This week the National Science Board released its biannual U.S. State of Science and Engineering 2022 report, as required by the NSF Act. Broadly, the report presents a near-term view of S&E based mostly on 2019 data. To a large extent, this year’s edition echoes trends from the last few reports. The U.S. is still a world leader in R&D spending and S&E education, but not making sufficient headway in recruiting underrepresented groups to S&E.
There was also frank recognition of the erosion of the U.S.’s preeminent position and of the rush worldwide – not just by China – to expand science and engineering expertise and industry strength as necessary elements for participation in the modern world. Here’s an excerpt from the NSB policy statement issued in conjunction with the report:
“Science and Engineering Indicators 2022 shows that no nation is the world leader in all aspects of S&E. Instead of one country leading in most research areas or by most science and engineering metrics, nations now lead in some research fields, but not all, and by some metrics, but not by others. Going forward, countries will shift more rapidly and frequently in their positions in the discovery and innovation enterprise as many more nations participate, compete, collaborate, and contribute to the sum total of human knowledge. In this world, the U.S. no longer leads by default – our country must act intentionally to achieve its strategic objectives. Since across-the-board leadership in S&E is no longer a possibility, what then should our goals be?”
At a briefing on the report held today, NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan said, “This truly is a defining moment for several reasons. Amongst those reasons, the most important ones are, it’s a moment of increased global competition. We are also in a moment of tremendous opportunity to strengthen our research enterprise by bringing in the missing millions of talent and ideas from across the socioeconomic spectrum, geography and diversity.”
Ellen Ochoa, chair of NSB, touched on the decline of the U.S. attraction for international students. “While the U.S. remains the top destination for internationally mobile students worldwide, U.S. international student enrollment has declined since 2016 and this decline was much more pronounced in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic on student enrollment. The overall declining international enrollment provides a strong impetus to both develop domestic talent and provide a welcoming environment for international students.”
While the tone of the report is perhaps rightfully cautionary, the data still show U.S. strength in S&E. Below are the “key takeaways” bullets from the report’s executive summary:
- Global research and development (R&D) performance is concentrated in a few countries, with the United States performing the most (27% of global R&D in 2019), followed by China (22%), Japan (7%), Germany (6%), and South Korea (4%).
- The global concentration of R&D performance continues to shift from the United States and Europe to countries in East-Southeast Asia and South Asia.
- Many middle-income countries, such as China and India, are increasing science and engineering (S&E) publication, patenting activities, and knowledge- and technology-intensive (KTI) output, which has distributed science and technology (S&T) capabilities throughout the globe.
- The proportion of total U.S. R&D funded by the U.S. government decreased from 31% in 2010 to an estimated 21% in 2019, even as the absolute amount of federally funded R&D increased.
- The U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor force represents 23% of the total U.S. labor force, involves workers at all educational levels, and includes higher proportions of men, Whites, Asians, and foreign-born workers than the proportions of these groups in the U.S. population.
- Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented among students earning S&E degrees and among STEM workers with at least a bachelor’s degree. However, their share of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree is similar to their share in the U.S. workforce.
The NSB has the full report online and it is actually quite easy to walk through the numbers and statements by clicking through the categories. Presented below are just a few of the charts and comments from today’s NSB briefing and posted 2020 report.
R&D, Patents, Papers
R&D spending, patent production, and research papers and articles produced are often used as indicators of relative strength. Ochoa noted, “This graph shows the six countries with the highest output of research articles. The orange bars show data from 2010 and the blue bars show the updated 2020 numbers. There’s been rapid growth in publications by authors with affiliations in China shown on the top and India. China’s surpassed the U.S. several years ago and became the largest producer globally. However, articles by authors with U.S. affiliations remain the most highly cited, followed by those with authors with affiliations in the European Union and China.”
“Like publications output, patenting activity has been increasing globally, leading to shifts in the shares of patenting by country over the last decade. This slide shows the percentage of international patents awarded to inventors in the top five countries or regions in 2010, shown in orange, and 2020 in blue, with the U.S. on top and the China on the bottom. In 2020, inventors from China, were granted almost half of all international patents while the U.S. was granted just 10 percent,” she said.
“Collectively in 2019, the eight countries shown on this chart (above) accounted for about three quarters of global R&D investment. And globally, these expenditures have tripled since 2000. Almost half of that increase comes from the populous regions of East-Southeast Asia and South Asia, including China,” said Ochoa.
Julia Phillips, chair of the NSB committee on national S&E policy, walked through the multitude of workforce and education S&E stats. In almost every category, from performance on standardized STEM tests to number of students pursuing S&E degrees, particularly advanced degrees, the U.S. was a poor performer.
“The good news is that the number of women earning S&E degrees has increased since 2011 and the overall percentage of women degree recipients across all fields has remained steady at about 50 percent. But there are significant gender differences in field of degree. A majority of the S&E degrees earned by women have consistently been in the social and behavioral sciences, whereas this field accounts for only a quarter of the S&E degrees earned by men. Men received a much higher proportion of degrees in engineering, physics and computer and mathematical sciences, all fields that are particularly important and employable in high technology and emerging industries,” said Phillips.
Ochoa followed, “It’s worth noting that in some fields, more than half of the U.S. doctoral degrees are awarded to temporary visa holders. The fields with a high proportion of foreign born students include economics, computer science, engineering, and mathematics and statistics. This chart [below] shows the total number of international students studying science and engineering enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions from 2012 to 2020. The blue bars represent undergraduates and the orange bars graduate students.”
As always, a fair amount of the report is dedicated to workforce development. Phillips said, “For far too long, millions have been missing (slide below) from the science and engineering enterprise. While the number of people from underrepresented groups in the S&E workforce has grown over the past decade, much faster increases will be needed for it to be representative of the U.S. population in 2013. To achieve that goal, the NSB estimates that the number of women must nearly double, Hispanics and Latinos triple, and Black or African Americans must more than double. And the number of American Indian or Alaska Native S&E workers needs to quadruple.”
Again, the report is rich in data and it’s best to walk through the slides and comments at your own pace, drilling down onto areas of interest.
Link to the NSB State of Science and Engineering 2022 Report: https://ncses.nsf.gov/indicators