The Past Is Prologue

Maintaining a Tradition of Excellence and Innovation

For more than a quarter of a century, the National Science Board's Science & Engineering Indicators report series has been a chronicler of key trends in science and engineering research and education. As the United States begins the transition into the 21st century and into a knowledge-based economy, it is worthwhile to examine the significant changes in the science and technology (S&T) enterprise that characterize the current period. Many of the issues faced at the time of the Board's first report, Science Indicators -- 1972, endure. Also, important aspects of the future will be at least partially determined by the S&T resources-both human and financial-in which the Nation has already invested.

An analysis of historical trends is possible due to the foresight of science policy leaders in the past. The collection and analysis of quantitative information as a basis for policy and decisionmaking was an integral component of the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) mandate from the outset. In preparing NSF's first full-year budget for fiscal year 1952, the National Science Board allocated $1 million of its approximately $13.5 million request for a survey of the Federal Government's financing of research and development (R&D). In 1953-54, NSF extended its surveys beyond the Federal Government to encompass research support and performance in industry, colleges and universities, and other organizations. At about the same time, it initiated the first in a series of human resource surveys.

"Through these studies," as NSF's 1957 annual report emphasized, "the Foundation has provided a new kind of measurement of national economic strength." This quote from a document published over four decades ago is as appropriate today as it was then. Many of the indicators that were developed at that time are still viewed as essential ways of measuring national S&T capabilities and economic strength. As times change, the need for additional data and indicators has evolved, along with the need for greater elaboration and disaggregation of many of the previous data trends. This information and analyses enable a better understanding of the various characteristics of the S&T enterprise, including who the various participants are, patterns of collaboration, and impacts on the broader society.

The 1957 annual report, which included a chapter summarizing NSF's survey activities and highlighting future survey plans, stressed the centrality of this work to the agency's mission. In fulfilling its statutory responsibility to develop and encourage the pursuit of a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences, the National Science Foundation developed and has continued its surveys of the U.S. R&D effort in various sectors of the economy. These studies and surveys provide a solid basis for analyses, conclusions, and recommendations concerning S&T resources.

Responding to Expanding User Needs

The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, states that the Board is responsible for rendering to the President for submission to Congress in each even-numbered year a report on indicators of the state of science and engineering in the United States (Sec. 4 [j][1]). The current issue, Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998, is the 13th in the biennial series. This important national and international data resource is part of the Board's larger responsibility in the area of national science and technology policy.

The Act further authorizes the Board to advise the President and Congress on matters of science and engineering policy (Sec. 4 [j][2]). In accord with this broader obligation, the Board has determined to prepare a series of occasional papers commenting on selected trends in the Indicators report to focus attention on issues of particular current and long-term concern regarding the Nation's science and engineering enterprise.

Governments at all levels and nongovernmental organizations in the United States as well as in many other countries are increasingly concerned with accountability and benchmarking activities. With the advent of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the development of reliable output and impact indicators for inclusion in the Science & Engineering Indicators report series has become even more important. Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 provides data and information that can be useful as a general framework or source of complementary information as various organizations develop their own specific performance indicators.

The conceptualization of new types of quantitative information to characterize emerging aspects of the science and engineering enterprise and their impacts has had a significant influence on the evolution of indicators methodology itself. Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 continues this tradition with a new chapter titled "Economic and Social Significance of Information Technologies." There is an increasing need to understand and communicate more effectively and efficiently the contributions and outcomes of science and technology. Measurement of the economic and social impacts of S&T is a special challenge particularly for rapidly developing areas epitomized by information technologies. The Board believes that this new chapter, which addresses both positive and negative aspects of information technologies, makes a significant contribution toward synthesizing and crystallizing what is currently known about this important topic.

