NSB S&E Indicators Report Highlights China's Commitment to R&D

The National Science Board (NSB) released their biennial report Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 on 19 January.

According to the 2016 report, the U.S. continues to be a world leader in science and engineering by investing the most in research and development (R&D), conferring the highest number of advanced degrees in science and engineering, producing the most high-impact publications, and providing the largest amount of information, financial, and business services.

Advances in Asia, however, are challenging the science and technology leadership held by the U.S. for many years. China, India, and South Korea have been increasingly investing in R&D and a well-trained scientific workforce. Asia now accounts for 40 percent of global investments in R&D.

China has become the second largest investor in research and development and accounts for 20 percent of global R&D. In comparison, the U.S. accounts for 27 percent of global R&D funding. Despite the Great Recession, China’s investment in science and engineering has grown by 19.5 percent every year between 2003 and 2013—a growth rate significantly higher than of the U.S.

Indicators 2016 states that China’s role in knowledge and technology-intensive industries has become increasingly significant. They rank second in high-tech manufacturing with a global share of 27 percent, just behind the U.S. global share of 29 percent. China is now also the largest producer of undergraduates majoring in science, with science and engineering (S&E) degrees accounting for 49 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded in China. In comparison, 33 percent of all bachelor degrees awarded in U.S. are in S&E fields.

The U.S. continues to award the largest number of S&E doctorates. However, the total number of university degrees in S&E awarded by Chinese universities increased by 300 percent between 2000 and 2012, a growth rate is higher than that of any other developed country.

While China has been increasing investments in R&D, the report indicates that the U.S. federal commitment to research and development has been wavering. Federal spending has declined in recent years. Since the Great Recession, inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually between 2008 and 2013, which is less than the 1.2 percent annual increase in U.S. GDP during this period.

In 2014, the R&D expenditure by U.S. academic institutions in S&E amounted to $63.7 billion, with 92 percent of federal support coming from six major federal agencies: Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. HHS, primarily through National Institutes of Health, provided 55 percent of the federal funds for R&D.

Over the last 25 years, the distribution of federal R&D funding in academia has shifted in favor of life sciences and away from physical sciences. Over the last ten years, however, engineering R&D has grown the fastest at an annual average rate of about 4 percent, followed by R&D in life sciences, computer sciences and psychology, each growing at about 2 percent annually. Within the life sciences, funding for medical and biological sciences grew faster than the agricultural sciences. Academic R&D expenditures in biological sciences increased by about 80 percent from 1995 to 2004 and by 13 percent from 2005 to 2014 after adjusting for inflation; there has been a decline in spending from 2011 to 2014.

The number of S&E bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. has increased steadily between 2000 and 2013, reaching a high point of more than 615,000 degrees. The proportion of bachelor’s degrees awarded in S&E compared to all bachelor degrees has remained steady at about 32 percent. The number of biological sciences degrees at all levels of education grew significantly between 2000 and 2013; undergraduate degrees increased by 61 percent, masters degrees more than doubled, and doctoral degrees increased by 56 percent.

The proportion of life scientists in a postdoctoral position remains higher than in any other field. The situation may be improving, however, as there was a slight downward trend over the past decade. This is especially encouraging since the physical sciences and engineering both experienced dramatic increases during the same time period.

In spite of these positive indicators, less than half of doctorate recipients in life sciences graduate with definite employment commitments. Moreover, 44 percent of individuals whose highest degree is in the life sciences are employed in non-S&E occupations.

Indicators 2016 was prepared by NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics under the guidance of the NSB. The complete report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/.

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Science in the State of the Union

President Obama highlighted the importance of science to the nation in his final State of the Union address on 12 January 2016. One of the four “big questions” the president posed was “how do we make technology work for us, and not against us—especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?”

The president’s big announcement in regards to science was a new “moonshot” to “cure cancer once and for all.” Vice President Joe Biden will lead the effort. Since the address, the vice president met with cancer researchers to launch the effort.

Investing in clean energy and combating climate change were also addressed in the speech.

“Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon,” said President Obama.

