National Science Board: U.S. Is Losing Technology Lead over China

This photo taken on September 2, 2019 shows a laboratory technician checking samples with a microscope at the Chinese company Sinogene, a pet cloning outfit which has cloned more than 40 pet dogs since 2017, in Beijing. - To clone a dog costs a hefty 380,000 yuan (53,000 USD) and …
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The United States’ scientific lead is shrinking as China and other nations build up their science resources, says a report prepared by the National Science Board.

“Other nations, particularly China, are rapidly developing their science and technology (S&T) capacity,” says the report, titled “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering.” The report continued:

the United States has seen its relative share of global S&T activity remain unchanged or shrink, even as its absolute activity levels have continued to rise … Increasingly, the United States is seen globally as an important leader rather than the uncontested leader.

The report suggests the problem is a lack of federal funding:

the share of U.S. R&D funded by the federal government has declined. This decline is notable as federally funded R&D is an important source of support, particularly for the higher education sector and for the nation’s basic research enterprise.

China’s growth accelerated in 2002 when its annual output of science and engineering graduates began a rapid rise from roughly 400,000 up to 1.7 million in 2016. In contrast, output at U.S. universities grew slowly from roughly 700,000 science and engineering graduates in 2002 up to 800,000 graduates in 2016.

Yet a large share of graduates from U.S. universities are foreigners who will return to their home countries. For example, one-quarter of PhDs earned at U.S. universities in 2017 were earned by Chinese, Indians, or South Koreans.

But many of these foreign scientists prefer to stay in the U.S., so flooding the labor market and driving down likely wages for the Americans — including ethnic and racial minorities — who might choose to become scientists.

The NSB report downplays the importance of pay in attracting the smartest Americans into science, even though half of the science and engineering workforce is paid less than $85,390 after many years of expensive study:

S&E employment in the United States—made up of occupations like software developers, computer system analysts, chemists, mathematicians, economists, psychologists, and engineers—has grown more rapidly than the workforce overall and now represents 5% (about 7 million) of all U.S. jobs. In 2017, the median [the mid-point number] annual salary in S&E occupations (across workers at all education levels) was $85,390.

Half of the technicians in the workforce earn less than $45,000, the January 10 report said:

In 2017, skilled technical workers had a higher median salary ($45,000) and a lower unemployment rate (3%) than did workers with less than a bachelor’s degree in all other occupations ($29,000 and 5%).

A prior National Science Board report on young scientists’ wages showed surprisingly low wages, despite the variety of well-paid alternative jobs for clever people, for example, on Wall Street.

In 2017, biological scientists were being paid just $55,000 five years after earning their PhDs, according to the board’s report about scientists’ wages.

Scientists with physical science degrees were earning just $64,000, while math and software PhDs were earning just $108,000, five years after graduation, the wage report said.

Salaries were even lower for young would-be scientists who stay in universities’ “postdoc” slots — just $48,000 for postdocs in life sciences and $49,000 for postdocs in the physical sciences. These postdoc jobs are the on-ramp to a career in academic science: “A postdoc position is generally expected to be competitive for obtaining a faculty position … [they] often perform cutting-edge research and receive valuable training,” the labor market report says.

Unemployment is also high for Americans who train to be scientists. In 2017, one-in-fourteen science and engineering PhDs were “working involuntarily out of field,” according to the wage report

But the low salaries allow many top U.S. university researchers to minimize payroll costs in their competitive laboratories. The reduced supply of Americans willing to accept such low wages and to risk unemployment is supplemented by the government-delivered supply of foreign scientists, including Chinese PhDs who are willing to work as postdocs.

Even though the board’s report lamented America’s relative decline against China, the report treated U.S. science sector’s cooperation with, and reliance on, foreigners as a plus, saying:

Foreign-born workers—ranging from long-term U.S. residents with strong roots in the United States to more recent immigrants—account for 30% of workers in S&E occupations … More than one-half of doctorate holders in engineering and in computer science and mathematics occupations are foreign born … In 2017, temporary visa holders earned one-third (34%) of S&E doctoral degrees … Three Asian countries—China, India, and South Korea—are the largest source countries and accounted for just over half (54%) of all international recipients of U.S. S&E research doctoral degrees since 2000

The board’s report also focused on recruiting more non-Asian minorities into science. The reports’ first paragraph about Americans’ science workforce said:

The U.S. S&E workforce continues to grow overall. The number of women and underrepresented minorities (URMs) — blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives — has grown. However, these groups remain underrepresented in the S&E workforce relative to their overall presence in the workforce and the population.

The Washington Post’s report echoed the board’s themes:

“Amid the global bidding war for talent, we need to avoid complacency,” [Julia Phillips, chair of the National Science Board’s science policy committee.] said.

“The science and engineering enterprise in the United States ideally should reflect our population in race, ethnicity and gender,” Phillips said. “It’s clear that we have a long way to go.”

Amid the leaders’ focus on foreign graduates and minority recruitment, the salaries paid to American scientists are low because the NSF has helped to inflate the supply of imported scientists, according to Eric Weinstein, the managing director at Thiel Capital, an investment firm based in Hollywood. The firm was created by Peter Thiel. In May, Weinstein tweeted:

In November, Breitbart News asked the NSF about Weinstein’s claims. “We do not have a response to the paper you linked at this time,” the NSF press office replied.

The website reports that the government-run National Institutes of Health asked for roughly 500 H-1B visas for foreign researchers from 2017 to 2019. Universities sought 2,660 H-IB visas to import physical-science researchers and 13,000 H-1B visas to import foreign life-scientists during the same 2017 to 2019 period.

The National Science Board report also downplayed the competitive risk caused by the sector’s reliance on foreigners, despite the growing scale of technology theft by foreign actors, including U.S.-based Chinese scientists. For example, the Associated Press reported January 7:

A Chinese scientist accused of participating in a conspiracy to steal trade secrets from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has been returned to the United States to stand trial in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Tuesday that 50-year-old biochemist Gongda Xue had fought extradition from Switzerland.

He is alleged to have received cancer research his sister stole from a research facility in the Philadelphia suburbs.

In November, the Senate issued a bipartisan report showing how science leaders in the agencies and universities remained passive while the Chinese government stole U.S. technology and diverted U.S. taxpayer funding to Chinese research.

“This report follows an eight-month investigation into how the American taxpayer has, in effect, unwittingly funded research that has contributed to China’s global rise over the past 20 years,” GOP Sen. Rob Portman said November 19. He continued:

Our investigation focused on China’s most prominent program called the Thousand Talents Plan. Launched in 2008, China designed the Thousand Talents Plan to recruit 2,000 high-quality overseas experts. By 2017, China dramatically exceeds its recruitment goal, recruiting more than 7,000 “high-end professionals.” Our report also details how the Chinese Communist Party controls and administers these talent recruitment programs.

Science agencies “are increasingly becoming aware of non-disclosure issues connected to relatively new factors such as foreign talent recruitment programs,” the National Science Foundation told Breitbart in November. “NSF has also issued a policy stating that members of its workforce may not participate in foreign government talent recruitment programs.”

The NSF’s budget of $8.3 billion funds many U.S. non-medical research projects. The NSF is overseen by the National Science Board.


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