Saturday, August 13, 2005

"U.S. science research may lose place on cutting edge"

Full article

I quote below more extensively than usual, this very well stated argument by Sharon Begley, The Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburg Post, August 12, 2005:

"According to the National Science Foundation, the U.S. share of scientific and engineering papers (a measure of how much knowledge researchers are generating) has been on a steady decline. From almost 40 percent in 1988, the U.S. share had fallen to 30 percent by 2001 (the last year for which the count is in), and is likely even lower now. That reflects, in particular, the rising scientific output of China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
As recently as 1995, the U.S. was the top producer of scientific knowledge, with about 200,000 papers. Since then, Western Europe has sprinted past, producing almost 230,000 papers in 2001. The U.S. was stalled at 200,000. Asia graduates more science and engineering Ph.D.s than the U.S. does; Europe graduates 50 percent more.

"Unless you treat science the way the media do Olympics, with country-by-country medal counts obscuring the inspiring achievements, it's not obvious why the U.S.'s fall from dominance should cause concern, at least for patients. Ill Americans benefit from the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, invented in a lab in Belgium. The extract that formed the basis for the cholesterol-lowering drug Mevacor emerged from a lab in Spain. Americans don't need a passport to benefit from either.

"That more smart people around the world are making more discoveries 'portends well for the future of all humankind,' Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, argued in an editorial in Science.............

"It's one thing to lose pre-eminence, it's quite another to lose eminence, and that's where the U.S. is heading.

"Americans are rightfully proud of the research we do, but this is not the only place really great science is being done these days," says Evan Snyder of the Burnham Institute, La Jolla, Calif., a leader in stem-cell research. "Countries that never had a tradition of cutting-edge biomedical research now have an entree as a result of U.S. (stem-cell) policy. Americans are at a disadvantage in not having the opportunity to develop the technical know-how."

"One sign of how besieged he and others feel: Lab space financed with private or state money for studies that can't be legally done with federal money is called a 'safe haven.'

"Allowing a minority opinion to stifle research is only one symptom of politics undermining science. Some appointees to federal scientific advisory panels have been chosen for their ideology rather than their expertise; staffers with no research credentials alter the scientific (not only the policy) content of reports on climate change. Politicians' attacks on the science of evolution continue, even though "intelligent design" may make a fascinating lesson for a philosophy class, but is not biology.

"'This anti-scientism couldn't be more damaging to young people contemplating devoting their life to research,' says neuroscientist Ira Black, whose own stem-cell institute in New Jersey has been stalled by political red tape. 'The sense of opportunity that was always predominant in the U.S. now lies elsewhere.."

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