IS IT TRUE? Have we lost our 'edge' in science and technology?
A good measure would be
Nobel prizes - but there is a delay of perhaps 20 years before that may show up,
the classical Citation Index or as described here
or references given for major topics in Wikipedia, like
here - as an example
However, considering the limited funding of the study we're undertaking here,
I will just look for countries which are leaders in few key areas that will
likely be important in the future, such as:
2) Nanotechnology / electronics/ photonics
3) Energy / nuclear power/ computing
4) Cultural leadership - meeting the challenges facing the world
The areas overlap, and the inter-relationship of computing and nuclear research
may only be apparent to a student of history. Nevertheless, we
will look for breakthroughs in each area which (subjectively)
breakthroughs which look like begining of new developments:
Challenge was presented in 1957, when the Soviet Union
successfully launched Sputnik
Space race not only was a symbolic version of a real war, it
demonstrated capabilities of the two powers
NASA was formed in 1958, and met the challenge with flying colors.
Thirty six years ago mankind accomplished the single greatest
technological achievement of all time when a human first set foot on
another celestial body.
"That first landing was that of American Neil Armstrong, commander of
the Apollo 11 mission,... "
To present 'fair and balanced' coverage we need to note that according
to some experts this did not happen: the whole thing was faked in the
Today the space program in the United States is in trouble
(according to some, posibly self-serving reports)
Today The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975,
compares well: GPS Vs EGNOS, Galileo,
Testing of 'MOND over matter' hypothesis
ESA - Venus Express
Today, ISA also looks better than 30 years ago,
and it gained lot of cooperation and respect
"Solar Power Satellite (SPS) is one of targets which will be developed
in the 21st century .."
They will be developed in Japan.
So, it looks like we have lost some edge, and it is also apparent why:
It is not so much that we regressed, but that others progressed, and faster.
But the first glance may be misleading.
There are things going on which are not in the limelight, such as
Space: The Final Battlefield
Developing and Fielding Unrivaled Space and Missile Capabilities:
I agree that US is unrivaled here, investing huge resources.
If we do not consider War on Terror to be a 'real' war, US is
investing unprecedented resources in peacetime into defense.
Fortunately, we can afford both 'cannons and butter'. But perhaps
not all ''cannons and butter and basic research and education'?
-- So this may be a second reason for losing our edge:
Resources are limited; not just money, but human resources.
There are lots of links on this:
SEARCH TERMS: militarization, vaporization of space, kill vehicles
Above I picked only two which look 'official'
They are important, perhaps necessary, BUT is it science?
How much does this application drain resources from more basic research?
"Of the 10.1 million scientists and engineers working in the U.S.,
more than 3.1 million were employed in S&E
occupations, including 973,555 in high tech jobs in California in
2000. Yet despite continuing demand,
universities are awarding fewer technical degrees nationwide.
Department of Defense (DOD) which accounted for approximately 53% of
all federal R&D dollars spent in
California in FY2000. NASA accounted for another 25% of federal R&D
expenditures in California."
There are some crossovers:
ARPA supports some high quality basic research out of DOD budget
and NASA does some of the defense research.
and lot of both is carried at universities.
2. nanotechnology / electronics/ photonics /biotech
US leads in microarrays and bioinformatics
Dolly the sheep is cloned by scientists in Scotland
Squeezed light breaks quantum barrier at Canberra and Paris
Japan leads in some electronics, memories, electroptics and Korea
moving up quickly:
Samsung Announces It Has Developed World?s First 16Gb NAND Memory Chip
Sixty years ago United States "invented" nuclear energy.
OK - perhaps it was Meitner,Fermi, Ulam, Szilard, Von Neumann... who
provided some ideas, but it was Los Alamos which 'did it'. It was not
just physics: Computers were essential:
A whole new concept was developed on a grand scale:
National Labs -a partnership of the government with the best
industry research labs
Bell Labs (remember Bell Labs? lot of basic science was going on there)
Today, some industry group are attempting to recreate that:
" Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB)
in Cambridge, England, and AT&T's Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill,
New Jersey are generally considered to have been the most successful
institutions of their time in biology and solid state physics..."
but 'times' have changed:
We still have some industrial labs with basic research ( I
am not referring to our National Labs) such as those of the IBM. But
today, these are global labs:
In IMB lab scientist developed a new kind of microscope, which can
actually help us to 'see atoms'
That laboratory happens to be in Switzerland.
3: Energy / nuclear power/ computing
SPS and fusion are the main candidates for meeting global energy needs.
We already mentioned SPS.
Let's look at nuclear and computing history:
---- recent history : blossoming of US science occurred during and after WWII
In nuclear we need to recognize several phases
Nuclear Fission was 'DISCOVERED' in Germany just before WWII started
But it was 'INVENTED' in the US during the war:
Phase 1: Oppenheimer phase 1920-1950
2: Teller phase 1950-1990
3: Department of Energy phase 1990 .., continued
I cannot go into detail here. I recommend a book - a remarkable and
well documented survey of these phases is mentioned in the comment to
--------- More recently, today,
Japan, the US and the EU competed for hard for the ITER location.
It is an international effort and US is an important partner. But the EU won.
That would have been hard to imagine 30 years ago!.
There is a good chance that ITER is our planet's hope for affordable energy.
It will be developed in Europe.
4) Cultural leadership - a mission to redeem the world
US since its founding, had a mission to redeem the world.
This was not some megalomanic delusion. Most nations were looking to the
'new nation' which (as some believed) 'did rise from the ocean', and became
home of many peoples of many kinds, forming one nation. Forshadowing what
we expect to happen, one day, (in the Last Times) on the whole planet.
This was ceertainly true during the WWII and during the cold war.
References are here:
This was true for most scientists, those born in US, those who
came to US, those who wanted to come to the US and could not, and
those who wanted to emulate the US at home.
This was true only for scientists, of course, but scientists have
always found it relatively easier to migrate and to integrate into a
Many of the brightest came to the US to study and stayed. US had a
clever and generous immigration policy. It was science-and-immigrant
friendly. When it
came to a combination immigrant-scientist A. Einstein became an US icon.
Just as in the first phase we were "all" fighting against Nazism, in
the second phase we were fighting against a common enemy, against
That changed around 1990, the end of the second phase.
It changed even more after 9/11,
and it is still changing in the same unpleasant direction.
Today, US feels like a Europena country, if mot wose, to a foreign student.
Yes, we have lost some leadership, in the key emerging area
of the basic research. We are still a technological superpower, and
in defense technologies we increased our lead. In that, we are still
"the undisputed leader in the world today," as you put it.
Will American-born PhDs leave for better research opportunities
abroad and fewer foreign students stay to work in the U.S.? It is a
trend that has already begun. US is offers resources and above average
The very best scientific minds are not attracted primarily by the money.
Young people are idealistic (or naive :-) ?)
The entire research and cultural milieu plays a big role.
An opinion - added for free:
I do not think that can be changed:
No initiative not even governmental initiative, not even sn
initiative of the US government, can change ZeitGeist - the spirit of
The conditions which exixted during and after the WWII were unique -
and we really would not want to recreate them, if we could, would we?
The element of choice is elswhere: We will either be wise and accept
new reality, new global spirit - and become 'one of the guys' - first between
Or will we try to repeat the past, and create new American century
for this planet, and fail.
Retreat from glory happened to all past empires which overextended
their resouces. It happened to imperial England, Napolein's France,
If Jefferson's vision of the US, as not just new nation, but nation
with new principles, was correct, I believe we will make some right
choices in the future.
Good luck and thanks for worrying about these esoteric questions,
which are not well funded.