Is American Science in Decline?

Is American Science in Decline?

Yu Xie
Alexandra A. Killewald
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Is American Science in Decline?
    Book Description:

    While the authors identify areas of concern regarding scientists’ low earnings, competition from Asia, and the declining number of academic positions, they conclude that science in the United States is not in decline. American culture is highly conducive to science, and educated workers with a range of skills will still be in demand in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06504-8
    Subjects: Sociology, General Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Science is of tremendous importance today. It has long been valued not only for its own sake as knowledge of the natural world but also for its direct contributions toward improving countless aspects of human life, such as the availability of food, water, housing, and material goods, health, education, communication, transportation, and security from natural disasters, epidemics, and human warfare. Closely related to science is technology, which is sometimes considered synonymous with applied science. Although it is not easy to pin down precisely what the economic impact of technology is in any given society, there is little controversy over the...

  5. 1 The Evolution of American Science
    (pp. 11-26)

    American science is a big industry that employs a big labor force. Here are some things we know about it:

    (1) Science is huge. Estimates of the American science workforce vary based on how “scientist” is defined, but even the lowest estimates of scientific workers are in the millions.¹

    (2) Science involves enormous amounts of money. In 2006, the United States spent over $340 billion on research and development.² This includes significant spending on basic research, as evidenced by the National Science Foundation’s budget of $6.87 billion in 2010 and the National Institutes of Health’s budget of $31 billion the...

  6. 2 American Science and Globalization
    (pp. 27-37)

    As shown in the last chapter, the world center of modern science has shifted from one country to another over modern history, from Italy to England to France to Germany and, finally, to the United States. In the past, each of these centers of science has enjoyed world leadership for only about eighty years.¹ The American dominance of science, however, has now lasted for more than ninety years, from the 1920s to the present, prompting some observers to raise the question of whether this dominance is in serious jeopardy and whether America may be guilty of the same overconfidence that...

  7. 3 Why Do People Become Scientists?
    (pp. 38-47)

    A shortage of scientists in a society is the collective result of not enough people making decisions to become—and remain—scientists. Thus, if we want to know whether a shortage is likely to occur, as the alarmists have claimed, it is important to understand how individual career decisions are made, particularly those regarding whether to pursue science. Toward this end, we will need to understand scientists not as an isolated group but as existing within a broader social context—taking into account such factors as educational institutions, wages of scientists relative to those of other professionals, public attitudes toward...

  8. 4 American Scientists: Who Are They?
    (pp. 48-63)

    In the last chapter, we looked at factors that may motivate individuals to choose science as a career. In this chapter, we will focus on the people who have already become scientists, both past and present. What are their demographic characteristics, and how have these characteristics changed over time? In answering these questions, we will be comparing American science not with science in other countries, as we did in Chapter 2, but with its own past as it evolved over the period between 1960 and the present. Within this historical framework, we will analyze changes in the size and demographic...

  9. 5 Public Attitudes toward Science
    (pp. 64-75)

    As discussed in Chapter 3, the process of becoming a scientist in any given society is the cumulative result of individual career decisions under the influence of the society at large. Most important to the well-being of science are the decisions of young people who are talented in science and math. But children and adolescents do not grow up in a vacuum. They are continually receiving messages from their surrounding cultures about what is and is not important, and these messages may have a great deal of influence over their future plans. If American culture devalues science, American youth may...

  10. 6 Does Science Appeal to Students?
    (pp. 76-89)

    In the previous chapter, we found little evidence that Americans’ attitudes toward science and scientists have become less favorable over recent decades. Scientists have continued to receive considerable support and prestige from the American public. This does not reveal, however, whether science remains an attractive career path for young Americans. American youth may believe that science is a worthwhile pursuit for our society in general, while finding it unattractive as a career choice for themselves.

    Who, then, would pursue a science career? We propose that prospective scientists must meet at least three requirements. First, they must believe that they can...

  11. 7 Attainment of Science Degrees
    (pp. 90-114)

    As discussed in the Introduction, two alternative definitions of “scientist” are commonly used in studies of scientists: (1) the occupation-based or demand-based definition; (2) the education-based or supply-based definition.¹ Whereas the occupation-based definition identifies as scientists the incumbents of scientific occupations, the education-based definition considers individuals with or working toward science degrees to be potential scientists.

    In Chapter 4, we relied on the occupation-based definition when we examined scientists’ demographic characteristics and labor force outcomes. However, we are keenly aware of two obvious shortcomings of the occupation-based approach. First, all persons who receive science education make up the potential supply...

  12. 8 Finding Work in Science
    (pp. 115-128)

    One reason some scholars and observers question the common assertion about a shortage of scientists is their concern with job prospects for newly trained scientists. According to these scholars and observers, not only is there no shortage of scientists in the United States, there is actually a surplus of scientists, largely resulting from immigration. In a 2010 article provocatively titled “The Real Science Gap,” science journalist Beryl Lieff Benderly quoted economist Richard Freeman and other scholars denying that a science shortage exists. Benderly characterized the loud complaints about scientist shortages as “profound irony” at a time when “scores of thousands...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 129-140)

    This book was motivated by a policy debate about the current and future states of American science. As described in the Introduction, the alarmist view, well represented in the 2007 NAS report Rising above the Gathering Storm, asserts that the United States is in desperate need of more and better trained scientists to meet new challenges posed by an increasingly globalized and competitive world.¹ The opposing view, discussed in Chapter 8, argues that, far from facing a shortage, the United States has a glut of young scientists with weak employment prospects. A broader debate is over whether we should be...

  14. Appendix A: Census and American Community Survey Data
    (pp. 141-143)
  15. Appendix B: NCES Survey Data
    (pp. 144-148)
  16. Appendix C: NES, NSRCG, and IPEDS Data
    (pp. 149-151)
  17. Appendix D: Detailed Statistical Tables
    (pp. 152-188)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 189-208)
  19. References
    (pp. 209-226)
  20. Index
    (pp. 227-230)