Worldwide expenditures on research and development (R&D) have increased dramatically over the past decade, but the United State’s lead is slipping, according to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) recently released Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. The report highlights major developments in international and U.S. science and technology.

The combined R&D investments of 10 Asian nations, including China, India, and Japan, now match U.S. expenditures on science at about $400 billion a year. Most of the growth in Asia was driven by China, where R&D spending grew by 28 percent between 2008 and 2009. In the U.S., science expenditures declined by 0.3 percent over the same period. The decline in domestic spending was due to reduced funding by private industry, which was partially offset by increased government spending through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal share of support for basic research continues to drop, from 60 percent a decade ago to 53 percent in 2009. The government spends about $40 billion annually on basic research, about $27 billion on applied research, and $57 billion on development. The report suggests a growing imbalance among research areas: over the past decade, federal support for the life sciences and math/computer sciences increased by more than 35 percent, after inflation. Environmental and social sciences saw federal support shrink by 7 and 12 percent, respectively.

In terms of education, the U.S. continues to rank second in the number of awarded doctorates in the natural sciences and engineering. Nearly 40 percent of these doctorates were earned by temporary visa holders. China became the world leader in doctorate recipients in 2007, a trend largely driven by a steep increase in engineering doctorates.

According to the report, it appears that the economic recession has less severely impacted workers in science and engineering jobs. The unemployment rate in 2010 for such workers was 3.8 percent, as compared with 5.0 percent for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, and 9.6 percent for all U.S. workers.

The report is available at


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