Asia’s largest economies—led by China, Japan, and South Korea—now perform a larger share of global R&D than the United States, whose high-tech manufacturing activity is now nearly matched by China’s, the policy making body of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) concluded.
The NSF’s National Science Board (NSB) yesterday released an updated edition of its biennial Science & Engineering Indicators report—the latest of several reports to warn of slipping American dominance in science & technology activity. Last month a team of researchers published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that the U.S.’ global share of biomedical research spending declined—from 51% in 2007 to 45% in 2012—as spending fell during the period when adjusted for inflation from $131 billion to $119 billion.
According to the NSB’s Science & Engineering Indicators, the share of the world’s R&D performed in the U.S. has decreased since 2001—the year the nation began shifting resources to the ongoing global war on terrorism—to 2011, from 37 to 30%. Also slipping in R&D activity is western Europe, whose R&D share fell from 26 to 22%.
By contrast, the worldwide R&D share performed by Asia rose from 25 to 34%—led by China, whose share nearly quadrupled from 4% to 15% in 2011, when it spent $208 billion as the world’s second-largest R&D powerhouse. China led the world, however, in pace of growth, averaging 20.7% annually between 2001 and 2011.
Japan was third highest in R&D spending, with a 10% share and $147 billion, but only an average annual growth rate of 3.5%—while South Korea enjoyed a 10.9% average annual growth rate, despite being further down the R&D list at 4% and $60 billion spent.
The United States, China, and South Korea finished ahead of France ($52 billion, 4% share) and the United Kingdom ($40 billion, 3% share), but lagging behind Germany with $93 billion and a 7% share.
The report defined Asia’s largest economies as including not only China and South Korea, but Japan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.
“Emerging economies understand the role science and innovation play in the global marketplace and in economic competitiveness and have increasingly placed a priority on building their capacity in science and technology,” NSB Chairman Dan Arvizu, who is also director and chief executive of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said in a statement.
For example, China and South Korea both made significant leaps in spending to enhance both science and tech research and university training. According to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) cited by the NSF, China tripled its number of researchers between 1995 and 2008, when the number yo-yoed from about 1.6 million down to under 1.2 million, before rising again to some 1.3 million in FY 2011. South Korea doubled its number between 1995 and 2006, when the OECD counted about 200,000 researchers; the number steadily rose since then, to about 300,000 in FY2011.
One bright spot for the United States: The nation appears to have bounced back from the global Great Recession, with overall R&D funding in 2011 ($424.4 billion) finally rising above the 2008 figure ($406.6 billion)—but only returning to 2008 levels in constant dollars ($374.4 billion in 2011 vs. $374.5 billion three years earlier).
However, the report does not cover the period since March when across-the-board federal budget cuts or “sequestration” took effect. According to the NSF, federal R&D funding has fallen in each fiscal year since FY2010, declining by 7.1% in FY2013, which ended September 30.