US Risks Losing Global Science Race to China, Says Top Official : Science : Tech Times

The United States is at risk of losing its long-held global scientific leadership to China, warns a senior American science official.

In a recent address, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), stressed the urgent need for the US to adapt to the emerging research environment to maintain its competitive edge (via South China Morning Post).

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NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 08: Mirimus lab scientists preparing to test COVID-19 samples from recovered patients on April 8, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York City.

US and China: A Race for Scientific Leadership

During her inaugural State of the Science address in Washington, McNutt talked about the shifting dynamics of global research and development (R&D).

Although the US remains the world’s largest investor in R&D, with a spending of $806 billion in 2021, China is quickly closing the gap with an investment of $668 billion in the same year. What is particularly alarming is that China’s investment growth rate is double that of the United States.

Historically, the US has been a dominant force in science and engineering, accounting for nearly 60% of all Nobel Prizes awarded since the end of World War II. This dominance is now being challenged as China advances rapidly in both the quantity and quality of scientific research.

McNutt noted that China has surpassed the US in the number of most-cited papers, a crucial measure of research impact, and has doubled the number of patents filed compared to the US in 2021. These trends are worrying signs for American scientific leadership.

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US Dependence on International Talent

A major factor in the US maintaining its position has been its reliance on international students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, particularly from China and India.

McNutt pointed out that foreign students not only outnumber domestic students in American university graduate programs but also significantly contribute to the US STEM workforce, with 65% of these students remaining in the US for at least ten years.

However, there has been a noticeable decline in the number of Chinese students enrolling in US universities in recent years, indicating a potential risk to the US’s ability to attract top talent.

To counter these trends, McNutt recommended several strategies to protect US leadership in science. Strengthening K-12 STEM education and building a robust domestic scientific workforce are critical steps.

Additionally, reducing red tape for student visas could help lure the best and brightest talent from around the world. A coordinated national research strategy is also essential to streamline R&D spending by government agencies and the private sector.

US Increases R&D Spending

Despite these challenges, the US continues to increase its R&D investment. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), US R&D spending increased to $789.1 billion in 2021, with an estimated rise to $885.6 billion in 2022.

Businesses play a significant role, performing 77% of the total US R&D in 2021. However, there has been a shift away from basic and applied research within corporate R&D, which may affect long-term inventiveness and productivity growth.

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