U.S. still tops world on science and tech

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 12, 2008 8:57am EDT

A man walks past the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

A man walks past the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States retains its global preeminence in science and technology, with a big boost from foreign students, scientists and engineers, a RAND Corporation report issued on Thursday said.

RAND researchers said their conclusions contradict perceptions among some Americans that the nation was losing its competitiveness in these crucial fields.

In fact, the United States remains ahead of its main competitors in Europe and Japan, according to the report from the nonprofit research organization requested by the Pentagon.

"Although developing nations such as China, India and South Korea showed rapid growth in S&T (science and technology), these nations still account for a small share of world innovation and scientific output," the report added.

The report looked at government, corporate and academic science and technology activities. It did not provide a country-by-country ranking but cited the United States as the world's leader based on a number of measures.

The United States accounts for 40 percent of the global spending on scientific research and development, employs 70 percent of the world's Nobel Prize winners and boasts three quarters of the world's top 40 universities, the report said.

"We find that the crisis that everybody is talking about does not seem to really be there," Titus Galama, one of the report's authors, said in a telephone interview.

"There's lots of things changing in the world. The United States seems to be adapting fairly well to it," Galama added.

Foreign students, scientists and engineers are playing a vitally important role, RAND said.

Their presence has helped the U.S. science and engineering work force to grow at a faster rate than the United States is graduating home-grown scientists and engineers, RAND said.

The report urged the U.S. government make it easier for foreigners who have graduated from U.S. universities with science and engineering degrees to remain indefinitely.

About 70 percent of the foreign scientists and engineers who earn doctorates from U.S. universities opt to remain in the United States, the report said. The researchers said a recent reduction in the cap on skilled immigrant visas could harm the influx of foreign science and engineering workers.

The report cited statistics showing that foreign students earned nearly 60 percent of engineering doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. universities. China, Taiwan, India and South Korea have accounted for the most foreign citizens getting U.S. science and engineering degrees, RAND said.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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