Beginning in the late 1950s, NSF's annual reports devoted increasing attention to the international context of U.S. science and engineering, particularly following the launching of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union in October 1957. Reflecting the importance of comparative international information, Science Indicators -- 1972 included data on R&D expenditures of several major foreign countries. Coverage of international topics has been enhanced with each succeeding edition of the report, as has its international readership. Noting the increase in the globalization of science and technology and the increased interdependence of the world's economies, the Board decided to make international comparisons and global trends a major theme of the Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 report. The growing availability of internationally comparable data is-in large measure-the result of close working relationships developed over many years between NSF staff and their counterparts in other countries who are also engaged in the collection and analysis of indicators data. Several multinational organizations also contribute substantially to making such data available. These include the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the European Union (EU), the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the InterAmerican InterIberian Science and Technology Network (RICYT), and the Organization of American States (OAS).

In recognition of the increasing attention worldwide to the importance of developing S&T indicators, as well as NSF's international leadership in this effort, NSF and OECD organized an international workshop on the Uses of Science and Technology Indicators for Decisionmaking and Priority Setting; this was held at NSF headquarters from September 7-9, 1997. Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, Chairman of the Science & Engineering Indicators Subcommittee, represented the National Science Board as a co-host of the meeting and stressed the growing importance of international comparisons. The representatives from 28 countries and six international organizations who participated in the event strongly concurred.

Today, the need for quantitative data to assist in decisionmaking is even stronger than it was when the Board first began this effort. The U.S. science and technology enterprise is in transition. The country is changing its priorities for R&D investment and faces budgetary constraints in many sectors. Additionally, the United States-and the rest of the world-is part of an increasingly global economy. Science and engineering activities have always had a global dimension, but this is now intensifying. Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 not only emphasizes international comparisons, but also provides data and analyses related to all of the above important topics.

With the growth of the science and engineering enterprise over the past decades and of public recognition of its importance to economic and social well-being, the audience for the Science & Engineering Indicators reports and the need for new data and analyses have expanded. To make these data more accessible to this growing audience, the entire report is now available in electronic format ( as well as in hard copy.

Additional New Features of This Report

In the tradition of previous reports, Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 contains a number of new features and indicators. In addition to enhanced international comparisons and a new chapter on the significance of information technologies, these new features include the following:

Another new feature of Science & Engineering Indicators -- 1998 is the inclusion of several reflections on future pressures and possible trends, coupled with the identification of a number of important data and information gaps that deserve continuing attention.

The report Overview is organized around four cross-cutting themes that encapsulate significant trends in the transition into the 21st century. Taken together, these trends exemplify both the condition of the science and engineering enterprise in the United States and the links between science and engineering activity and U.S. society more broadly as the country prepares for a new century. These trends are:

None of the cross-cutting themes identified as exemplary of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise in this, the penultimate edition of Science & Engineering Indicators in the 20th century, is particularly novel. Indeed, these themes have been apparent-at least in retrospect-in the results of the surveys that NSF has been carrying out since the 1950s. These themes will no doubt continue to be important in the year 2000 and beyond.

A Continuing Responsibility

A decade ago, it would have been all but impossible to predict, in any detail, the ubiquitousness of information technologies in our lives. By the same token, it is all but impossible to predict the effect of current S&T activity on our daily lives at the end of the first decade of the new century. One of the few predictions that the Board can make with any certainty is that the four cross-cutting themes described above will remain important after the turn of the century. It is also apparent that no ultimate solutions will have been found to the many important S&T-related issues that the Nation's decisionmakers and citizenry will face. Nevertheless, the thrill of discovery, the quest for knowledge, and the need to apply such knowledge to human problems will remain.

The Science & Engineering Indicators reports are intended to provide the factual information on S&T resources needed by policymakers in government, industry, and academia in weighing policy options. The National Science Board has long provided high-quality quantitative information relevant to S&T policy issues through its biennial Science & Engineering Indicators reports. The Board considers these reports to be a sturdy basis on which to build. It routinely revisits their format, the data and indicators they contain, and the implications of the trends identified. Interactions with the scientific community and the public provide opportunities to examine the implications of the data and anticipate what data and indicators will be needed in the future. The Board welcomes the opportunity to develop new and refined indicators to document the evolution of the U.S.-and global-science and engineering enterprise in the final years of the 20th century and beyond.

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