NSF released Science & Engineering Indicators

At the end of the summer, I wrote a piece about the history of the NSF. I wrote

“Another cool thing the agency does is to collect reams of data and publish the Science & Engineering Indicators. These reports give interesting statistics on education, research and development, the global marketplace, and public attitudes toward science. “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering,” summarizing indicators, will be released on January 15, 2020. In the meantime, you can look at thematic reports (on a particular topic), examine state comparisons, and lots more. If you are into this sort of thing, you can spend a lot of time at this website; it is fascinating.”

Well, the 2020 report is out!

Journalists across the U.S. take note. The Concord Monitor looks at how the national numbers of the report compare to those in New Hampshire.

Journalists around the world take note. The Manila Times  notes that this report is accepted as one of the most authoritative reports on the state of the global S&T. The author of the piece from Manila begins with the observation that this report was released on the same day that President Trump signed phase one of a new trade agreement with China, and closes with this bold (?) assertion “The move of the U.S. from uncontested leader to an influential leader as we learnt from State of Science & Engineering 2020 might turn out to be a more historical event than the trade deal between the U.S. and China.”

You might also want to read the Inside Higher Ed take.

Ok, with all that lead in, what’s in it?

The report is short, only about 15 pages of reading (and a lot of graphics on those pages). It consists of six central chapters, plus an Executive Summary, Introduction, and Conclusion (Glossary, etc.). The six chapters are titled:

  • U.S. and Global Education
  • U.S. S&E Workforce
  • Global R&D
  • U.S. R&D Performance and Funding
  • Global Science and Technology Capabilities
  • Invention, Innovation, and Perceptions of Science

While the U.S. continues to perform the largest share of global research and development (R&D), other nations—especially China—are rapidly developing their capacity. Other countries’ increasing investment and activity have led to the U.S.’s relative share of global activity remaining unchanged or shrinking.

For me, a top line takeaway is that, while the federal government remains a major source of funding for basic research in the U.S., from 2000 to 2017 the share of basic research funded by the federal government fell from 58% to 42%. Mathematics research in the U.S. and done at institutions of higher education is funded by the federal government, with most of our federal money coming from the NSF. Eight federal departments and agencies[1] together account for most of the federal R&D spending, in all science and engineering (S&E) fields. The share of research funded by the U.S. federal government has declined. In addition to the 42% of funding for basic research provided by the federal government, the business sector funds 29% of basic research (this latter number is up from 19% in 2000). The business sector has long been known for its experimental development and applied research; it is now significantly contributing to basic research as well.The U.S. spends under 3% of its GDP on R&D expenditures; South Korea has the highest “R&D intensity” at 4.6%. Countries invest this money differently, and the U.S. invests more in basic research (17%); France targets much more (21%) of its investment in basic research. For comparison, China only spends about 6% of its annual R&D funds on basic research.Two other facts that probably won’t surprise you, and touch the mathematics community arguably more deeply than other communities of scientists:

  • U.S. eighth graders continue to rank in the middle of advanced economies in international mathematics assessment.
  • Foreign-born non-citizens make up a considerable portion of Ph.D. recipients, including more than half in mathematics (to compare, roughly 17% of the college graduate population of the U.S. is foreign-born).

Here are two other bits of information that I think important for all mathematicians to know:

  • Enrollment of international students in the U.S. has declined since 2016.
  • From 2000 to 2018 the percentage of U.S. articles published with coauthors in another country grew from 19% to 39%.

I have tried to present facts here, and only facts, taken from the Indicators. I am going to conclude with a few more facts, wrapped with opinions:

  1. Mathematics (and all science) is a global endeavor and we must fight to keep it so. I have written about this in the past. The President’s new expanded travel ban puts international collaboration further at risk.
  2. We should all know about the increasing and truly remarkable job that our colleagues at community colleges do, and recognize the enormous role they play cultivating domestic talent. From the report: “Community colleges play a key role in preparing Americans to enter the workforce with associate’s degrees or certificates or to transition to four-year educational institutions. In 2017, the United States awarded 93,000 associate’s degrees in S&E fields and another 133,000 in S&E technologies. Among U.S. students who earned S&E bachelor’s degrees between 2010 and 2017, about half (47%) had done some coursework at a community college and nearly a fifth (18%) earned associate’s degrees.” Note: this is about your students, even if you teach at a four-year or Ph.D.-granting institution. We must teach the students who are in our classes.
  3. Public perception about mathematics and science is important to us. Why? For one, we need our kids getting strong math and science in schools and thus need good teachers and good family support for such education. Second, we need all Americans to understand the role that science plays enhancing their lives, with new technologies and ever-improving health care. According to this report,
    • Americans overwhelmingly believe that science creates more opportunities for the next generation (92% in 2018), and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research (84%);
    • However, only a minority of Americans (44%) have a “great deal of confidence” in the scientific community. This perception has essentially remained stable since 1973 (when it was 37%) and is second only to confidence in the military (59%).

[1] In addition to the NSF, these are Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, and NASA.

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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