NSB: U.S. Share of Global R&D Investments Declines

On January 15, 2020, the National Science Board (NSB) released the “2020 State of U.S. Science and Engineering” report detailing the data, trends, and global position of the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. The report is part of the congressionally mandated, biennial “Science and Engineering Indicators,” which provides statistics on the U.S. and global S&E enterprise.

According to the 2020 Indicators, the United States continues to perform the largest share of global research and development (R&D), award the largest number of S&E doctoral degrees, and produce significant shares of scientific publications worldwide. However, countries in East and Southeast Asia have heavily invested in research and development and S&E education resulting in an overall increase in S&E activity globally. This has resulted in a decline in the U.S. share of global R&D investments. “Our latest report shows the continued spread of S&E capacity across the globe, which is good for humanity because science is not a zero-sum game,” said NSB Chair Diane Souvaine. “However, it also means that where once the U.S. was the uncontested leader in S&E, we now are playing a less dominant role in many areas.”

In 2017, the U.S. spent $548 billion on R&D, more than any other country. However, between 2000 and 2017, the U.S. global share of R&D declined from 37 to 25 percent. The share of R&D funded by the federal government, which is a significant funder of basic research, has declined since 2000. The federal government funded 57.8 percent of basic research in 2000, while in 2017 it funded 42.3 percent. “Federal support of basic research drives innovation. Only the Federal government can make a strategic, long-term commitment to creating new knowledge that cannot be anticipated to lead to new or improved technologies, goods, or services,” said Dr. Julia Phillips, Chair of NSB’s Science and Engineering Policy Committee.

Globally, R&D expenditures have tripled since 2000, with China accounting for nearly a third of the total growth since 2000. China has directed the majority of its $496 billion R&D spending to experimental development, which aims to produce new products or processes or improve existing ones while basic and applied research aims to create new knowledge. China’s average annual growth rate of domestic R&D expenditures between 2000 and 2017 was 17.3 percent, while the United States’ annual growth rate was 4.3 percent. According to Dr. Phillips, China may have surpassed the U.S in R&D spending at some point in 2019.

The report found that since 1960, the U.S. S&E workforce has grown faster than the overall workforce; employment in S&E occupations has grown at an average annual rate of 4 percent since 1960, compared to 2 percent for total employment. “By 2026, S&E jobs are predicted to increase by 13 percent compared with 7 percent growth in the overall workforce,” according to the report. However, women and minorities remain underrepresented in the S&E workforce compared to their overall proportion in the population.

The data show that a considerable proportion of U.S. S&E degrees, particularly doctoral degrees, are conferred to international students. In 2017, 34 percent of all S&E doctoral degrees were awarded to temporary visa holders. Foreign-born workers also account for 30 percent of workers in S&E occupations. More than 50 percent of doctorate holders in engineering, computer science, and mathematics occupations and more than 30 percent of doctorate holders in life science occupations are foreign born. The report draws attention to shifting trends: “The long-term trend of ever-increasing foreign student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities has changed as the rate of increase has slowed since 2016. Internationally mobile students still pick the U.S. more than any other country for their higher education degrees. But students today have more choices than ever before as nations actively court globally-mobile talent.”

The 2020 S&E Indicators was prepared by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) under the guidance of the NSB, which is the policymaking and governing body of NSF.

Beginning this year, the S&E Indicators will transition from a single report released every two years to a series of nine thematic reports released on a rolling basis. The thematic reports focused on elementary and secondary math and science education, higher education, S&E labor force, and publications output were published in the fall of 2019, with the remaining reports being rolled out this month. The 2020 State of U.S. S&E report highlights the key findings from all the thematic reports. The complete 2020 Indicators report is available at: https://ncses.nsf.gov/indicators

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NASEM Report Considers Bioeconomy

A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), entitled “Safeguarding the Bioeconomy,” concludes that the United States currently dominates the global bioeconomy landscape but needs to address several challenges, including stagnant funding for fundamental research, inadequate workforce development, cybersecurity weaknesses, decentralized leadership, and international competition, in order to support and safeguard the continued growth of the bioeconomy.

The report is based on a consensus study performed by the “Committee on Safeguarding the Bioeconomy: Finding Strategies for Understanding, Evaluating, and Protecting the Bioeconomy While Sustaining Innovation and Growth” and sponsored by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The panel defines bioeconomy as “economic activity that is driven by research and innovation in the life sciences and biotechnology, and that is enabled by technological advances in engineering and in computing and information sciences.” According to the committee’s analysis, the U.S. bioeconomy is valued at more than $950 billion, which is more than 5 percent of the gross domestic product.

