Assessing the advancement of science

Find any surgical tool, engineering, lab supply, or any other science related company that produces goods, and I guarantee they put out some sort of newsletter boasting about the growth of their company and detailing their newest innovations. These people obviously put some legitimate time and effort into gathering facts and opinions from around their respective companies to create something that would show their effort and advancement.

Now imagine trying to do that at a national level, or a worldwide level. That is exactly what the National Science Board does every even-numbered year, at which time the report is handed to both the President and Congress. .

This report is called the Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) report, and is reviewed in extreme depth to ensure it is accurate in its assessment of the science and engineering enterprise of the United States and the rest of the world. In short, the SEI report is an unbiased, policy neutral, factual report of where the world of science and engineering is its lifetime, and is thus extremely important.

In addition to this report, they also release a “digest” version, a brief version of the document that highlights key points and trends. The report covers this mass of information in summaries broken up into six sections: Global Research and Development, US Research and Development, US Research and Development (Federal portfolio), US S&E Workforce, Research Outputs, and Geography of Science & Technology (S&T).

For example, in the first section on Global R&D, we learn that about $1.1 trillion were spent worldwide on R&D. The US accounted for about 1/3 of it. These numbers are nice because R&D is how innovation occurs, but what I think is a more useful fact in this report is their coverage of growth in these areas. Spending on R&D is on the rise in everywhere from the US to the European Union, and Asia.

Later, the report shows that in the US, college student preference for social and biological sciences and psychology have been rising since 2000. Masters degrees are growing fastest in biological sciences and psychology. This may correspond to the reports later statement that over half of the US research articles are on medical and life sciences.

This report is so succinct, so brilliantly short while covering what I consider some of the most important information available it’s mind boggling. I highly recommend you peruse this document at your leisure. In times like these, with our oceans being destroyed by petroleum, we can see some hope in the rise in numbers of engineers and scientists entering the world. Read the digest version here.

Alex Mojcher

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