About Science and Engineering Indicators

Science and Engineering Indicators (Indicators) is a congressionally mandated report that provides high-quality quantitative information on the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise. Indicators is factual and policy neutral. It does not offer policy options, and it does not make policy recommendations. The report employs a variety of presentation styles—such as narrative text, data tables and figures—to make the data accessible to readers with different information needs and different information-processing preferences.

The data are “indicators,” that is, quantitative summary information on the scope, quality, and vitality of the science and engineering (S&E) enterprise or its change over time. The indicators in this report are intended to contribute to an understanding of the current environment and to inform the development of future policies. The report does not model the dynamics of the S&E enterprise. It is used by readers for a variety of purposes, and they have different views about which indicators are the most significant for different purposes.

Indicators is prepared under the guidance of the National Science Board by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), a federal statistical agency within the National Science Foundation (NSF), Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate. The report is subject to extensive review by internal and external subject matter experts, federal agencies, Board members, and NCSES statistical reviewers for accuracy, coverage, and balance.

Indicators includes detailed information about measurement to help readers understand what the reported measures mean, how the data were collected, and how to use the data appropriately. The report’s data analyses, however, are relatively accessible. The data can be examined in various ways, and the report generally emphasizes neutral, factual description. As a result, Indicators almost exclusively uses simple statistical tools. The Methodology Appendix of the report provides detailed information on the methodological, statistical, and data-quality criteria used for the report. The sidebar What Makes a Good Indicator? provides a brief and high-level summary of the data sources used in the report and data-quality issues that influence the interpretation and accuracy of the information presented in Indicators.

Indicators 2018 Parts

Indicators 2018 includes an Overview and eight chapters that follow a generally consistent pattern. The chapter titles are as follows:

  • Elementary and Secondary Mathematics and Science Education
  • Higher Education in Science and Engineering
  • Science and Engineering Labor Force
  • Research and Development: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons
  • Academic Research and Development
  • Industry, Technology, and the Global Marketplace
  • Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding
  • Invention, Knowledge Transfer, and Innovation

In addition, Indicators 2018 includes an online data tool, State Indicators, which provides state-level data on science and technology (S&T); and a Digest, comprising a small selection of important indicators from the main report.

The Board authors one or more companion pieces, which draw on the data in Indicators and offer recommendations on various issues related to national science and engineering research or education policy, in keeping with the Board’s statutory responsibility to bring attention to such issues.

The Digest

The Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 Digest is a condensed version of the report comprising a small selection of important indicators. It is intended to serve readers with varying levels of expertise. The Digest draws attention to important trends and data points and introduces readers to the data resources available in the main report and associated products.

The Overview of the State of the U.S. S&E Enterprise in a Global Context

The Overview highlights information from Science and Engineering Indicators that offers insights into the global landscape and presents broadly comparable data to examine indicators across regions, countries, and economies. Like the Digest, the Overview is intended to serve readers with varying levels of expertise. Because the Overview relies heavily on figures, it is well-adapted for use in developing presentations. Like the core chapters, the Overview strives for a descriptive synthesis and a balanced tone, and it does not take or suggest policy positions.

The Eight Core Chapters

Each chapter consists of highlights; introduction (chapter overview and chapter organization); a narrative synthesis of data and related contextual information; sidebars, data tables, and figures; conclusion; notes; glossary; and references.

Highlights. The highlights outline the major dimensions of a chapter topic.

Introduction. The chapter's overview briefly explains the importance of the topic. It situates the topic in the context of major concepts, terms, and developments relevant to the data reported. The introduction includes a brief narrative account of the logical flow of topics within the chapter.

Narrative. The chapter narrative is a descriptive synthesis that brings together significant findings. It is also a balanced presentation of contextual information that is useful for interpreting the findings. The narrative is designed to draw attention to major points and enable readers to readily comprehend a large amount of information. As a balanced presentation, the narrative aims to include appropriate caveats and context to convey appropriate uses of the data and provide contextual information within which the data may be interpreted by users with a range of science policy views.

Figures. Figures provide visually compelling representations of major findings discussed in the text. Figures also enable readers to test narrative interpretations offered in the text by examining the data themselves.

Tables. Data tables help to illustrate and to support points made in the text.

Sidebars. Sidebars discuss interesting recent developments in the field, more speculative information than is presented in the regular chapter narrative, or other special topics. Sidebars can also present definitions or highlight crosscutting themes.

Appendix Tables. An appendix of tabular data provides the most complete presentation of quantitative data, without contextual information or interpretive aids.

Conclusion. The conclusion summarizes important findings. It offers a perspective on important trends but stops short of definitive pronouncements about either likely future trends or policy implications. Conclusions avoid factual syntheses that suggest distinctive or controversial viewpoints.

Notes. Information that augments points of discussion in the text is presented as endnotes.

Glossary. The glossary defines terms used in the chapter.

References. Indicators includes references to data sources cited in the text, emphasizing national or internationally comparable data. The report does not attempt to review the analytic literature on a topic or summarize the social science or policy perspectives that might be brought to bear on it. References to that literature are included where they help to explain the basis for statements in the text.

State Indicators Data Tool

This online tool provides data to assess trends in S&T-related activities in states that can be used by people involved in state-level policy making, journalists, and interested citizens. State-level indicators to call attention to state performance in S&T and foster consideration of state-level activities in this area. Data for the indicators are graphically displayed in tables that detail state data, in U.S. maps that code states into quartiles, and in histograms that show how state values are distributed. Users also have access to long-term trend data for each indicator.


The complete content of Indicators 2018 is available for download. The report is downloadable as a PDF and text tables, appendix tables, and source data for each figure are available in PDF and spreadsheet formats. In addition, figures are also available in presentation-style image files.