In the Issues & Events section of the November 2006 issue of Physics Today, Jim Dawson describes the formation, in September 2006, of a national political advocacy organization called Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA). The board of advisors of SEA includes 8 Nobel laureates as well as former President Clinton’s science advisors, Jack Gibbons and Neal Lane. The impetus for creating SEA was frustration with the marginalization of science issues debate in the recent elections, as well as with the abuse of science by the Bush Administration.
SEA has a long term agenda of focusing more attention on scientific issues during elections (e.g., global warming), as well as challanging scientifically questionable statements by candidates of any political party (e.g., Virginia Senator George Allen’s signature of a letter stating that there was little evidence linking global warming to human activity). Mike Brown, SEA’s executive director, said, “We can’t endorse candidates, but we can challenge statements made by candidates.”
In addition to attempting to focus more public attention on scientific issues that affect the public well-being, SEA’s organizers have developed a bill of rights for scientists and engineers. It calls for right of intimidation-free debate of non-classified issues, for the prohibition of intentional publication by the federal government of false or misleading scientific information, and the requirement that appointments to federal science advice committees shall be based on scientific qualifications, “…not political affiliation or ideology.” The bill of rights also states that the federal government “shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science.”
Responses to Survey of Women in Physics
A 2005 survey of women working in physics around the world found that most would choose a physics career all over again. Yet at the same time, many had concerns about family and child-rearing responsibilities and feelings of isolation from colleagues, as well as concerns about funding, equipment and lab space.
The survey was conducted by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics, in conjunction with the 2005 Second International Conference of Women in Physics. The report, “Women Physicists Speak Again,” recounts the responses of 1353 women from over 70 countries, either working in a field of physics or as students.
A large majority (88%) of the respondents received their first undergraduate degree in physics, and 59% indicated that they received positive attention from their undergraduate physics professors. "About one-third reported receiving attention that was neither positive nor negative, and less than 10% reported receiving negative attention or no attention at all," the report says
Of the respondents with a graduate degree, 37% described the relationship with their (current or former) graduate advisor as excellent, and 41% described it as good. “What is surprising,” the report states, “is the number of women who reported poor relationships with their advisors, but still persisted in physics.”
A majority of respondents said that they made the decision to go into a physics career during secondary school. Many cited teachers and parents, as well as an interest in physics, as influences on their choice of career. Of those women physicists in the workplace, 68% work in academia, 15% in government, 7% in industry, and 10% in other areas of employment. Although the respondents “overwhelmingly said they would choose physics again (86%), a majority (71%) also reported being discouraged by physics.” Reasons for being discouraged included: Interaction with Colleagues (55%); Funding(52%); Research (49%); Personal Life (48%); Climate for Women (43%);and Family Obligations (35%) (respondents could choose more than one answer).
According to the report, “Two-thirds of all respondents said that their marriage affected their work.” When describing whether the effect was positive or negative, “Women in developed countries were much more likely to say that the effect of their marriage was positive (72%) than women from developing countries (58%).” The report goes on to say, “The effect of children on a woman’s career is perhaps stronger even than the effect of marriage… Many women physicists stated that they had decided not to have children.” The report finds that ”Women over 45 from developing countries are more likely (86%) to have children than women from developed countries,73% of whom have children. Women in developed countries also tend to have their children at a later stage than women from developing countries.... Not surprisingly, almost all respondents said that having children affected their work, and the percentage is higher for women in developed countries.‰ In addition to the responsibility that many women physicists have for children, the report notes that “20% of the respondents” indicated that they were primarily responsible for taking care of others as well.
In summary, the report says that the women physicists responding to the survey “have many things in common,” and “most spoke passionately about their love of physics.” Yet despite the similarities, it finds that “issues are not the same for women physicists in developing countries as they are in developed countries. Women in developing countries spoke repeatedly of a lack of basic resources (funding, office space, lab space, equipment, travel money, and clerical support). Women in developed countries also found these issues (particularly funding) challenging, but the percentages who said they do not have enough resources for research are higher in the developing countries.”
The complete report, “Women Physicists Speak Again” (AIP Pub. No.R-441) is available, along with other AIP reports on women in physics, on AIP's Statistical Research Center web site at http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/gendertrends.html.
The National Academies have just released a report analyzing the barriers to hiring and promotion experienced by women in academia. That report will be highlighted in a forthcoming FYI.
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 115: September 25, 2006
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
New Benchmark Report Raises Caution Flag on Future of U.S. S&T Enterprise
"These benchmarks make clear our waning commitment," warns a new report by The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation. This report, updating an initial 2005 report, charts a range of worrisome trends indicating that components of America's leadership in research and technology "are at risk."
