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Science Report Card

Every two years the National Science Board produces a detailed report on the state of U.S. science, engineering, and technology. The new 2010 version can be found here.

Fair warning—there is a huge, nearly indigestible, quantity of information in the reports, tables, charts, graphs, and slides. For the aficionado, though, it’s a veritable treasure trove of tasty indicators, trends, and statistics.

This year’s version of the science indicators report is particularly emphatic on the issue of globalization and raises two fundamental questions:

  1. Can the U.S. remain preeminent in advanced research, given the rapid advances and large investments being made in other countries?
  2. Can we continue to rely on technological innovation as a key driver of economic development?

These questions, although easily posed, are hard to answer. And since the stakes are high, the cover letter from the committee suggests three follow-ups. (My somewhat intemperate editorial comments appear in parentheses.)

  1. Science agencies should adjust their funding mechanisms to support only “transformative” research. (What were they funding before—dull science?)
  2. The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should come up with measures to assess the competitive quality of research in all federal agencies. (If the committee had ideas about how to do this better than methodology already in place, why didn’t they pass it along?)
  3. The OSTP should create a council on innovation and competitiveness. (We should have done this four years ago when the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report made the same recommendation.)

I’m not really as curmudgeonly as this might sound, just impatient that it takes so much bureaucracy to make even the slightest progress in moving national goals forward.

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Periodic Tabloid is an ongoing record of the activities of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s staff and scholars, whose work tells the story of chemistry over the centuries up to modern times. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes coverage of our events, exclusive supplemental materials to our publications, analysis of pressing contemporary scientific issues, and much more.