Does the US Still Lead in Science & Technology?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/13/2008 01:11:00 AM
Just out is the RAND Corporation's monograph entitled US Competitiveness in Science and Technology. The authors of this work find that there is little to suggest that the United States is losing its lead in scientific and technological research based on various indicators of research productivity such as R&D spending, patents, publications, citations, and even Nobel Prize winners in the "hard" sciences. Will this assuage those who fear the US is losing its competitiveness? Read the thing and decide for yourselves. Personally, I think that the indicators used are kind of rough, for the sheer quantity of US research output likely won't guarantee that the Next Big Thing won't come out of China, India, or somewhere else. That is, a thousand incremental innovations may pale in comparison to a radical innovation which may change the world coming outside of the US.

The discussion on pp. 38-39 summarizes the findings neatly:

The United States still leads the world in science and technology. The United States accounts for 40 percent of total world R&D spending, 38 percent of industrialized nations’ (OECD countries) triadic patents, and employs 37 percent of OECD researchers (1.3 million FTE). It produces 35 percent, 49 percent, and 63 percent of world publications, citations, and highly cited publications, employs 70 percent of the world’s Nobel Prize winners, 66 percent of its most cited individuals, and is home to 75 percent of the world’s top 20 and top 40 universities and 58 percent of its top 100.

R&D spending is rapidly increasing in developing nations such as China and Korea. But despite this rapid growth, the U.S. share of world R&D spending (dollars at PPP) fell only by 1.5 percent to 36.1 percent between 1993 and 2003, while the EU-15 and Japan lost significant ground. In absolute terms, the United States increased its R&D spending by $126.3 billion (nominal value at PPP), from $166.1 billion in 1993 to $292.4 billion in 2003. This increase is more than in any other region: Over the same period, the EU-15 added $76.6 billion, Japan added $38.3 billion, and China added $60.8 billion.

S&T employment is not growing more rapidly in other nations/regions than in the United States, though China showed remarkable growth. The United States added a large number of researchers (299,000) between 1995 and 2003, suggesting a vibrant R&D sector. At the same time, China added nearly as many (289,000), the EU-15 added 220,000, and Japan added 95,000. Both the EU-15 and China graduated more scientists and engineers than the United States.

While developing nations (China and India in particular) are starting to account for a significant portion of the world’s S&T inputs and activities (R&D funding in dollars at PPP, research jobs, S&T education, etc.) and are showing rapid growth in outputs and outcomes, they still account for a very small share of triadic patents, S&T publications, and citations. Innovation and scientific discovery are still led by the United States, EU 15, and Japan. The United States did lose 3 percentage points in its world share in publications, citations, and top 1 percent highly cited publications between 1993–1997 and 1997–2001. But on measures such as additions to the S&T workforce and patented innovations, U.S. growth in S&T was in line with or above average world trends. By comparison, Japan grew more slowly in additions to the S&T workforce, and both the EU-15 and Japan had slower growth in patented innovations.

High growth in R&D expenditures, employment of scientists and engineers, and patents suggests that U.S. S&T has remained vigorous. These U.S. developments occur at a time when increases (though at different rates) in each of these measures are also seen in the EU-15, Japan, China, Korea, and many other nations/regions. In other words, strong growth of R&D activity, S&E employment, and innovation in many countries suggests a future of significant innovation activity, and, because of the greater diffusion of technology in a globalized world, the promise of economic growth for those nations that are capable of absorbing (making economic use of) the new technology. Scientifically advanced nations and regions such as the United States, the EU, and Japan are highly capable of implementing new technology and will benefit from it. Developing nations such as China and India have partial capability, but are well ahead of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. Though, as we will discuss in more detail later, developing nations can continue to grow their economies rapidly by absorbing existing technology in addition to new technology.