Tag Archives: Science and Engineering Indicators 2016



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!





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 National Science Foundation (NSF) has just released an extensive report, Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (SEI 2016).  It presents the latest figures and trends about the status of scientific research and engineering development in the United States (US) and elsewhere in the modern world; the complete data presently extend through 2013 or 2014.  This very large document is available to all on the internet at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report .  Its accompanying short commentary, The 2016 Digest, is available at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/digest .

In this article, I will first describe what SEI 2016 is and how it is important.  Then, I will briefly discuss a few important aspects of the newest data from SEI 2016.  These topics are selected because they have widespread general interest, and are very essential starting points for understanding today’s science in the US.  Citations in the following text all refer to SEI 2016, unless noted.

What is SEI 2016? 

New editions of this documentation are prepared every 2 years by the NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics under guidance of the NSF National Science Board.  SEI 2016 presents many quantitative data, tables, and charts about science, engineering, and research in the US and the world.  The new volume is the 22nd in this series and so readily enables good comparisons with past figures.  Its chapters deal with: (1) elementary and secondary mathematics and science education, (2) higher education in science and engineering, (3) science and engineering labor force, (4) national trends and international comparisons for research and development, (5) academic research and development, (6) industry, technology and the global marketplace, and, (7) public attitudes and understanding of science and engineering.

The contents of SEI 2016 are presented for other people to use!  This avoids any need to guess about quantities, comparative figures, or trends.  Mostly it does not include interpretations, discussions of policy issues, or opinions about the data given.  Copies of this biennial report are distributed to the President, Congress, and many high officials involved with science and engineering.

Neither members of the public, nor scientists and engineers, are likely to try to read through all the numbers in tables and charts of SEI 2016!  Instead, they can either (1) read through the short commentary version offered as “The 2016 Digest” (see URL given above), whose PDF version contains only 14 pages of text and 7 pages of figures, or (2) look up specific sections having information about topics of personal interest (see “Search by Topic or Keyword” at:  http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/topics/); for the general reader, I believe the best approach is to use this excellent search page.

Some important basic questions are answered in SEI 2016! 

(1)  How many scientists and engineers now are working in the US?  How many are unemployed?  SEI 2016 lists a total of 23,557,000 persons working on some aspect of science and engineering who were employed in the US during 2013 [Table 3-6].  For 2013, 6.7% of all scientists and engineers were working involuntarily on something out of their field [Table 3-14], and less than 4% were unemployed [Appendix Table 3-18].  For all graduate students in science during 2013, 25% study engineering [Table 5-19].

(2)  How many doctoral scientists and engineers are working in industry, and how many work in academia?  What is the trend for academic employment of scientists and engineers?  In 2013, 70.1% of all employed doctoral scientists and engineers were working in business/industry, 15.6% were working in academia/education, and 12.5% were working for federal, state, and local  governments [Table 3-6].  Holders of a doctoral degree in science or engineering who worked as full-time faculty members declined to 70% in 2013.

(3)  What were the salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working as postdoctoral fellows, members of a science faculty 5 years after graduating, or staffing industries 5 years after graduating?  The median salary for all postdoctoral fellows working on research or development in the US was $45,000 in 2014 [Table 3-18].  Excluding physicians and dentists, the median salary for all doctoral scientists and engineers working at academic institutions (at 4-5 years after graduating) was $85,530 in 2014; the corresponding figure for all engineers in academia was $94,250 [Table 3-13].  Median salaries for doctoral scientists and engineers working in the business sector during 2014 generally are higher than those working in academia.

(4)  What portion of doctoral scientists and engineers working on research or development in the US were born in foreign lands?  What portion of postdoctoral research fellows currently researching in the US were born in foreign lands?  How are these figures changing?  SEI 2016 shows that science and engineering in the US continue to have a large input of workers born in foreign lands.  For postdocs in 2013, this figure was almost 50% [Figure 5-19]; for these foreign-born postdocs, Asians and Pacific Islanders were nearly 70% of the total [text following Table 5-19].  All these figures are trending somewhat higher; in 2013, the number of total scientists and engineers born in foreign lands has grown to 27% [Figure 5-19].

(5)  What portion of faculty scientists and engineers applying for a federal research grant currently get funded?  How is this figure changing from earlier years?  SEI 2016 shows that only 19% of all applications for research support from the National Institutes of Health, the largest federal granting agency for biomedical research, were funded in 2014 [Table 5-22].  The trend for funding in the period from 2001 through 2013 shows a progressive decrease [Table 5-22].

(6)  How does the US compare with other nations for the total amount of money invested to support science and engineering activities performed in the US?  In 2014, the US government spent over $132 billion to support all research and development by scientists and engineers [Figure 4-17].  Defense expenses for research and development accounted for 52.7% of that total [Table 4-17].  For the same period, US industries spent over $322 million for business research and development [Table 4-7].

Concluding discussion! 

SEI 2016 is a most valuable and extensive documentation for anyone seeking facts and figures about modern science and engineering.  It furnishes a very useful means to evaluate the present status of scientific research and engineering development in the US and other nations, and to recognize current trends.  Clearly, it shows that both the US government and US industries spend lots of money on science and engineering activities; most of these billions of dollars come from US taxpayers, who then receive both new knowledge and new commercial products!