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NSB report finds US lead in science and technology shrinking; emerging economies shifting global S&T landscape

6 February 2014

US predominance in science and technology (S&T) eroded further during the last decade, as several Asian nations—particularly China and South Korea—rapidly increased their innovation capacities. According to a new report released by the National Science Board (NSB), the policy making body of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and an advisor to the President and Congress, the major Asian economies, taken together, now perform a larger share of global R&D than the US, and China performs nearly as much of the world's high-tech manufacturing as the US.

Evidence in NSB’s biennial report Science and Engineering Indicators makes it increasingly clear that the US, Japan, and Europe no longer monopolize the global R&D arena. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed in the US and Europe has decreased, respectively, from 37% to 30% and from 26% to 22%. In this same time period, the share of worldwide R&D performed by Asian countries grew from 25% to 34%. China led the Asian expansion, with its global share growing from just 4% to 15% during this period.

The first decade of the 21st century continues a dramatic shift in the global scientific landscape. Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology.

—Dan Arvizu, NSB Chairman and director and chief executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

China and South Korea have catalyzed their domestic R&D by making significant investments in the S&T research enterprise and enhancing S&T training at universities. China tripled its number of researchers between 1995 and 2008, whereas South Korea doubled its number between 1995 and 2006. And there are indications that students from these nations may be finding more opportunities for advanced education in science and employment in their home countries.

In addition to investing in their research and teaching enterprises, these countries have focused their attention on crucial sectors of the global economy, including high-tech manufacturing and clean energy. The size of China’s high-tech manufacturing industry increased nearly six-fold between 2003 and 2012, raising China’s global share of high-tech manufacturing from 8% to 24% during that decade, closing in on the US share of 27%. In addition, emerging economies now invest more in clean energy than advanced economies. In 2012, emerging economies invested nearly $100 billion in clean energy, primarily wind and solar, with China serving as the primary driver of investment with $61 billion. China’s investment is more than double the $29 billion spent in the US.

Parent companies of US multinational corporations (MNCs) perform more than 80% of their worldwide R&D in the US. However, US MNCs continue to increase their R&D investments in countries such as Brazil, China, and India, both reflecting and further contributing to a more globally-distributed R&D landscape. Majority-owned foreign affiliates of US MNCs, for example, tripled their R&D investments in India and more than doubled them in Brazil between 2007 and 2010, nearly reaching the expenditure levels of the US affiliates in China.

US R&D rebounds from Great Recession. The 2008-09 recession took a toll on US R&D. Expenditures declined in 2009, primarily due to a sharp drop in business R&D, which comprises the largest portion of US R&D. This decrease in business R&D was partially offset by a temporary increase in Federal R&D funding through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

However, comprehensive data covering the post-economic downturn period reveal that the US has rebounded from the Great Recession better than other developed countries. By 2011, with a resurgence of business R&D, overall R&D funding had returned to 2008 levels, when adjusted for inflation. Indicators data also show that S&T degree and job holders weathered the recession better than others in the US workforce.

(The report does not cover the period during which Federal R&D was cut sharply by sequestration. The National Science Foundation reports that Federal R&D funding has declined in each fiscal year since 2010, dropping by 7.1% in fiscal year 2013.)

US high-tech industries have generally fared better than those of other developed economies in the aftermath of the recession. In contrast to the European Union (EU) and Japan, the value-added output of US high-tech industries grew in 2010-12, surpassing pre-recession levels. Similarly, commercial investment in clean energy technology declined sharply in the EU during the recession and has yet to return to pre-downturn levels.

One of the most notable S&T trends of the last decade has been the increased innovation capacity of emerging economies as they narrowed many gaps with the West. However, the US S&T enterprise remains the global leader. For example, the US invests twice as much as any other single nation in R&D, despite slipping to tenth in world ranking of the percentage of its GDP it devotes to R&D. In 2011, the U.S. spent $429 billion on R&D, compared to China’s $208 billion and Japan’s $146 billion. Among other S&T metrics, the U.S. leads in high quality research publications, patents, and income from intellectual property exports.

The 2014 volume of Science and Engineering Indicators is prepared by NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) on behalf of NSB. Indicators provides quantitative information on science, mathematics, and engineering education at all levels, the scientific and engineering workforce, domestic and international R&D performance, US competitiveness in high technology, and public attitudes and understanding of science and engineering.

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Comments

The economic shift from USA & EU to Asia started 30+ years ago and has gained speed in the last decade. If the trend continues, Asia will surpass USA & EU in most domains in another decade or so.

What will be the impacts on total GHG, employment, living standards and wealth disparity in USA & EU?

If China does as many influencial economic countries do and gets paranoid about the world and grows their military to the extent that it detracts from their productive economy, their fall will be faster than ours. Their position is more precarious. Of course, I presume we will continue down the path of military facism to an ultimate self destruction as our CIA handlers would prefer, it's just that our fall will be slower and China will drop fast. Overreaching military expansion based on fear mongering rhetoric is the normal path of empire destruction. While scientific discovery and technical improvement could be a method of avoiding these downfalls, we will never let the rational people have control. It will always be those that can fool the general populous the best with misinformation and good acting.

If you want young people in America to go into science and technology, you have to provide a stable and prosperous future for them. MBAs in the U.S. exploit engineers and scientists as a commodity, then discard them when the managers run the company into trouble. This is no way to build a better future.

SJC, this can be turned around. MBA's and law degrees are a dime a dozen. And there is a "race against the machine" (or, as the authors' new book calls it"the second technological revolution")that suggests that as even info tech engineers face increasing unemployment, the best brains will be numerous enough to man jobs in research and genuine innovation -- and there will be enough money in the US to pay them. How else to explain the tripling of Chinese R & D personnel between 1995 and 2008 -- than that they attended American universities? And find better opportunities with US based multinationals and as US faculty staff, than they would with largely nonexistent Chinese counterparts?

Since US engineering education has become less a votech enterprise (as it is in China) and more one based on scientific method, and since more homegrown doctors is the likely outcome of the current recession (notwithstanding complaints about Obamacare) we have the means of expanding our R&D base here at home, withnative talent. And of actually utilizing the fruits of this research, I might add, more effectively than China, the bureaucratic nightmare that has loused up San Francisco with its Walmart quality Bay Area Bridge!

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