The report recommends several actions that the U.S. should take in order to create a strong bioeconomy while also protecting it from security risks. One such recommendation is the creation of a government-wide strategic coordinating body chaired by senior White House leadership to ensure coordination across the science, economic, regulatory, and security agencies. This entity would be “tasked with safeguarding and realizing the potential of the U.S. bioeconomy” and “responsible for relevant foresight activities and informed by input from a diverse range of relevant external stakeholders.”

In addition to prioritizing public investments in fundamental research, the panel recommends prioritizing workforce development and “attracting and retaining scientists from around the world” in order to maintain U.S. competitiveness and leadership within the global bioeconomy. The report warns that policies formulated to address security risks from foreign talent could in fact negatively impact the bioeconomy and suggests that any policies to mitigate foreign threats be developed with input from the scientific community. The panel urges the U.S. government to engage with other countries in order to foster collaboration, respond to global challenges, and drive economic growth.

On cybersecurity and data protection, the report recommends that “all stakeholders should adopt best practices for securing information systems from digital intrusion, exfiltration, or manipulation.” The panel also advises government agencies to invest in the “modernization, curation, and integrity” of biological information databases in order to protect the bioeconomy from cybersecurity risks.

The full report is available at https://doi.org/10.17226/25525.

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BCoN Briefs Interagency Committee

On January 16, 2020, the Biodiversity Collections Network - a project led by the American Institute of Biological Sciences in partnership with the Natural Science Collections Alliance and Society for Preservation of Natural History Collections - provided members of the federal Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (IWGSC) with information about its recent report, Extending U.S. Biodiversity Collections to Promote Research and Education (https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz140). In addition, highlights from the December 2019 AIBS Council Meeting, Beyond Specimens, were also shared with the panel.

The IWGSC was established by the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) by a charter approved in June 2006. The group currently operates as a subcommittee under the Committee on Science and Technology Enterprise, established in July 2018. The IWGSC is co-chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian and originally reported to the NSTC Committee on Science. IWGSC’s mission was to assess the status and needs of the scientific collections owned, managed, and/or supported by the U.S. Federal Government, and to recommend ways to improve their management, effectiveness, and impact.

The IWGSC is currently working on a new report that is expected to help guide future priorities for scientific collections held by the U.S. government.

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OSTP Wants Input on Data Repositories

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is seeking public comments on a draft set of desirable characteristics of data repositories used to locate, manage, share, and use data resulting from federally funded research. The request was published in the Federal Register on January 17, 2020.

With this request, OSTP intends to “identify and help Federal agencies provide more consistent information on desirable characteristics of data repositories for data subject to agency Public Access Plans and data management and sharing policies, whether those repositories are operated by government or non-governmental entities.” Improved consistency in guidelines and best practices for data repositories provided by agencies is expected to reduce the burden for researchers. Feedback from the public will help to inform coordinated agency action.

The proposed set of desirable characteristics of data repositories have been developed by the Subcommittee on Open Science (SOS) of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science. SOS aims to advance open science and foster implementation of agency Public Access Plans that were formulated in response to the 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum entitled “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” that called for improved access to data and publications resulting from federally funded R&D.

Comments on this draft can be submitted online to OpenScience@ostp.eop.gov on or before 11:59 PM ET on March 6, 2020. More information and instructions are available at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-01-17/html/2020-00689.htm.

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Scientists Offer Road Map for Insect Conservation and Restoration

In an article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution on January 6, 2020, a group of 73 scientists have called for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide and fertilizer use under a “global roadmap” for insect conservation and recovery.

The article reads, in part: “Insects are vitally important in a wide range of ecosystem services of which some are vitally important for food production and security (for example, pollination and pest control). There is now a strong scientific consensus that the decline of insects, other arthropods and biodiversity as a whole, is a very real and serious threat that society must urgently address.”

The authors offered several “no-regret” immediate solutions to address the significant decline in insect populations resulting from “habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and overharvesting.” These include measures such as increasing landscape heterogeneity in agriculture; reducing light, water, and noise pollution; phasing out pesticide use; reducing imports of ecologically harmful products; avoiding the introduction of alien species; conserving threatened species and promoting restoration programs; and enhancing citizen science in order to obtain more data on insect diversity and engage the public. In addition, the scientists proposed some mid-term and long-term actions, such as encouraging new research, generating more reliable data sets, launching public-private partnerships to restore vital habitats, and establishing a global monitoring program.

