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2014 Science and Engineering Indicators

February 17, 2014

William Thomson, not to be confused with another physicist, Benjamin Thompson (a.k.a., Count Rumford), is known to scientists as Lord Kelvin. Kelvin is famous for many things, but most notably for his work on thermodynamics, for which he is honored by the naming of the kelvin temperature unit. Kelvin is quoted as saying.
"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind..."[1]
Cover image of National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators 2014 (http://nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=130380&org=NSF) This maxim is true not only for the practice of science, but in the setting of science policy by governments. Although it appears that no one in government is listening, there have been many studies showing that the payback for investment in science and technology far outweighs its cost.

National Science Board, the policy-making body of the National Science Foundation, released its recent biennial report on the status of United States science and technology. This report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, indicates that the US still leads in science and technology areas, but its lead is shrinking.[2-3]

We need only to look at the present examples of
Apple and Google to see that science and technology are important economic drivers. This month, Google's market capitalization passed $400 Billion, just behind the little more than $450 Billion of Apple.[4]

Innovation in science and technology contributes to national competitiveness. As a consequence, it improves living standards. The world economies are moving towards a larger fraction of so-called knowledge- and technology- intensive (KTI) industries. This trend is evident in figure, below.

Knowledge and technology intensive portion of GDP (%)

The knowledge- and technology- intensive industries portion of the gross domestic product (GDP, %) for the past decade for five representative countries/economic unions. (From the Overview of the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators.)[5)]

Not surprisingly, China's share of the world's R&D expenditures has been increasing, mirrored as a decrease in R&D share for the rest of the world (see figure). China's manufacturing of technology goods increased nearly six-fold between 2003 and 2012. China now manufactures 24% of worldwide technology goods, close to the U.S. share of 27%.[3]

Global share of R&D expenditures.

Global share of R&D expenditures.

(From the Overview of the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators.)[5]

The government share of R&D has been declining in the U.S. since the mid-1960s. The present ratio of U.S. federal-to-nonfederal funding for R&D has declined to a quarter of its peak value. One consequence of this is that the 2007-2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession caused a sharp drop in business R&D in the U.S., and this amounted to a large drop in total R&D.[3]

Ratio of U.S. federal-to-nonfederal funding for R&D, 1953–2011

Ratio of U.S. federal-to-nonfederal funding for R&D, 1953–2011

(From the Overview of the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators.)[5]

The U.S. has rebounded from the recession better than other countries, so much so that 2011 saw a return to 2008 funding levels for R&D. Although it is not apparent from my anecdotal evidence, science and technology jobs were more secure in the recession than other jobs. U.S. multinational corporations apparently perform more than 80% of their R&D in the U.S., but they're moving their research to such countries as Brazil, China, and India.

Since 2001, the U.S. share of worldwide R&D has declined from 37% to 30%, and that of Europe from 26% to 22%, while the worldwide R&D share for Asian countries grew from 25% to 34%. China's worldwide R&D share was just 4% in 2001, and it's nearly quadrupled today.[3] China's science and technology workforce tripled between 1995 and 2008, and South Korea's doubled from 1995-2006.[3]

R&D expenditures as a percent of GDP

Asia rising.

R&D expenditures as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

(From the Digest of the 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators.)[6]

Says National Science Board Chairman, Dan Arvizu,
"Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology."[3]
This assessment is amplified by National Science Board member and chairman of its Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators, Ray Bowen.
"The United States remains the world's leader in science and technology... but there are numerous indicators showing how rapidly the world is changing and how other nations are challenging our predominance. As other countries focus on increasing their innovation capacities, we can ill afford to stand still. We now face a competitive environment undreamed of just a generation ago."[3]
The U.S. has slipped to tenth place in world R&D, as measured by the percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) used to fund research. Dollar-wise, however, the US is still a leader, having spent $429 billion on R&D in 2011, as compared to China's $208 billion and Japan's $146 billion. The U.S. leads, also, in patents, income from intellectual property exports, and publications in the most notable journals.[3]


  1. "You cannot manage what you cannot measure," Quotations and Literature Forum.
  2. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, National Science Board.
  3. US lead in science and technology shrinking, National Science Foundation Press Release No. 14-022, February 6, 2014.
  4. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, Overview (PDF File).
  5. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, Digest (PDF File).
  6. Roben Farzad, "Google at $400 Billion: A New No. 2 in Market Cap," Business Week, February 12, 2014.

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