Have We Given Up on Science?

Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge? asks as article in today’s New York Times.
The article cites a report from the National Academy of Sciences which tries to ring the alarm: “Although many people assume that the United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case inasmuch as great minds and ideas exist throughout the world. We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost – and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost, if indeed it can be regained at all.”
The report cites China and India among a number of economically promising countries that may be poised to usurp America’s leadership in innovation and job growth.
“For the first time in generations, the nation’s children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did,” the report said. “We owe our current prosperity, security and good health to the investments of past generations, and we are obliged to renew those commitments.”
The Industrial Research Institute, an organization in Arlington, Va., that represents some of the nation’s largest corporations, is also concerned that the academic and financial support for scientific innovation is lagging in the United States. The group’s most recent data indicate that from 1986 to 2001, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all awarded more doctoral degrees in science and engineering than did the United States. Between 1991 and 2003, research and development spending in America trailed that of China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – in China’s case by billions of dollars.
Read the report. Here’s the TOC:
1 A Disturbing Mosaic
2 Why Are Science and Technology Critical to America\’s Prosperity in the 21st Century
3 How is America Doing Now in Science and Technology
4 What Actions Should America Take to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century
5 Ten Thousand Teachers-Ten Million Minds
6 Sowing the Seeds
7 Best and the Brightest
8 Innovation Incentives
9 What Might the United States Be Like if it is Not Competitive in Science and Technology
BTW, the National Academy of Sciences also has this report available online: Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition (1999)
Heck, just listen to what Peter Drucker had to say.
All is not lost, yet. But we took a wrong turn somewhere.
The article raises another point:
“The inventiveness of individuals depends on the context, including sociopolitical, economic, cultural and institutional factors,” said Merton C. Flemings, a professor emeritus at M.I.T. who holds 28 patents and oversees the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program for inventors. “We remain one of the most inventive countries in the world. But all the signs suggest that we won’t retain that pre-eminence much longer. The future is very bleak, I’m afraid.”
Mr. Flemings said that private and public capital was not being adequately funneled to the kinds of projects and people that foster invention. The study of science is not valued in enough homes, he observed, and science education in grade school and high school is sorely lacking.
But quantitative goals, he said, are not enough. Singapore posts high national scores in mathematics, he said, but does not have a reputation for churning out new inventions. In fact, he added, researchers from Singapore have studied school systems in America to try to glean the source of something ineffable and not really quantifiable: creativity.
“In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive modern society,” a report sponsored by the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program said last year. “Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be perceived as an act of rebellion against the status quo.”
Which brings us to Richard Florida

5 Replies to “Have We Given Up on Science?”

  1. Great post Christian.
    George Bernard Shaw … “… therefore all progress belongs to the irrational man.”
    Having worked and lived here and abroad, I can confirm that, in my experience the US workplace & worker is the least innovative and most “fear-motivated” worker in the global economy.
    Other than the poor std. of high-school education here, I believe that the root of this problem was created by the government when they pandered to big-business and wrote into law 2 pieces of horiffic legislation that aren’t found anywhere else in the world …
    1) At-will employment – the fear that makes yes-(wo)men of 99% of US employess.
    2) Patents of common & logicical processes – that prevent the application of innovative business processes and services across multiple products. Innovation is iterative – yet patent law crushes the iteration & the companies trying to innovate it to its next logical product.
    These two laws, if not changed, will be the undoing of the US Economy … and are no doubt speeding its course to being toppled from super-powerdom by China and India.

  2. Technological innovation? Not in my backyard

    Is the U.S. really losing its competitive edge when it comes to innovation? That was the premise of a provocative New York Times piece that came out earlier this week. The article by Timothy O’Brien pointed to a recent National Academy of Sciences repo…

  3. Good post and connection to Drucker. I think the problem is partially the US failing but much moreso the US thinking we natually will be the leaders. Others are doing a much better job now and whoever wants to lead in innovation is going to have to do things better than the others. I think the improvement of other countries is the larger reason for the relative decline in the US. I posted more thoughts earlier: Engineering Education and Innovation
    And more thoughts: Worldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data

  4. Innovation: inversely proportional to size of budget

    BAH gives us a “special report” on innovation by Barry Jaruzelski, Kevin Dehoff, and Rakesh Bordia: “Money Isn’t Everything.” “The myth that higher R&D spend translates into competitive advantage has been around for decades, but it appears to be…

  5. Craig Barrett: Where the Science Nerds At?

    “In China engineering accounted for 65% of all science and engineering degrees; in South Korea for 58%; and in Japan for 29%. In the U.S. that figure is less than 5%.” That’s Craig Barrett talking about the dearth of students…

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