By Samuel Castor
The National Science Foundation listed decreasing national enrollment in science and engineering programs as a major cause of declining American authority in science, in a phone news conference Tuesday.
The explanation came after John F. Jankowski, a National Science Foundation senior analyst, told the New York Times Monday that American dominance in science was declining.
“The rest of the world is catching up,” Jankowski said. “Science excellence is no longer the domain of just the U.S.”
“The problem is we are not training our own,” said Dr. Robert Richardson, National Science Board Sub-Committee Chair. “We have been taking great advantage of ambitious people from abroad who come to the United States.”
Richardson said 17 percent of American university bachelor”s degree graduates entering the science and engineering fields are foreign born. This trend in bachelor”s degrees reaches even higher levels in post-graduate degrees, with 29 percent of master”s degree graduates and 38 percent of doctorate degree graduates born outside the United States.
Larry Baxter, a BYU chemical engineering professor agreed with the NSF assessment of America”s declining scientific prowess. He said BYU is not exempt from the national trend.
“I do think America has lost its edge in a number of technical areas, most technical areas I might even say,” Baxter said. “We are falling behind.”
He said the slip in American dominance was because of a lack of industrial and governmental commitment to research and an increasingly higher fraction of non-American citizens graduating with scientific degrees then returning to their countries.
“I don”t view it as necessarily a bad thing that people who come from other countries would go back to their country,” Baxter said. He said people returning home to boost their economy and technology was “healthy for everyone.”
This decline in scientific and engineering dominance could spell trouble for national defense, as the United States has traditionally found its strength in technology.
“Our defense has always been built upon technology rather than people, everything that we do in defense is highly technical,” Baxter said.
Baxter said the United States has always overcome disadvantages, specifically smaller numbers of soldiers, by creating an advantage through technology.
“Technology is an essential component of every part of our defense in terrorism and everything else,” he said.
Charles Jui, a professor of physics at University of Utah, had an alternate explanation for the decline.
Jui said although Americans are loosing ground in large, 3rd generation projects, American scientists are still doing what they do best – innovating.
Jui compared the international advances to collecting stamps or trying to complete a collection.
“That”s not to belittle the work that they do,” he said. “It”s not the innovative groundbreaking work that Americans have traditionally been good at for the last 100 years,” he said.
Jui said any dominance Americans have lost in large, international projects, they maintain in innovation.
“Americans have always been good at individual initiative; small group innovative thinking,” he said.
Historically, America”s scientific power has come from “foreign born students and workers (that) have been critical to U.S. Science and Engineering performance,” said Warren Washington, National Science Board Chair.
Congress established the NSF, which submits the United States” science and engineering progress biannually, in 1950. More information concerning American scientific and engineering reports can be viewed at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb.