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Research Research and Useful Stats: NSF Releases Science & Engineering Indicators 2006

February 27, 2006

On Friday, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released Science & Engineering Indicators 2006, an update for the nation's most significant, quantitative and neutral assessment of the health of the U.S. and international science and engineering communities. And, according to America's Pressing Challenge ­ Building a Stronger Foundation, a companion report to Indicators released by the National Science Board, the prognosis for the U.S. should cause concern.

Calling for "drastic changes" for America's K-12 science and mathematics classrooms, the National Science Board asserts, "Our Nation risks raising generations of students and citizens who do not know how to think critically and make informed decisions based on technical and scientific information."

We already may have jeopardized one generation, given the board points out the country has been failing students in math and science instruction for the past 25 years -- "by the time they reach their senior year, even the most advanced U.S. students perform at or near the bottom on international assessments."

That conclusion is drawn from the statistics supporting the "Student Learning in Mathematics and Science" section of Chapter One, Elementary & Secondary Education, in Science & Engineering Indicators 2006. The biennially produced Indicators provides hundreds of statistics characterizing the global science and engineering environment in six categories, in addition to those in Chapter One:

  • Higher Education in Science & Engineering;
  • Science & Engineering Labor Force;
  • Research & Development Funds and Technology Linkages;
  • Academic Research & Development;
  • Industry, Technology and the Global Marketplace; and,
  • Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding

The SSTI Weekly Digest will dedicate future articles exploring the implications of each chapter, but readers may wish to note the final "experimental" chapter of Indicators. Introduced in 2004 with 24 indicators, the number of different comparative statistics presented in the 2006 edition has grown to 42.

Corresponding somewhat to the national discussion presented in the first chapters of the book, the state indicators are grouped by educational attainment, workforce, R&D inputs and outputs, and science & technology in the economy (high tech firms, employment, SBIR, and venture capital).

NSF intends the indicators to "present information about various aspects of state S&T infrastructure and to stimulate discussion about appropriate uses of state-level S&T indicators. ... By studying the programs and performance of their peers, state policymakers may be able to better assess and enhance their own programs and performance." The tables are intended to give the user a convenient listing of some of the quantitative data that may be relevant to technology-based economic development.

NSF cautions, however, that "in addition to describing the behavior of an indicator, the 'Findings' section frequently presents an interpretation of the behavior’s relevance and meaning. The interpretation is sometimes speculative, with the objective of motivating further thought and discussion."

Science & Engineering Indicators 2006 is available at http://nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/. A CD-ROM version may be ordered from the site as well.

The National Science Board's companion report, America's Pressing Challenge -- Building a Stronger Foundation, is available at: http://nsf.gov/statistics/nsb0602/

Links to both papers and more than 3,000 additional TBED-related research reports, strategic plans and other papers can be found at the Tech-based Economic Development (TBED) Resource Center, jointly developed by the Technology Administration and SSTI, at http://www.tbedresourcecenter.org/.