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SEI 2016 shows current status of scientific research and engineering developments in the US and other countries! (http://dr-monsrs.net)

SEI 2016 shows current status of scientific research and engineering developments in the US and other countries! (http://dr-monsrs.net)


The 2016 edition of the extensive and impressive serial report from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (SEI 2016), has just appeared (see: “National Science Foundation Issues New Report on Status of Science, Engineering, and Research” ).  This large document purposely does not directly comment or interpret its figures; however, provision of these data by SEI 2016 leaves their interpretation open.  In this essay I will briefly examine what the new data in SEI 2016 say about several controversial topics and modern problems for science.

The SEI 2016 is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report , and its brief commentary, The Digest 2016, is available at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/digest .  An excellent search page for SEI 2016 is provided at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/topics/ .  Citations in the following text all refer to SEI 2016, unless noted.

What is the present status of science and engineering in mainland China?  Could China surpass the US in science and engineering? 

Mainland China now is an extensive political and economic competitor with the US.  Many have the impression that the quality of Chinese science and engineering formerly was deficient, but now has improved and is nearing the level prevailing in other countries, including the US.  SEI 2016 shows that in 2013 the US workforce produced 27% of worldwide research and discovery, while China produced 20% [The Digest 2016, page 4].  Much research and development in China now aims to advance their military, technical,  and industrial capabilities; these efforts strongly depend on Chinese engineering.  Their increasing number of engineers is expected to start producing more science and engineering articles than will the US in 2014 [The Digest 2016, Figure A on page 13].  Since 2005, China already has produced more engineering publications than any other country [The Digest 2016, Figure B2 on page 13].  It seems likely that China’s efforts to advance education and training of their scientists and engineers will stimulate achieving equivalence and then soon will surpass the US output.  Hence, SEI 2016 shows that the US is likely to soon lose its premier status for science and engineering!

What does SEI 2016 say about the funding for basic research, which necessarily precedes what is done later by applied research and engineering developments?  

Data in SEI 2016 deals with both the basic and the applied aspects of research and development.  Excluding money for the Department of Defense, federal support of research in 2013 is given as 45% for basic studies, 41% for applied studies, and 14% for development [Figure 4-12].  I must disagree with their assumption that the many studies funded by the National Institutes of Health all are basic research; thus, I cannot accept the total for basic research given in SEI 2016 as being valid (i.e., definitions of basic versus applied are not provided).  I and many academic scientists are convinced that federal support for basic research has been diminishing, while federal grants for applied research are increasing in number.

What do the figures in SEI 2016 say about the pervasive problem of  hyper-competition for research grants between university scientists? 

Acquiring and maintaining an external research grant now is the major goal for faculty scientists.  At present, there is a vicious hyper-competition between all academic scientists for research grant awards (see: “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  University scientists cannot be blamed for this very problematic situation  because if they do not acquire and hold research grants then they are basically dead.  The SEI 2016 does not directly address the destructive effects of hyper-competition on academic science.   However, the published data do show that only 19% of all applications for research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal agency making grants for biomedical research, were funded in 2014, and the trend for such funding is decreasing [Table 5-22].  Furthermore, SEI 2016 shows that the total number of doctoral scientist holders working in academic institutions continues to  increase [Appendix Table 5-13], meaning that the numbers of applicants and applications also are rising.  Thus, SEI 2016 documents that the hyper-competition for research grants keeps getting even more severe every year!

What do the new figures in SEI 2016 say about the predicted demise of science and research in modern US universities?

My earlier controversial proposal that university science now is dying (see:  “Could Science and Research Now Be Dying?” ) was based upon my impressions of a declining quality of modern science, large wastage of time by researchers struggling to get more and more research grants, conversion of university research into a business entity where money is everything, de-emphasis on basic research and corresponding increased emphasis on applied research, and, increasing corruption by professional scientists.  That situation is being caused by bad policies and priorities from both modern universities and the current research grant system.

SEI 2106 shows oodles of data that almost everyone will conclude is very solid evidence denying my prediction (i.e., since academic science in the US is doing such a productive job and provides so much of value to the public, then all must be excellent!).  I disagree, because the quality of research studies and publications seems to be decreasing!  The data in SEI 2016 almost entirely are measuring research quantity and largely ignore quality.  The Digest 2016 emphasizes that innovation is very important, and I agree; however, innovation is not measured or estimated for basic versus applied research, which is very necessary in order to evaluate their value.

If everything actually is so very wonderful with modern science in academia, then why are an increasing number of faculty scientists, postdocs, and prospective domestic graduate students so dismayed and dissatisfied?  Why have the number of doctoral scientists and engineers working as full-time faculty members been progressively declining?  Why did only 15.6% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers work in academia/education in 2013 [Table 3-6]?  Why did 28.1% of all doctoral scientists and engineers now work outside business/industry in 2013 [Table 3-6]?  Why did 20% of all US doctoral scientists and engineers report that they  were working out-of-field because of a change in career or professional interests in 2013 [page of text following Table 3-14]?  All of the above data from SEI 2016 support my controversial proposal!


It is fair to conclude that SEI 2016 indeed is very useful, but will not answer all the important questions  about modern science!