The new Oz pg. 5
But, says Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt’s Mass Spectrometry Research Center, “these numbers are where we are now. That’s not what we’re interested in. Where are we going to be?
“We’re going to have to do better, not just stay the same. We’re in a very competitive world. This business of ‘Oh, we’re not doing too badly’ is kind of what the captain of the Titanic thought: ‘Gee, so far we haven’t hit an iceberg. We’re OK.’”
And even though the United States does indeed sit at the number one position in rankings of countries by dollars spent on R&D and number of scientific papers published, the trends tell a different story.
Over the last 40 years, the United States has been shifting research and development spending to the private sector. In the 1960s, U.S. government dollars funded about two-thirds of the country’s total R&D spending. By 2006, the government’s share had shrunk to just 28 percent. Even though the private sector has stepped up to keep the United States spending about 2.5 percent of GDP on R&D, these resources “are directed more toward applied rather than innovation-generating basic research,” Kao writes.
China and South Korea, by contrast, are upping their government R&D spending by 10 percent or more per year.
In terms of R&D spending as a share of GDP, America trails Israel, Sweden, Finland, and Japan, a group of countries that spend more than 3 percent of GDP annually. The United States—the country with the world’s largest economy—comes in eighth, part of what Kao calls a “second tier” for R&D spending.
The trend in scientific papers published follows the same pattern. While the United States published 29 percent of the world’s science and engineering papers in 2005—more than any other country—that percentage represented a drop from 34 percent in 1995. The average annual increase in papers published by researchers in the United States was only 0.6 percent over those 10 years.
During the same time period, China and South Korea’s outputs of scientific articles increased at annual rates of 16.5 percent and 15.7 percent, respectively.
Together, the flat funding of research in the United States, failure to attract and retain scientists, and modest performance in scientific publishing signal that now is not the time for America to rest on its laurels.
The United States needs to “recognize the seriousness of the situation,” wrote William Haseltine, Ph.D., chairman of Haseltine Global Health and founder and former CEO of Human Genome Sciences, in the October 2007 issue of Discover magazine.
“We have not yet killed the goose that lays the golden eggs of science and technology, but we have placed it on a starvation diet.”