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Frontiers
Science and Engineering Indicators 1996

September 1996

The United States remains the world's leading performer of research and development (R&D), a recent government report announced. However, this lead has declined over the last two decades.

The National Science Board's (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators 1996 explains that even though the United States still accounts for 44% of the industrial world's investment, the decline in U.S. R&D spending is occurring while other regions, especially Asia, are spending more. These regions are closing the gap between U.S. firms' technological advances and their own.

The 626-page biennial report covers hundreds of measurable trends in science and technology. These include: the country's R&D investment, effectiveness of elementary science and math education, and the public's attitude toward, and understanding of science. In addition, the report looked at comparatively new trends, such as the percentage of Americans who work on a computer at home, and how much use Internet and on-line services are getting. NSB presented the report to Congress last May.

Understanding these issues is critical for our development of the entire economy, says Robert M. Solow, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in economic science, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a member of the National Science Board.

"The health of the science-technology enterprise of the United States is the main thing that stands between us and a lower-wage future," he says.

Other major findings of S&E Indicators 1996 include:

  • The majority of the public (70%) believes that the benefits of scientific research outweigh harmful results.
  • The industrial investment in R&D fell during the first half of the 1990s. The decrease was largely due to cutbacks in defense spending.
  • Academia is the only R&D-performance sector that has not declined in constant-dollar terms.
  • Japan and Germany invest a higher percent of their econ-omies in nondefense R&D than does the United States.
  • An increasingly global economy has compelled U.S. industry to expand overseas. From 1985 to 1993, U.S. firms increased their investment in R&D abroad three times faster than domestically.
  • Due to an increase in computer and math-related jobs between 1990 and 1993, the overall number of S&E jobs in industry increased by 2.5 percent.

S&E Indicators 1996 is available on the World Wide Web at NSF's Web site: http://www.nsf.gov


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