This overview of the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 describes some major developments in international and U.S. science and technology (S&T). It synthesizes selected major findings in a meaningful way and is not intended to be comprehensive. The reader will find important findings in the report that are not covered in the overview, for example, public support for science is strong even though public knowledge is limited, S&T activities in different states vary substantially in size and scope, and participation of underrepresented groups in U.S. S&T is growing, but slowly. More extensive data are presented in the body of each chapter, and major findings on particular topics appear in the Highlights sections that precede chapters 1–7.

The reader should note that the indicators included in Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 derive from a variety of national, international, and private sources and may not be strictly comparable in a statistical sense, especially for international data. In addition, some metrics and data are somewhat weak, and models relating them to each other and to economic and social outcomes are often not well developed. Thus, even though many data series conform generally to international standards, the focus is on broad trends that should be interpreted with care; where data are weak, this is noted in the specific chapter. (For more on the limitations of existing data and analytic models, see "Afterword: Data Gaps and Needs.")

The overview highlights a trend in many parts of the world toward the development of more knowledge-intensive economies, in which research, its commercial exploitation, and other intellectual work play a growing role. Implicit in the discussion are the key roles played by industry and government in these changes.

A healthy economy provides the foundation for investments in scientific research and technological innovation. Therefore, the overview begins by describing broad trends in U.S. competitiveness in the rapidly changing global macroeconomic system. It then traces the growth and structural shifts in international high-technology markets and comments briefly on related developments in medium- and low-technology market segments. There follows an examination of the changing conduct and location of international R&D, which are both fundamental to, and recasting, international high-technology markets.

The overview then turns to the personnel needed to build and maintain knowledge-intensive economic activity. After reviewing evidence of the widespread upgrading of higher education levels in international workforces, the discussion turns to a review of the U.S. S&T labor force, including trends in the production of new workers with S&T skills. It presents data on the U.S. reliance on foreign-born and foreign-educated S&T workers and discusses the growing international mobility of highly trained persons. The overview concludes with a review of the performance of U.S. K–12 students on national and international tests.

Throughout, the overview examines relevant S&T patterns and trends in the United States that bear on, and are affected by, these external changes. Where possible, the overview presents comparative data for the United States, the European Union after its first major enlargement (EU-25), and Japan, China, and eight other selected Asian economies (the Asia-10).

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