These priorities are expected to be highlighted in the president’s forthcoming budget request for fiscal year 2017. Obama is scheduled to release his spending plan on 9 February.

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2015 Accomplishments Documented in AIBS Annual Report

The AIBS Public Policy Office has released its annual report for 2015.

Highlights of our activities in 2015 include:

  • Worked with a national coalition of organizations to convince Congress to revisit budget sequestration. As a result, federal science funding will increase by 5 percent in FY 2016.
  • Provided input on legislation that would set future funding and policy directions for federally supported basic research programs, including the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • Facilitated 90 meetings for scientists with federal and state lawmakers.
  • Hosted a workshop—with support from NSF—on complex biological data integration.

Read the 2015 annual report at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/resources/PPO2015Annual_Report.pdf.

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OSTP Calls for New Commitments to Agricultural Research

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is looking for stakeholder commitments to support research on food and agriculture and to expand opportunities for students to pursue agriculture related science fields. The Obama Administration will highlight new and existing efforts by universities, scientific societies, and businesses in the coming months.

    Examples of potential commitments include:
  • Support for fellowships or endowed positions to expand and strengthen research on animal sciences, plant-breeding, or integrated food systems;
  • Training programs that recruit underrepresented students;
  • Research courses that introduce first and second-year students to agricultural disciplines; and
  • Training programs for teachers.

Report your organization’s commitments to OSTP by 1 February at https://www.whitehouse.gov/webform/share-your-input-activities-and-actions-support-sustainable-agriculture.

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Microbiologist Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. Rita Colwell has been honored with the 2016 National Council for Science and the Environment Lifetime Achievement Award. Colwell is a past-president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the former director of the National Science Foundation, and is currently a professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. She also chairs the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

“Her leadership at the National Science Foundation substantially enhanced opportunities for interdisciplinary research across the nation and emphasized the importance of a diverse scientific community on creativity,” said Dr. Margaret Leinen. “We have had few science leaders who combined such long-lived and important scientific research careers with administrative careers that have transformed science across the nation.”

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Scientists Sought to Engage the Public on Synthetic Biology

Volunteers are needed to engage the public in discussions about synthetic biology during the summer of 2016. Two hundred science museums and other sites across the U.S. will be conducting hands-on activities and forum conversations to engage the public with synthetic biology. The National Science Foundation-funded Building with Biology project seeks to encourage information sharing between scientists and members of the public. If you’re a student or practicing scientist in synthetic biology or a related field, sign up today to express your interest in participating at a location near you.

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Enter the Evolution Video Competition

Scientists and science educators are invited to enter the Sixth Annual Evolution Video Competition, sponsored by the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Society for the Study of Evolution, and BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

To enter, submit a video that explains a fun fact, key concept, compelling question, or exciting area of evolution research in three minutes or less. Entries may be related or unrelated to your own research, and should be suitable for use in a classroom. Videos should be both informative and entertaining.

The finalists will be screened at the Evolution 2016 meeting in Austin, Texas. (You do not need to attend the conference in order to enter a video.) The winner will receive a prize of $1,000; the runner-up will receive a prize of $500. The deadline to submit a video is 11:00 p.m. EST on 31 May 2016.

For further information and to view entries from previous years, visit http://evolutionfilmfestival.org/.

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Upcoming Webinar on R&D in the President's Budget Request

The AIBS Leadership in Biology series will continue on 25 February 2016 with a webinar that analyzes President Obama’s final budget request to Congress. Learn about new science initiatives the Obama Administration is proposing for fiscal year 2017 and what could be in store for existing research programs. The webinar is free to attend, but advance registration is required at http://www.aibs.org/events/leadership/a-look-at-the-fy-2017-rd-budget.html.

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center.

The Legislative Action Center is a one-stop shop for learning about and influencing science policy. Through the website, users can contact elected officials and sign-up to interact with lawmakers.

The website offers tools and resources to inform researchers about recent policy developments. The site also announces opportunities to serve on federal advisory boards and to comment on federal regulations.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become policy advocates today. Simply go to policy.aibs.org to get started.

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