March 28, 2005
State of Basic Research Funding
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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On March 16, 2005 the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) issued a press release warning that the coming transition to nano-scale semiconductor devices means that leadership in information technology is up for grabs. SIA called for stepped up support for basic research in the physical sciences to assure continued U.S. technology leadership. Experts believe current semiconductor technology could run up against physical, technological, and economic limits around 2020.

Craig Barrett, chief executive officer of Intel Corporation, commented that “U.S. leadership in the nanoelectronics era is not guaranteed. It will take a massive, coordinated U.S. research effort involving academia, industry, and state and federal governments to ensure that America continues to be the world leader in information technology.”

Steve Appleton, chief executive officer of Micron Technology and 2005 chairman of the SIA said “Federal funding for R&D as a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product has been almost cut in half over the past 20 years. We must return to the investment levels of the mid-1980s in order to compete for leadership.”

Specifically, SIA called for
- Increases of 7 percent per year in the research budget of the NSF for 10 years, doubling the research budget over that period;

- An appropriation of $20 million to match the semiconductor industry's support for the Focus Center Research Program, which supports pre-competitive research on microelectronics technology at 30 universities to ensure continued U.S. leadership throughout the remaining years of the CMOS era;

- An increase of $20 million to enhance the nanomanufacturing and nanometrology research capabilities of NIST; and

- An increase in funding for the Math and Science Partnership program of the No Child Left Behind act.
Appelton added “U.S. leadership in technology is not inevitable. Leadership in information technology is a cornerstone of our national strategy for economic growth, an improving standard of living, and national security. The actions we take today to ensure continued U.S. leadership will determine the quality of life enjoyed by our children and grandchildren”.

The SIA is hardly alone in expressing concern over the state of education in science and engineering, the loss of jobs overseas and the amount of federal funding. For example, in a well publicized speech given to the Business Software Alliance in October 2003 Andy Grove bemoaned the lost of jobs in the software and service industry and predicted a fate similar to steel and semiconductors markets. He identified the decline in numbers of US science and engineering graduates, the poor performance of US students in science and math, the drop in federal funding of academic R&D, and IP litigation costs as contributing factors.

Are things really that bad?

US Higher Education

One measure of technical potential in the US is the number of Doctorates granted in relevant fields. The tables below come from the National Science Foundation Division of Science Resources Statistics and are based upon Survey of Earned Doctorates. Over 91 percent of the doctorate recipients in 2003 responded to the questionnaire. Over the period 1994-2003, the response rate varied between 91 and 95 percent.

Overall what is striking is the flatness of the data. The number of doctorates in Science and in All Fields has gone down modestly in a decade but the number of doctorates in Engineering has fallen nearly 10%.

If one examines the data on woman earning doctorates, one sees increases in percentage everywhere in 2003 relative to 1994. In the sciences woman earned 8,576 doctorates in 2004. This was 44% of the total. Of this number 30% were in biological sciences, 26% in psychology and 21% in social sciences. Woman accounted for only 17% of doctorates in engineering.

Non-US citizens accounted for more than one third of doctorates in science and nearly two thirds of engineering doctorates in 2003. In 2002 graduate students with temporary visas accounted for 32% of all graduate enrollment in Science & Engineering, 40% in Physical sciences 48% in computer science and 49% in engineering. Since 1992 graduate enrollment by US citizens in engineering has dropped 19%, while graduate student on temporary visas studying engineering has increased 40%. Graduate enrollment by US citizens in physical sciences has declined 14% since 1992, while graduate student on temporary visas studying physical sciences has increased 2%. Graduate enrollment by US citizens in
computer sciences has increased 2% since 1992, while graduate student on temporary visas studying physical sciences has increased 121%.

The percentage of bachelor degrees in science and engineering versus the total number of bachelor degrees has fallen 35.6% in 1970 to 31.8% in 2001. In absolute terms the number in science and engineering has grown from 284, 230 in 1970 to 400,206 in 2001. The percentage of master's degree in science and engineering versus the total number of bachelor degrees has fallen 25.6% in 1970 to 21.2% in 2001. In absolute terms the number in science and engineering has grown from 53,695 in 1970 to 98,986 in 2001.

Princeton-based Educational Testing Service, which conducts the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), recently declared that the number of international students registering for GRE in 2004 for admission in fall 2005 has dropped dramatically. The drop was 37% for Indians, 43% for Taiwanese and 50% for Chinese. The Council for Graduate Schools has found that applications from international students to US graduate schools for the September 2005 session are down for the second year in a row.

Given the importance of education at all levels for society as well for the individual the following is not very encouraging. The Los Angels Times today reported that according to a Harvard University study only 71% of students in California graduated on time with their high school class in 2002. The percentages according to race were whites 78%, Asians 83%, Latinos 60% and Blacks 57%. Another study showed that from 1990 to 2000, the high school completion rate declined in all but seven states. In 10 states, it declined by 8 percentage points or more. The total graduation rate was 68% with only 50% of all black students, 51% of Native American students, and 53% of all Hispanic students
graduating. The percentages for males in these categories were even lower. More depressing is the fact that students who drop out of high school do so in their freshman and sophomore years.

Federal Funding of Scientific Research and Development

As all schoolchildren know Queen Isabella of Spain sold her jewels to finance Christopher Columbus voyage to the New World, of course India was the target destination. The return on that investment was enormous. Over the centuries national governments have funded scientific research, development and exploration. Governments not only provide funding, they also establish agencies that provide a framework to guide and control the advance and use of various technologies. Among these agencies in the US are the FCC (Federal Communication Communications), FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) and NIST (National Institute of Science and
Technology). Governments also pass legislation in support of various applications of technology. For example, there are significant limits on the legal liability for the operation of a nuclear power without which there would not have been a nuclear power industry. Governments create and sustain infrastructures that support the advance and dissemination of technology in much the same way that they support the federal highway system. In recent times government funding is usually allocated to the areas of health, space, energy, national defense and now also homeland security.

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-- Jack Horgan, Contributing Editor.

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