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].
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!
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