Thursday, June 12, 2014

The US Lead In Science Is Eroding: Is That Good Or Bad?

Tim Taylor reviews a paper which paints a picture of science leadership in the global economy.  The US has been well ahead of the pack for a long time but its lead is diminishing.  Science in the US continues at a steady pace while other nations are moving at a faster pace.  China and India are among the countries that are picking up speed while the US is treading water.  The pace of science is measured by the number of scientific papers published; the frequency of citation for those papers; the number of PhD's awarded in science and engineering, along with spending on R&D.

US spending on R&D remains at a constant level while it is growing rapidly in other countries.  The incentive system in the US is also part of the problem.  Science and Engineering PhD's in the US face an uncertain future.  The number of permanent faculty positions available for young PhD's is lower than the number of PhD's that are awarded.  Many will be forced to take post doctoral research positions at low salaries, or faculty positions that are not on a tenure tract.  Its not surprising that many young PhD's are taking jobs on Wall Street.  They can earn more money developing algorithms and models used by traders and investors seeking to gain an edge in their markets.

Perhaps it is a mistake to view science as a competition between nations.  The ideas generated in one country are available to scientists everywhere.  The growth of science and technology in China and India is good for the global scientific community.  Furthermore, it may not be worthwhile for the US to increase its investment in R&D in a global economy.  The products developed by a handful of scientists, who work for a firm incorporated in the US,  may produce more international jobs than domestic jobs.

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