This overview of the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 highlights some major developments in international and U.S. science and engineering (S&E).
The international component of the overview is focused primarily on relatively recent changes affecting patterns in the ways science and engineering are translated into innovations with commercial and economic value. It pays particular attention to describing how the global map of science and technology (S&T)-related economic activity in the wake of the severe economic downturn in 2008–09 is different from the patterns present in data from before the downturn.
The domestic component of the overview has a significantly different focus in two respects. First, it takes a much more long-term view than the international component, counted mostly in decades rather than in years. Second, it focuses primarily on the institutions that are or have been centrally involved in producing research outputs such as publications and patents. It summarizes continuities and changes in the kinds of people who staff those institutions, the practices that characterize them, and the products they make.
Especially over the long term, the international and domestic S&E trends that Science and Engineering Indicators describes can be understood in light of the worldwide trend toward more knowledge-intensive economies. In this type of economy, research, its commercial exploitation, and other intellectual work are of growing importance. Such economies rely on sustained investment in research and development that produces useful innovations. They also rely on higher education that prepares students to use S&E knowledge and related research skills to develop new and better ways to make products and perform services. As a result, data on trends in R&D and human resources infrastructure feature prominently in both parts of the overview and throughout Science and Engineering Indicators. Knowledge-intensive economies, however, also rely on other kinds of infrastructure, including reliable and modern transportation and communications and a broadly educated and literate population, to enable them to function effectively.
The overview is not intended to be comprehensive. Numerous important topics that are addressed in individual chapters, and even some that crosscut the volume, are not covered in the overview. Major findings on particular topics can be found in the “Highlights” sections that appear at the beginning of chapters 1–7.
The indicators included derive from a variety of national, international, public, and private sources and are not always strictly comparable in a statistical sense. As noted in the text, in some cases the quality of available data is less than ideal, and the metrics and models relating them to each other and to economic and social outcomes need further development. Thus, the emphasis is on broad trends. Individual data points and findings should be interpreted with care.