U.S. sci-tech position at risk

America is losing ground to rapid science and technology gains by China and India.
By | Published: October 21, 2005 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Rising Above the Gathering Storm
Rising Above the Gathering Storm
A report from the National Academies says the United States needs to take quick, broad, and decisive action to bolster its competitive edge in the sciences. The reason: Many countries around the world are emerging as scientific and industrial powerhouses.

“America must act now to preserve its strategic and economic security,” says panel chair Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin. “The building blocks of our economic leadership are wearing away.”

A few examples of this erosion cited in the report:

  • Last year, more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.
  • In 2001, U.S. industry spent more on tort litigation than on research and development.
  • For the cost of one chemist or one engineer in the United States, a company can hire about five chemists in China or 11 engineers in India.
  • On a test of general knowledge in mathematics and science, U.S. 12th-graders perform below the international average for 21 countries.

The report, titled Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, was requested by Congress and was prepared by a 20-member committee that included university presidents, CEOs, and Nobel Prize winners. Without a wide-ranging effort, the panel concludes, the United States “could soon lose its privileged position” as the world’s scientific and industrial leader.

What can we do to counter the trends? The committee made 20 core recommendations — twice the number requested. The United States, it said, should create scholarships that each year draw 10,000 high-performing students into science- and math-teaching careers. It should also fund 30,000 scholarships for college students in science, math, and engineering, and should increase funding for basic research by 10 percent a year for each of the next 7 years.