The National Science Board released its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report earlier this month. The press release for the report and much of the coverage of its rollout present a picture of America in decline with China and other Asian nations rapidly narrowing the U.S. lead in a variety of metrics. The implication seems to be that nations are in a zero-sum game when it comes to advances in science and technology.
Not to belittle the very real concern that the U.S. is not doing all it can to keep its science and technology engine running smoothly, the focus on report-card like metrics does not seem to do justice to the overwhelming magnitude of the report (it’s paper version clocks in 566 pages and this does not include hundreds of appendix tables). Boiling all that down to a few soundbites obviously omits many important details, caveats, and footnotes. It would be interesting to me to see more public debate and discussion about the meaning of all these statistics. At the very least the National Science Board should publish an interpretive companion piece for the 2010 Indicators as they have for past editions (maybe I just couldn’t find it on the website). Could they not reach a consensus as to what the data meant, or did they just not care?