The National Science Board (NSB) is worried about recent trends in science and engineering. “Surveying the past decade, we see several troubling trends that, taken together, could have an impact on capacity to innovate in both the near and long term,” said Ray M. Bowen, who chairs the board’s Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators.
The NSB was established as part of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950. According to the Act, the NSB works with the Director of the National Science Foundation to “recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering.”
One major concern is recent decline in private investments in research and development. Between 2008 and 2009, American businesses cut funding for science by five percent. Some of the reductions were offset temporarily by increased spending by the federal government. Government support, however, focuses more on fundamental research than industry’s support of development.
“Private-sector R&D [research and development] investment is sensitive to economic trends,” said Arthur K. Reilly, a former senior director for Strategic Technology Policy at Cisco Systems. “During recessions, it’s not surprising that businesses would spend less. But the volatility also reflected shifts of private equity, venture capital, and angel funding from early stage investment to the less risky late-stage investment,” said Reilly, who led the development of the report.
The NSB also expressed concern about recent trends in funding for education. State funding for major public research universities declined by 20 percent per student between 2002 and 2010.
Despite some troubling trends, the NSB did find reasons for optimism. For instance, the annual rate of growth of the science and engineering workforce was considerably higher than for other fields over the past decade. Additionally, unemployment is lower and salaries tend to be higher for workers in science and engineering occupations.
The NSB report is available at http://nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2012/nsb1203.pdf.
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