U.S. Global Science Supremacy Not a Divine Right
WASHINGTON, DC, February 18, 2005 (ENS) - The United States is in danger of losing its global leadership role in science and innovation, a position it has held since the end of World War II, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation warned this week. The new coalition of high-tech industry, scientific societies, and higher education associations said the weakening federal commitment to invest in science and research is a root cause of the problem.
"We are and remain the world's leader in innovation," said Task Force member John Engler, National Association of Manufacturers president and a former governor of Michigan. "But we do not enjoy that status by divine right, and we cannot assume that we are safely ahead of the world. Other countries are climbing the technology ladder just as eagerly as we are."
That reality is reflected in the U.S. share of worldwide high-tech exports, which has been in a 20 year decline.
From 1980 until 2001 the U.S. share fell from 31 percent to 18 percent. At the same time, the global share of high-tech exports for China, South Korea, and other emerging Asian countries increased from seven percent to 25 percent.
In a presentation Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Task Force members said federal research funding is a necessary part of the solution. But instead federal funding of basic research in engineering and physical sciences has not grown over the last 30 years.
Since the 1980s, the source of funding for research and development has shifted from the federal government to the private sector, which now provides more than 68 percent of all domestic R&D funds. But private funding tends to focus on short-term results, said the Task Force, pointing out that of these private funds, 71 percent were for development, not basic research.
The U.S. share of science and engineering papers published worldwide declined from 38 percent in 1988 to 31 percent in 2001, according to the Task Force. Europe and Asia are responsible for the bulk of growth in scientific papers in recent years. U.S. output was passed by Western Europe in the mid-nineties, and Asia's share of the total is rapidly growing.
Craig Barrett, President and CEO of Intel Corporation, said there is now a shortage of science and engineering talent in the United States that the country needs to maintain a competitive economy.
The Task Force is offering a set of benchmarks in education, workforce, ideas, and research investment that show other regions and nations, particularly the rapidly developing economies of Asia, are closing in on the United States.
Council on Competitiveness President Deborah Wince-Smith said innovation has been the principal driver of the growth and productivity of the U.S. economy and the nation's rising standard of living for the past 50 years.
"America's economic and political standing are fundamentally bound up in our capacity as a society to innovate, and we now face much more serious competitive challenges from new centers of innovation across an increasingly interconnected planet," she said.
The proportion of U.S. citizens in science and engineering graduate studies within the United States is declining. From 1994 to 2001, graduate enrollments in science and engineering declined by 10 percent for U.S. citizens but increased by 25 percent for foreign born students.
In 2001 approximately 57 percent of all science and engineering postdoctoral positions at U.S. universities were held by foreign born scholars.
Not only are there fewer Americans entering the fields of science and engineering, the work force in these disciplines is aging, and retirements from science and engineering jobs are increasing.
Unless more domestic university students choose to pursue degrees in the critical science and engineering fields, there is likely to be a major shortage in the high-tech talent required by the U.S. defense industry, key federal research and national defense agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and NASA, and the national laboratories, the Task Force said.
"If the federal government does not recommit itself to robust funding of research in these areas," said Hasselmo, "we will lose students, and our nation will surely suffer."
"European and Asian knowledge creation is dynamic. It's growing fast," said Diana Hicks, who chairs the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "When they occupy more room at the top, it leaves less room for us."
"As the still leading innovative nation in the world, we could ignore this," said Hicks. "However, to the extent that we are concerned for our economic future, we must develop our innovative capabilities to their fullest."
"It is easy to ignore long-term needs because of pressures from short-term needs," said Burton Richter, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Paul Pigott Professor in the Physical Sciences at Stanford University, in a written statement. "We have been able to get away with it for decades because we were so far ahead of the rest of the world. But the rest of the world is catching up."
Richter and Pigott call the decline in federal research funding "a bipartisan failure of vision."
The document listing the benchmarks, "The Knowledge Economy: Is the United States Losing Its Competitive Edge?" is online at: http://www.futureofinnovation.org
Task Force on the Future of American Innovation members include: Agilent Technologies, AeA, ASTRA, American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, American Physical Society, Association of American Universities, Computing Research Association, Computing Technology Industry Association, Computing Systems Policy Project, Council on Competitiveness, Hewlett-Packard, IEEE-USA, Intel, Lucent, Materials Research Society, Microsoft, National Association of Manufacturers, NASULGC, The Science Coalition, Semiconductor Industry Association, Southeastern Universities Research Association, and Texas Instruments.