Twenty-one months ago, the Task Force issued "The Knowledge Economy: Is America Losing its Competitive Edge: Benchmarks of our Innovation Future." This 18-page report has been credited with helping to raise the awareness of policymakers about U.S. R&D leadership (see http://futureofinnovation.org/PDF/Benchmarks.pdf.) Numerous other reports, including those by the National Academies ("Rising Above the Gathering Storm"), the Council on Competitiveness, and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, raised similar concerns. Last February, President Bush sent Congress his American Competitiveness Initiative recommending doubling the aggregate budgets over ten years for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the NIST laboratory research program. The appropriations bills that would provide these agencies with the recommended increases for FY 2007 are still on Capitol Hill.
The new report, "Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness. Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II" was released on November 16 at a Capitol Hill press conference that will be reviewed in FYI #136. The 36-page report explains, "The Task Force on the Future of American innovation is a coalition of business, scientific and university organizations that came together in 2004 out of concern that insufficient investment by the federal government in research in the physical sciences and engineering was threatening the nation's global economic leadership and national security in an increasingly competitive world." The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society are Member Organizations of the Task Force. The report acknowledges: "Special thanks go to Steven Pierson of the American Physical Society as primary editor and to the editing committee of Eric Iverson of the American Society for Engineering Education, Peter Harsha of the Computing Research Association, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Tobin Smith and Barry Toiv of the Association of American Universities." The report may be read at http://futureofinnovation.org/2006report/
In comparing the two reports, the latest report states: "the problems we described last year - in areas that include federal support for basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, Ph.D.s in the natural sciences and engineering, students' interest in pursuing science and engineering studies, and the trade balance in high-tech products - have not disappeared. They are long term trends that the new figures confirm." Among those indicators are research investments as compared to other nations such as China and India, knowledge creation as measured by U.S. patent applications and the declining U.S. share of S&E publications, high-tech economy benchmarks such as the widening U.S. high-tech trade deficit, various sector benchmarks such as semiconductor and nanotechnology production and research, education benchmarks including the number of S&E graduates, and workforce benchmarks including reverse brain drain. Additional excerpts from the report will be provided in FYI#137.
The report concludes: "Those who stand still will fall behind. The United States has been standing still in basic research in the physical sciences for more than a decade -- a decade of immense change and rapid growth in the global economy. The Benchmarks show that if the United States continues to stand still, it faces inevitable decline. Avoiding this outcome does not require huge outlays of federal funds - the research funds in the American Competitive Initiative, if approved, involve only about one-tenth of one percent of federal discretionary spending - but it will require a new attitude and commitment toward sustained investment in basic research. With this commitment, we believe that the United States can continue to prosper and lead in this still-new century."
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 135: November 29, 2006
Web version: http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/136.html
Richard M. Jones
Findings from the New S&T Benchmark Report
Earlier this month, The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation released "Measuring the Moment: Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness. Benchmarks of our Innovation Future II." The following are selections from this report; the complete document can be read at http://futureofinnovation.org/2006report/
"This outpouring of [S&T/competitiveness] reports from a broad range of interests has shaped the public debate. Certainly the American people are convinced. A strong majority believes the country needs to invest more in basic research. For example, a national survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by this taskforce showed that 70 percent of the public supports increasing federal funding by 10 percent a year for the next seven years for university research in science and engineering. The same survey shows that 49 percent of the electorate believes America's ability to compete economically in the world has grown worse over the past few years. This number is up from 38 percent in 1991."
"Economists attribute a significant portion of the extraordinary boom in productivity during the 1990's to technological innovation. Citing innovation as the reason for significant gains in productivity growth since 1995, then Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress: `Had the innovations of recent decades, especially in information technologies, not come to fruition, productivity growth would have continued to languish at the rate of the preceding twenty years." The energy for this tidal wave of innovation came from basic research, much of which was performed years earlier on university campuses and elsewhere.'"
"While U.S. spending on military R&D is at a record high, recent increases have been devoted to applying existing ideas to the production of new weapons and equipment. We have been underinvesting in the basic research needed for the next generation of military technology. Since the end of the Cold War, the share of the Department of Defense (DOD) investment in science and technology devoted to basic research has declined significantly, from 20 percent in 1980 to less than 12 percent in 2005. …over the past five years alone, overall Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E) has grown by over one-third, yet investment in basic research has remained flat."
"The National Research Council and the Defense Sciences Board (DSB)have both sounded alarms concerning our investment in basic research in fields critical to our national defense, such as high performance computing and microchips and semiconductors. The point they make is clear: If the nation does not reinvigorate its investment in the creation of new fundamental knowledge for national security, the United States will not have the most advanced weapons systems and military technologies."
