Scientific research and high-technology industries continue to shift geographically from the U.S. and Europe to Asia, according to the latest edition of the "Science & Engineering Indicators" (SEI) from the National Science Foundation. Rising industrial nations such as China and South Korea are becoming increasingly important as technology manufacturers, research centers, and science educators, the report finds.
SEI 2010, the massive volume of quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise, was compiled by NSF's Division of Science Resources Statistics. It provides a factual and policy-neutral description of the scope and vitality of the global science and engineering enterprise.
"The take-home line from this report is that science and technology is no longer the sole province of the rich, developed nations," Rolf F. Lehming, director of the indicators project, said at a briefing on the report. "Science has been democratized and moved all over the world. This brings many competitive elements into play, and the results are very difficult to foresee."
The U.S. continues to hold its position of science and technology leadership in the world, the report finds. But this position is eroding in many areas because of the rapid increase in capabilities by Asian nations and the efforts by the European Union to boost its competitiveness.
The changes are evident in data on R&D spending. Advancing Asian nations, including China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan, spent a total of $338 billion on R&D in 2007, approaching the $369 billion spent by the U.S. and far more than the $263 billion spent by the EU, the report states. The rate of growth in R&D spending is also much higher for Asian nations, about 10%, compared with 5% for the U.S. At this rate, total Asian R&D spending can be expected to surpass that of the U.S. in a few years, if not already.
The data also show that peer-reviewed journal articles are increasingly coming from China, especially in the physical sciences and engineering (C&EN, Jan. 11, page 35). But patent activity is changing much more slowly, with the U.S. still receiving about half the patents awarded by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and China and Asian nations posting only small increases.
The most dramatic shift is in the manufacture and export of high-technology products, including computers, pharmaceuticals, and scientific equipment, which had previously been dominated by the U.S. and Japan. Twelve years ago, for instance, China produced almost no computers, but by 2007 it was making nearly 40% of the world's supply.
The continued strong growth by China and other Asian nations is the biggest surprise in this year's report, Lehming said. "We had been reporting on the consolidation of these trends, but now they seem so much more solid," he said.