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The NSB Science & Engineering Indicators 2016 report reveals that authors based in the US were responsible for 18.8% of global scientific output in 2015, while China-based authors accounted for 18.2%. This performance follows over a decade of ‘catching-up’ by China, which has seen its share of global output increase from 6.4% in 2003. The US’s share, by contrast, has decreased from 26.8% in the same period. The output of science and engineering publications by the US and China has almost reached parity.

According to the Indicators report, the US is still the global leader in science and engineering enterprises; it remains the largest investor in research and development, awards the most advanced degrees in science and engineering, and produces the most high-impact scientific publications. This position, however, is increasingly challenged by the rapid development of scientific industry and education in Asia.

’Other countries see how US investments in R&D and higher education have paid off for our country and are working intensively to build their own scientific capabilities,’ said Dan Arvizu, Chair of the National Science Board, the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. ’They understand that scientific discovery and human capital fuel knowledge-and-technology intensive industries and a nation’s economic health.’

China, South Korea, and India, in particular, are investing heavily in R&D and in developing a workforce that is skilled in science and engineering, with the South, East, and South-east Asia regions accounting for 40% of global research and development.

The rapid rise of previously developing economies has caused a shift to what the report calls a ‘multi-polar world’ for science and engineering, where the US, Europe, and Japan are no longer the dominant contributors to scientific progress, which is instead achieved more equally between regions.

China has taken a decisive lead in terms of growth: between 2003 and 2013, China increased its investment in research and development at an average rate of 19.5% per year, and is now responsible for 20% of global R&D. It is second only to the US, which accounts for 27%.

This continuous increase in funding may be a driving force behind China’s gains on the US, which has seen government financial support for research and development waver since the Great Recession. The global economic downturn of 2008 resulted in a decline of Federal investment in US research and development, with spending limitations, including the effects of the Budget Control Act, keeping annual R&D growth behind the pace of GDP. In the period between 2008-13, the annual average for US GDP increased by 1.2%, while R&D funding increased by only 0.8%.

’Decreased Federal investment is negatively impacting our nation’s research universities,’ said Kevin Droegemeir, NSB Vice Chair. ’Federal support is essential to developing the new knowledge and human capital that allows the US to innovate and be at the forefront of S&T [Science and Technology].’

The Indicators report also highlights China’s progress in science and engineering education. Chinese students earned about 23% of the world’s 6 million first university degrees in science and engineering in 2012; and, while the US continues to award the largest number of S&E [Science and Engineering] doctorates, China is the world’s top producer of undergraduates with degrees in science and engineering.

To find out more about the National Science Board and read the full report, visit http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/report.

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