"The benchmarks presented in this paper show that countries such as China and India are increasing their innovative capabilities, fromr esearch investment and science and engineering (S&E) degree production to high-tech products, at a time when, using the same measures, the United States appears to be slowing. They demonstrate that to stay ahead we need to reinvigorate the foundation of our innovation economy."
"We can quibble about specific statistics and metrics used to measure current trends, but the big picture is increasingly clear. If we wait to be absolutely sure these trends are what they appear to be, it will become ever more difficult and expensive to recover."
"Fastest-growing economies continue to increase their R&D investments rapidly, nearly five times the rate of the United States: The countries of China, Ireland, Israel, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan collectively increased their R&D investments by 214 percent between 1995 and 2004. The United States in that period increased its total R&D investments by 43 percent."
"U.S. physical sciences and engineering research budgets significantly lag economic growth: As a share of GDP, the U.S. federal investment in both physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal funding for physical sciences research has been flat for two decades.… Support for engineering research is similar."
"Innovators transform new knowledge into products and services. The United States has led the world in innovation and in the creation of knowledge that fuels this progress. Two benchmarks of knowledge creation, journal articles and patents, reveal that change around the world is eroding traditional U.S. leadership in these areas. Other countries are rapidly enlarging their stock of intellectual property assets and are expanding the boundaries of learning and discovery across all fields of science and engineering. Growth in patent applications around the world shows that these countries are also enhancing their abilities to put newly created knowledge to viable commercial uses."
"U.S. share of S&E publications continues to shrink: In the firs Benchmarks report, we reported that the U.S. share of worldwide science had shrunk from 38 percent in 1988 to 31 percent in 2001.The 2003 data reveal that the number continued to decline, due largely to increased Asian output."
"High-Tech trade deficit continues to widen: The annual trade deficit for advanced technology products grew in 2005, for the third straight year. The deficit of $44 billion for 2005 is now larger than the largest surplus of the last 15 years. The 2005 value marks the fourth straight year that the United States has imported more high-tech products than it has exported. While many of those imports come from countries in which U.S. companies own manufacturing facilities, this shift in manufacturing helps build technological capabilities in those countries."
"Across many sectors of the economy, signs of trouble for the United States are showing up in areas important to national security, technological leadership and industrial capacity, showing the ripple effects of lapses in support for research and education."
"U.S. leads world in nanotechnology but competition is fierce: Two recent reports, one by Lux Research and one by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, confirm that the United States leads the world in nanotechnology, but that future leadership is not assured. Despite doubled spending on nanotechnology between 2001 and 2004, the U.S. share of the global investment in this field decreased from 30.3 percent to 26.2 percent."
"U.S. teenagers lag most developed countries in math and science literacy: In the 2003 OECD ranking of the mathematics and science performance of 15-year-olds in the 30 OECD countries, the United States ranked 18th and 24th, respectively, scoring below the OECD average for each. The rankings are similarly poor when the list is narrowed to the countries of the G8. To quote the 2005 OECD report, Education at a Glance, `With its relatively high expenditure and its relatively low student achievements at the school level, the United States education system is clearly inefficient.'"
"The United States falls behind in the ratio of undergraduate natural science and engineering (NS&E) degrees to broader populations: While U.S. NS&E degrees as a percentage of the population of U.S. 24-year-olds increased from 4 percent in 1975 to 5.7 percent in 2000, this country fell below the OECD average of roughly 6.8 percent. In 1975, only two countries had higher ratios than the United States . By 2000, 25 countries had higher ratios."
"U.S. universities are still best in the world: In its rankings of the top universities in the world, researchers at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University found that the United States had 8 of the top 10 and 35 of the top 50. A report from the Center for European Reform found that the United States has 18 of the world's top 20 universities, and 37 of the top 50."
"Asian production of natural science and engineering (NS&E) Ph.D.s is on a steep trajectory; U.S. figure stagnant: The number of NS&E Ph.D.s granted in several Asian countries is climbing quickly and shows no sign of slowing. Their production surpassed the flat figure of the United States in 1998 and the gap has been quickly widening. Three European countries collectively have more than the United States but show a similar flat to declining trend in recent years."
"… U.S. student interest in science and math has waned so much since the Sputnik days that there are now fewer Americans studying science and engineering in U.S. graduate schools than foreigners. Luring America's young talent to science and engineering is essential to our future competitiveness, especially as more and more research and development opportunities develop in other parts of the world."
"These benchmarks demonstrate America's historical strength in science and technology, but they also reveal the impact of earlier decisions about the federal investment in basic research in physics, mathematics, engineering, chemistry and computing. The bench marks help us see how inadequate investment has helped to set in motion an erosion of American leadership in science, in turn jeopardizing the foundation upon which our future economic and national security will be built."
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 137: November 29, 2006
Web version: http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/137.html
Richard M. Jones