The U.S. is losing market share in global science and technology. Don’t panic!

The National Science Board's 2014 set of indicators, which tracks the state of science-related funding, public attitudes, and education in the U.S. and abroad, just dropped, in all its 600-page glory. There are a ton of interesting bits scattered throughout the report, but the big takeaway is how America's doing in relation to the rest of the world: Not great, at least in terms of the percentage of the world's research funding comes from here.

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Meanwhile, the whole globe has rebalanced, with East and Southwest Asia now spending nearly as much as North America:


Now, that could spark all kinds of declinist angst about the end of American exceptionalism. And indeed, if you're the type of person who thinks an all-powerful U.S. is the best force for stability in the world, perhaps it's cause for concern. But look at it another way: The U.S. is still pumping more money into research and development than ever.

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We spend twice as much in absolute terms than our nearest competitor, China, at $429 billion in 2011 compared to $208 billion. And knowledge-intensive industries are accounting for more of our GDP:


We're also handing out more undergraduate and graduate degrees in science and technology, earning more patents, collecting more royalties and fees on our intellectual property, and holding steady in the percentage of journal articles in the top one percent of those cited. Student test scores are generally improving, and so is manufacturing productivity. Overall, the trajectory is positive.

So, should the U.S. be worried just because other countries are investing more?

The report's authors at the National Science Board, in a press call, seemed to want to convey that the U.S. should stay on its toes, and not get "complacent." Fundamentally, though, the fact that other countries are pouring more money into research and development is a good thing, and could have beneficial spillover effects. Another interesting chart shows how more and more scientific papers have multiple authors, as researchers collaborate between businesses and academia and across international borders:

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"Science and technology is not  a zero sum game," said Ray Bowen, chair of the committee that put together the report. "There are obviously examples for development in one country that resulted in global impacts that are beneficial to all."

So next time you see a headline proclaiming the U.S.'s loss of global dominance in the sciences, think for a second, look at the trendlines, and breathe.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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