The sad state of science in the United States

October 18, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

In the September 19, 2008 Editorial of Science (available only to subscribers online), Normal R. Augustine reports lots of sobering news regarding the state of science in the U.S.   Here’s a sampling:

The United States ranks 16th and 20th among nations in college and high-school graduation rates, respectively; 60th in the proportion of college graduates receiving natural science and engineering degrees; and 23rd in the fraction of GDP devoted to publicly funded nondefense research. The number of U.S. citizens receiving Ph.D.s in engineering and the physical sciences has dropped by 22% in a decade. U.S. high-school students rank near the bottom in math and science . . .

Three years ago, a U.S. National Academies committee recommended (in the report The Gathering Storm) doubling federal investment in basic research in math, the physical sciences, and engineering . . .  After the U.S. Congress authorized funding to implement many of The Gathering Storm‘s recommendations, the needed funds were lost in an impasse over the Appropriations Act. As a result, one leading national laboratory began to impose mandatory 2-day-per-month “unpaid holidays” on its science staff, several laboratories began laying off researchers, the U.S. portion of the international program to develop plentiful energy through nuclear fusion was reduced to “survival mode,” America’s firms continued to spend three times more on litigation than research, and many young would-be scientists presumably began reconsidering their careers. Meanwhile, a $3 trillion dollar federal budget was approved and a $152 billion dollar economic stimulus package (much of which is likely to be spent on products made in China) whisked through Congress along with 12,000 earmarks that found their way into the Appropriations Act.

We are paving the way to a sad economic future here in the U.S, given that much of out GDP has been attributed to advancements in “science, technology and innovation.”

[Norman R. Augustine is retired chairman and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation and was chairman of the U.S. National Academies committee that produced The Gathering Storm report.]

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. I sometimes get the impression that the majority of politicians just want science and education to go away all together. Too much trouble, too costly.

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