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Participate in the 2020 AIBS Congressional Visits Day

Join the American Institute of Biological Sciences on April 20-22, 2020 for our annual Congressional Visits Day in Washington, DC.

Meet with your members of Congress to help them understand the important role the federal government plays in supporting the biological sciences. Advocate for federal investments in biological sciences research supported by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies.

Participants will complete a communications and advocacy training program provided by AIBS that prepares them to be effective advocates for their science. AIBS also provides participants with background information and materials, as well as arranges meetings with lawmakers.

Training program: In conjunction with the 2020 AIBS Congressional Visits Day, AIBS is offering its highly acclaimed Communications Boot Camp for Scientists. This professional development course will be on April 20-21. All participants who complete the course receive priority access to the Congressional Visits Day program and a certificate of completion indicating that they have successfully completed 16 hours of communications training. This professional development program provides practical instruction and interactive exercises designed to help scientists (e.g. researchers, graduate students, administrators, educators) translate scientific information for non-technical audiences and to effectively engage with decision-makers and the news media. For more information about the training program, including pricing, click here.

Scientists, graduate students, educators, or other science community members who are interested in advocating for scientific research and education are encouraged to participate in this important event.

Express your interest in participating in the event by registering. Registration will close on March 16, 2020. Space is limited and it may not be possible to accommodate the participation of all interested individuals.

Register at: https://www.aibs.org/public-policy/congressionalvisitsday.html

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Enhance Your Interdisciplinary and Team Science Skills

Reports abound from professional societies, the Academies, government agencies, and researchers calling attention to the fact that science is increasingly an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international endeavor. In short, science has become a “team sport.”

There is a real and present need to better prepare scientists for success in this new collaborative environment. The American Institute of Biological Sciences is responding to this call with a new program for scientists, educators, and individuals who work with or participate in scientific teams.

Team science is increasingly common in 21st century biological, life, and environmental sciences. Collaboration is no longer limited to sharing ideas with the biologist in the lab next door. The questions confronting science often require teams that may include a mix of computer and information scientists, physical and social scientists, mathematicians, ethicists, policy and management experts, as well as community stakeholders and citizen scientists. Adding to this complexity, teams span programs within organizations, cross organization boundaries to form institutional consortia, and often include international partners.

This intensive, two-day, interactive, professional development course was designed by scientists and experts on collaboration and teamwork to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to become productive and effective members of scientific teams. From its first offering the course has evolved to include a greater focus on team planning and teamwork, and less time allocated to university administration of interdisciplinary teams.

Nothing teaches collaboration like practicing collaboration. This is not a course that asks you to learn in isolation. It is a microcosm of scientific collaboration, with extensive hands-on learning as part of a scientific team, with scientific case studies and examples.

The Enabling Interdisciplinary and Team Science course is designed for anyone involved in collaborative scientific endeavors. Team leaders will find the course especially helpful. Because participants will work on “real-world” team science concerns, we encourage multiple members of a team to attend together. We can also customize the course and bring it to your university, department, lab, or research team. This course provides the right foundation from which your team can successfully accomplish your goals.

The next program will be held on April 27-28, 2020 in Washington, DC. Learn more at https://www.aibs.org/events/teamscienceevent.html.

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Short Takes

  • Members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have elected Representative Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) to be the next chair of the Energy Subcommittee. She replaces Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA), who joined the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in November 2019. Fletcher previously served as the chair of the Environment Subcommittee, which will now be led by Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) will now chair the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has launched a 5-year status review of the grizzly bear under the Endangered Species Act to determine if the species' protected status needs to be revised. The grizzly bear was first listed as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states in 1975. The agency is soliciting any new information on the species that has become available since its last review in 2011. The 60-day public comment period ends on March 16, 2020. More information at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-01-14/html/2020-00401.htm.

  • The House Committee on Natural Resources has approved legislation that would clarify regulatory protections for migratory birds. If enacted, the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552), would amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 to ensure that the "prohibition on the unauthorized take or killing of migratory birds includes incidental take by commercial activities." "Take" is defined by USFWS as "to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect," with "incidental" take referring to an unintentional taking. The legislation is in response to a 2017 legal opinion by Interior solicitors, which concluded that the protections only apply to the intentional taking of a bird, a move that was criticized by conservation groups. The bill, sponsored by Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), currently has 28 cosponsors including two Republican lawmakers. The measure will now be considered by the full chamber.

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