APS News

March 2022 (Volume 31, Number 3)

FYI: Science Policy News From AIP

National Science Board Weighs In on State of US Science

By Andrea Peterson

A new report from the National Science Board finds that the US has continued to lose its clear leadership position in global science and engineering (S&E) as other countries—particularly China—have built up their research enterprises. Accordingly, the Board recommends in an accompanying policy brief that the nation position itself as an international hub for scientific collaboration and take urgent action to strengthen the domestic STEM workforce. The report draws on the Board’s S&E Indicators, a collection of statistics and analyses Congress requires NSB to update every two years.

The report finds that the US continues to lead the world in annual R&D spending, with combined expenditures from public and private sources increasing to $656 billion in 2019. However, because global R&D spending has tripled over the past two decades, the US share of the total has fallen from 37% in 2000 to 29% in 2010 to 27% in 2019, while China’s share increased from 5% to 15% to 22%.

FYI logo new

The US remains the leader by far in spending on basic research, with annual expenditures of about $100 billion, roughly quadruple the amount spent by China.

Changes in other measures of scientific activity, such as publication output and patents, largely correlate with the trends in spending, the report shows. Given these shifts, the Board concludes that the US “no longer leads by default” and advocates that the country instead position itself as a “keystone” in the global R&D ecosystem.

It elaborates, “What does it mean to be a keystone of global S&E? It means strengthening international collaborations and engagements, not withdrawing from them. It means being a dependable partner and responsibly fostering open exchanges of ideas and people across fields, public and private sectors, and borders. It means being a hub of the worldwide S&E talent flow.”

The report observes that the share of US publications with international coauthors increased from 19% in 2000 to 40% in 2020, and that US scientists contributed to 35% of global publications with authors from multiple countries in 2020.

In addition, it states that foreign-born workers accounted for 19% of the US STEM workforce in 2019, including 45% of workers in doctorate-level occupations, and that 37% of US-trained S&E doctoral recipients in 2019 held temporary visas.

While the report notes the fraction of such graduates who intend to remain in the US after graduation has remained higher than 75% over the past decade, the policy brief asserts that the country’s ability to attract and retain scientific talent should not be taken for granted. It urges the US government to maintain a “clear, consistent, and predictable visa system, and ensure that those who come here feel welcome and secure.”

The vitality of the domestic STEM workforce is also a major concern for the Board, which has focused attention on what it calls the “missing millions” of workers stemming from the underrepresentation of women and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people across STEM fields. The Board connects these disparities to longstanding inequities in STEM education at the K-12 level as well as to socioeconomic barriers in higher education, such as the high cost of four-year colleges.

“To ensure that all Americans can participate in and benefit from the S&E economic engine, the US must invest in public K-12 and post-secondary STEM education in every state and strategically develop capacity by establishing innovation hubs across the country,” the Board concludes.

The author is Science Policy Reporter for FYI.

Published by the American Institute of Physics since 1989, FYI is a trusted source of science policy news that is read by congressional staff, federal agency heads, and leading figures in the scientific community. Sign up for free FYI emails at aip.org/fyi.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

March 2022 (Volume 31, Number 3)

APS News Home

Issue Table of Contents

APS News Archives

Contact APS News Editor

Articles in this Issue
Governance Changes Bolster APS’s World-Renowned Journals
April Meeting: From Quarks to Cosmos via New York
Physicists Address Global Challenges at Leadership Meeting
American Physical Society Takes On Scientific Misinformation
Frances Hellman’s Presidential Address
To Touch the Sun
APS Membership Unit Profile: The Forum on Diversity and Inclusion
The 2022 APS Medal and Society Prize Ceremony
This Month in Physics History
News from Government Affairs
FYI: Science Policy News From AIP
The Back Page