The global landscape of S&E research, education, and business activities has undergone dramatic shifts since the turn of the twenty-first century, as regions, countries, and economies around the globe continue to invest in science and technology (S&T). S&E capabilities, until recently located mainly in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, have spread to the developing world, notably to China and other Southeast Asian economies that are heavily investing to build their S&T capabilities. This Overview examines how these changing S&E patterns affect the position of the United States relative to the other major global players.

Science and Engineering Indicators describes international and domestic S&E dynamics in light of the worldwide trend toward more knowledge-intensive economies and both increasing global collaboration and competition in S&E. In knowledge-intensive economies, S&E research, its commercial utilization, and other intellectual work are of growing importance. Increasingly, economies rely on a skilled workforce and sustained investment in R&D to produce knowledge streams, new technologies, and discoveries. The resulting knowledge and discoveries lead to new or improved products and processes, as well as output growth in many industries, notably manufacturing industries that produce spacecraft, pharmaceuticals, and computers or in the sizable financial, business, education, and health services sectors.

Knowledge-intensive production is growing worldwide and is increasingly a feature of both developed and developing economies. The goods and services of these industries, many of them new in this century, have developed markets that did not exist previously. Such goods and services have helped to integrate nations into, and to compete in, the global marketplace. The state of S&E in the United States and elsewhere is not just a function of a given nation’s policies and investments. Education, R&D, and production activities are interlinked in today’s knowledge economies. Globally mobile students and researchers, international trade, global supply chains and investments, and global infrastructure and collaboration tie activities across the globe and shape national S&E stories. The various national S&E stories together tell a broader and more global S&E story.

This 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, comparing S&E training, research outputs, the creation and use of intellectual property, and the output of knowledge-intensive industries. It is not intended to be comprehensive: numerous important topics that are addressed in individual chapters are not covered in the overview: K–12 mathematics and science education, demographic profiles of those participating in S&E education and occupations, and public attitudes and understanding of S&T. Major findings on particular topics can be found in the “Highlights” sections that appear at the beginning of Chapters 1–8.

One factor that is prominent throughout the Overview is the robust growth trends experienced by developing countries, particularly China, compared to the United States and the rest of the developed economies in the world. Rapid growth rates frequently accompany the early stages of economic and technical development, slowing as societies mature. As developing nations focus resources in R&D, education, and knowledge-intensive production and trade, their initially rapid growth rates in these areas can exceed those of developed nations and thus open up the possibility to move toward developed world measures. Whether and how long these differential growth rates continue is an important question and will be affected by the overall S&E environment, along with the economic, social, and political forces that influence it.