Engineering Education and Innovation

Posted on November 13, 2005  Comments (0)

Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge? by Timothy L. O’Brien, New York Times:

He fears that corporate and public nurturing of inventors and scientific research is faltering and that America will pay a serious economic and intellectual penalty for this lapse.

See previous post, Leverage Universities to Transform State Economy.

The Industrial Research Institute, an organization in Arlington, Va., that represents some of the nation’s largest corporations, is also concerned that the academic and financial support for scientific innovation is lagging in the United States. The group’s most recent data indicate that from 1986 to 2001, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all awarded more doctoral degrees in science and engineering than did the United States. Between 1991 and 2003, research and development spending in America trailed that of China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan – in China’s case by billions of dollars.

In a previous post, Science and Engineering Doctoral Degrees Worldwide, I mentioned that I thought the United States was not in fact leading (and if they still were it would not last for more than a few years) in doctoral degrees in science and engineering though I could not find supporting data. I still can’t, but the NY Times claims IRI does have the data (though I can’t find any such data on their web site).

And I find the claim questionable without the data. Do they mean on a percentage of population basis, that seems unlikely with China? On an absolute basis it seems unlikely for South Korea and Taiwan (at least, if not all countries) especially from 1986-2001. On an absolute basis crediting the degree earned to the nationality of the student (so Taiwanese students in American graduate schools count for Taiwan not the US)? The last version seems the most likely basis of the data to me, though even then I find it questionable. And it is not what I think most readers would believe the statement in the article means (instead believing that doctoral degrees granted by American schools were lower than those granted by schools in Taiwan… from 1986-2001).

I find it hard to believe that the United States trailed Singapore on R&D spending on an absolute basis so I would guess the data the NY Times is quoting on a percentage basis (at least for R&D) though that seems unlikely for China, so I am a bit confused about the claims in the article. They really should state what the data says specifically not just that the United States trails on some undefined measure. And they also really should provide the data that backs up their claim.

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