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NSB Releases Report on the State of U.S. Science

January 29, 2020

On January 15, the National Science Board released a new and improved version of previous reports –  The State of U.S. Science and Engineering. A briefing on Capitol Hill included information from chapters on science and math education, higher education, the technical workforce, and scientific publications. NSF will release four more chapters in the coming months —reporting global spending patterns, academic research, trade and industry, knowledge transfer, and public attitudes. Releasing individual chapters differs from the format of previous rollouts, where NSF would release an enormous and less timely biennial report titled Science and Engineering Indicators. (View past reports here.) The report is produced by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), within the Social and Behavioral Sciences Directorate, led by Arthur Lupia. NSF also recently improved the NCSES Interactive Data Tool, making it more user-friendly for researchers and the public.

The report revealed troubling trends, including the decline of the relative global position of the U.S. in science and engineering. Though the U.S. continues to spend the most on R&D, we only outspend China by 2 percent of the global total. In 2014, the NSB had predicted that the U.S. might lose the lead in 2018, but surprisingly strong spending by U.S. industry allowed the country to stay in front a bit longer. Other nations, most notably China, are rapidly developing their R&D capacity at a much higher rate.

In addition to global comparisons, Indicators offers details on key U.S. trends:

  • U.S. Investment in R&D – Federal sources are the second largest funder behind the business sector, though the amount has not increased significantly in the past decade. Basic research continues to be largely federally funded.
  • Publications – China accounts for 21 percent of the share of article authorship, with its publication output having risen tenfold since 2000. This places China at the top of the list. The U.S. continues to lead and is highly-cited relative to its share of articles, though both China and the E.U. are rising in impact.
  • Median Salaries – In 2017, the median annual salary in S&E occupations (across workers at all education levels) was $85,390, which is more than double the median for all U.S. workers ($37,690).
  • US K12 performance on Science and Math assessments – Students in the U.S. rank in the middle of 19 “advanced economies” which participate in this assessment. Improvements in math scores have slowed in the past decade.
  • Public Perception of Science – Americans are in still high agreement that science creates opportunities for the next generation (92 percent) and that the government should fund basic research (84 percent). The percentage of the public who have a “great deal of confidence in the scientific community” also remains relatively steady (44 percent), second only to the military (59 percent).
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