US Competitiveness in Science and Technology

  • Published

US Competitiveness in Science and Technology by Titus Galama and James Hosek. RAND Corporation, 2008, 152 pp.

With the clinical thoroughness that is characteristic of other works from the RAND Corporation, US Competitiveness in Science and Technology takes a deep look into questions concerning the future of America’s science and engineering capacity. Fundamentally, the report explores the factors affecting US competitiveness in science and technology (S&T) both globally and domestically.

From a global perspective, the report compares historical data on US scientific and engineering development against similar data from other technological nations (Russia, India, China, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union). Galama and Hosek reviewed such factors as where international students go to earn scientific and engineering degrees, what countries they choose to use those degrees in upon graduation, and what countries are most conducive to research and publication whereupon they draw favorable conclusions concerning  the ability of the United States to compete globally in technology development. In addition, Galama and Hosek explore whether the United States will continue to compete favorably in attracting and retaining a distinguished international S&T workforce.

Turning their analysis inward, the authors also investigate whether the United States is doing enough domestically to maintain its role as a fertile ground for growing scientists and engineers. In reaching their conclusions, they break down the US investment in private and public research and development, the viability of the US education system in producing graduates enthusiastic about careers in science and technology, and finally the job environment and career potential for scientists and engineers in the United States. Here, too, there are optimistic prospects for maintaining favorable trends in science and technology in the United States.

This monograph is exhaustively researched, and the assertions concerning the state of US scientific and engineering health are well supported. The authors break down each broad research question into more focused questions that they analyze through available data. The comparisons typically span the last 50 years for which data is available. For the reader who stays with the report from beginning to end—no small task, given the extensive amount of data presented throughout the report—the result is a good news story. Galama and Hosek quantitatively support the conclusions that the United States has not declined in science and technology with respect to historical standing or in comparison to other contemporary technical-oriented nations. They support these assertions by studying the infrastructure, education, and workforce of the United States, which they identify as the building blocks of S&T leadership. In each case, their objective assessment is that reports of the demise of US scientific and technological leadership are greatly exaggerated.

Galama and Hosek do follow up with a level-headed, cautionary note however. They quickly point out that their research identifies growth trends in many other technological nations. Without sustained levels of US public and private growth and support across S&T leadership factors, the favorable conditions we currently enjoy could evaporate.

I recommend this report as a ready reference on the topic of US scientific competitiveness to anyone who wants or needs the in-depth data that is exceedingly abundant in answering each research question. For anyone else who routinely relies on, or influences the development of a robust US scientific and technological workforce, the final chapter, “Discussion and Recommendations,” is a worthwhile read in its own right.

Maj Nick Martin, USAF

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."