. baccalaureate); in 1980, the U.S. share was closer to one-third of the world’s 73 million tertiary degrees.

  • From 1994 to 2004, U.S. firms increased the number of people they employed in research and development outside the U.S. by 76 percent and employment within the U.S. by 31 percent, while U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms increased their research and development employed by 18 percent.

Research and development within the US:

  • The U.S. is the largest, single research and development-performing nation, supplying a record high $340 billion for research and development in 2006.

  • Of this $340 billion, basic research accounted for 18 percent ($62 billion); applied research accounted for 22 percent ($75 billion); and development accounted for the other 60 percent ($203 billion).

  • In real terms, federal obligations for all academic research (both basic and applied) declined between 2004 and 2005 and are expected to drop further in 2006 and 2007. This represents the first multi-year decline for academic research since 1982.

U.S. position in global high technology:

  • The U.S. is a leading producer in high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services, but several Asian countries, led by China, have rapidly increased their global market share.

  • The U.S. trade balance in advanced technology products shifted from surplus to deficit starting in 2002; information and communications products from China and Malaysia largely account for this deficit.

Public support for science:

  • In a 2006 survey, 87 percent of Americans supported government funding for basic research, up from 80 percent in surveys dating back to 1979.

  • In 2006, Americans expressed greater confidence in leaders of the scientific community than any other institution except the military.

Federal support for academic scientists and engineers:

  • Academic science and engineering doctorate holders who received federal support has remained steady during the last 20 years: 48 percent in 2006 and the late 1980s.

  • However, among life scientists, this percentage has dropped from 65 percent in 1989 to 58 percent in 2006.

In addition to the Indicators report, the Board issued a companion piece, “Research and Development: Essential Foundation for U.S. Competitiveness in a Global Economy,” with three policy recommendations:

  1. The Federal Government should take action to enhance the level of funding for, and the transformation nature of, basic research.

  2. Industry, government, the academic sector, and professional organizations should take action to encourage greater intellectual interchange between industry and academia, with industry researchers encouraged to also participate as authors and reviewers for articles in open, peer-reviewed publications.

  3. New data are critically needed, and this need should be addressed expeditiously by relevant Federal agencies, to track the implications for the U.S. economy of the globalization of manufacturing and services in high technology industry.


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