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NSF Releases Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 Report


Greetings from D.C. Over the past decade, global R&D expenditures have grown faster than global GDP, rising from approximately $522 billion in 1996 to nearly $1.3 trillion in 2009. The U.S. remains the single largest R&D performing country, with a total of $400 billion expended in 2009. However, for the first time the Asian region’s $399 billion equals that of the U.S. (The Asian region consists of Japan, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand).

This statistic is according to the latest National Science Foundation’s (NSF) biennial Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 report, which highlights “major developments in international and U.S. science and technology,” with an emphasis on broad trends in areas such as science and technology (S&T) education, workforce, R&D expenditures, and public attitudes toward S&T, among others.

Some select highlights from the report, particularly focused on the U.S., include:

  • U.S. R&D expenditures ($400 billion) in 2009 accounted for about 31% of the worldwide total ($1.3 trillion), down from 38% a decade earlier.
  • The business sector still accounts for most of the U.S. R&D performance and funding, performing an estimated $282 billion in R&D in 2009 (71% of the U.S. total),while funding an estimated $247 billion (some of the R&D was funded by other sources).
  • The academic sector is the second largest performer of U.S. R&D, accounting for an estimated $54 billion in 2009 (14% of the total).
  • The federal government is the second largest funder of U.S. R&D, providing $124 billion in 2009 (31% of the total).
  • Basic research accounted for approximately $76 billion of total U.S. R&D performance in 2009 (19% of total), while applied research accounted for $71 billion (18%) and development about $253 billion (63%).
  • In the past two decades, U.S. students’ mathematics scores on national assessments have improved; however, U.S. 15-year-olds tend to score lower than the international average in mathematics and about the same as the international average in science.
  • The U.S. S&E workforce has grown faster than the workforce overall and now represents about 4.3% of all U.S. jobs.
  • Recently, more than half of U.S. patents have gone to non-U.S. awardees (inventors in the EU and Japan produce most of these patents, but they have been joined by Asian inventors, chiefly in Taiwan and South Korea).

As noted in earlier columns, by design this report offers no distinct policy prescriptions, providing only the important data on which such policy efforts are based. But I strongly believe that this report offers the best single source for data on the strength and relative position of the U.S. R&D enterprise, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in this area. For those in the federal tech transfer community specifically, you will find a few pages on these activities at the end of chapter 4 (pages 4-37).

The full report can be found here.

Gary can be reached here.

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