Author Archives: shelton

How America Lost the Cold War

History is better analyzed after all the witnesses are dead, but this can lead to a gap in more recent events.  Young people today don’t remember the late 20th Century, and they didn’t study this history in school, since it hadn’t yet found its way into their curricula.  They don’t have any interest in listening to old-timers either, but this blog medium allows anyone to vent, whether they have an audience or not.  For what is worth, here is an outline of the major events that shaped my life from 1938 to 2011.  This perspective does provide a rather contrarian take on the present, as the title indicates.

I vaguely recall some incidents from World War II that dominated my parents lives for so long.  When I was five, I could still get into our village’s movie free, and walked there alone in those more innocent times.  I do vividly remember the US propaganda films that portrayed the war in lurid color.  I took a personal interest, because, like most of my playmates, my dad was away from home, fighting in that war.  We even saw German POWs picking cotton in our remote Texas countryside; I remember hearing that they were very happy to be out of the war. We helped our cause by buying 25 cent stamps at the post office to stick into a booklet, which could eventually buy a $25 war bond.  Some kinds of food, like sugar, were rationed, and I still won’t drink cokes with artificial sweeteners.

When Dad came home, we had only a brief respite before the Cold War came to dominate our lives for decades.  Most people think we won that war when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the USSR collapsed.  Some even credit Ronald Reagan for almost single handedly winning the war, but I have a different recollection.  Our enemies in that war included not just the Soviet Union, but also almost equally, the People’s Republic of China.  We never actually fought the Soviets, but we fought the Chinese to a bloody draw in Korea.  I remember this quite well, because my dad left us again, to go fight the North Koreans and Chinese Communists.  And we never defeated them; quite the contrary.

After cooperating for years, the Soviets and ChiComs had a falling out in the 1960s, mainly because they shared a long and disputed border.  The Cold War then devolved largely into a three-way confrontation including the US and these two, who had no love for each other.  When the USSR disintegrated, the Chinese were able to turn their attention to us.  Of course, the main story here is that Deng Xaiopeng simply observed how his neighbors were getting rich by manufacturing for export, and said, “Me, too.”  By simply abandoning Mao’s stupid policies, he unleashed the vast energies of the Chinese people, who had prospered everywhere, except in China itself.

Well, from this witness’ perspective, the Chinese are now winning a Cold War that never really ended.  If I may say so, I think this is an important insight.  At the moment, this is being fought in the economic sector, but I believe the PRC is much more of a national security threat to the US than the USSR ever was.

R&D + M = R&D&M

For decades the US has been investing in research and development, but neglecting manufacturing.  Since it is only the manufacturing of products that can repay investments in R&D, this strategy is really a loser–except for multinationals.  They can make money manufacturing abroad–no American workers are needed, except few sales clerks at $8 per hour.   

This is hardly rocket science, but many efforts to reap the benefits of American R&D in America have been ineffective.  But we have to keep trying.  The latest effort was announced by the Obama Administration on June 24–the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.  This old EE might call it AMP, or R&D&M, adding manufacturing as an essential follow-on to R&D.

WTEC analyzes alternate universes abroad to seek policies that work.  Some countries (you know who you are) have made a spectacular success from the M part, sometimes without much of the R&D part, at least to start.  Learning from abroad is essential in finding strategies for zero-sum games–like seeking world market share of high-tech sales.  It’s silly to contemplate your own navel to see what has to be done; you have to learn from your successful competitors.  Let’s start by banishing the term, R&D alone, and always adding the manufacturing part: R&D&M.

I’ll discuss the Administration’s new AMP program in the next post in this context.

 R. D. Shelton

Patently Absurd

An important science and technology policy development was drowned out last week in the cacophony of carnival barkers questioning the president’s birthplace.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office announced that it would be postponing the implementation of reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of the patent application approval process.  This unfortunate decision resulted from Congress’s decision to raid some 100 million of the USPTO’s self supported dollars.  It is all the more ironic that the announcement came just days before World Intellectual Property Day, a day meant to celebrate the protection of intellectual property worldwide.

      As pointed out in an article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the reforms would have included a pilot program for fast-tracking patent approval for an extra fee, opening a satellite office in Detroit, much needed upgrades to the USPTO’s computer, and hiring of personnel–necessary to simply keep up with the increasing pace of applications.  In a recent White House video blog, Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, explains how the average patent takes three years to be approved because of a patent office straining with insufficient resources.  The recently delayed reforms were designed to address these problems.         Patent protection is critical for businesses competing in industries of the future which are dependent upon technological innovation including biotechnology, nanotechnology, clean energy, and computing.  China is undertaking a concerted effort to compete with the US in these areas of innovation as indicated by a recent Thomson Reuters report on the state of innovation in China.  The report concluded that “if current trends continue, China is set to dominate the patent information landscape in the not-too-distant future.”

     China’s increasing efforts at securing patents should be kept in perspective, and may be a “case of the world’s second-largest economy playing catch up,”  However, it is clear that the US needs to implement reforms to our patent process in order to remain competitive and maintain leadership in science and technology related industries.

Lance Miller

Legacy IT for Kiddies

Mackie, put down Angry Birds!  Vickie, take out those ear buds!  Daddy wants to tell you about old fashioned information technology.  I’ll make this short.

Book.  These were handheld devices that told a story written by a Published Author, which meant that a publisher thought it was good enough to gamble some money to print it.  Thus they were usually pretty good, compared to the blog drivel that anyone can post. [Recursive reference: like this]

Encyclopedia. A shelf full of books, similar to Wikipedia, but with alphabetical topics.  It had links, but you often had to get off your duff to get another volume.

Book Store.  Similar to Amazon.com, except you had to drive there.  You could drink their coffee while you read.  Coffee sales did not pay the rent, and replacing the coffee stained books, so these have disappeared.

Library.  Similar to bookstores, but free.  That is, they were paid for by the taxpayers.  The Tea Party decided that they were not worth it.

Telephone.  A early cell phone, amazingly connected to the wall by a short cord.  No one could call you while you were trying to trying to drive onto an expressway.  Nice, but the down side was that there was no way to turn them off.  Your daddy once stuffed a phone’s bell with Kleenex, when being repeatedly called by a drunk wanting a cab home.

Typewriter.  Similar to Word, but incredibly primitive.  You retyped a whole page if you made one mistake.

Computer. By just plugging wires into sockets, you could make a little spot of light bob up and down, if you also knew differential equations.

Movie.  A dark place for teenagers to make out.  [No change]

You get the idea.  Readers, if any, are invited to add to this list in the comments.

R. D. Shelton

News About US High-Tech Trade: Good, Not So Good, and Really Bad

High-technology trade is one bottom line indicator of the performance of a national S&T establishment, or “innovation ecosystem.”  The OECD has been gathering this data for many years for five kinds of products: pharmaceuticals, aerospace, electronics, computers, and instruments.  While OECD doesn’t tabulate totals, it’s easy to sum these up for overall indicators of imports, exports and trade balance in high-tech products.  Econobabble claims that international trade is always a win-win situation for all nations, but the latest direction of these indicators shows that all is not so rosy for the US and EU.

Individual companies measure sales, profits, and market share to monitor the health of their enterprise.  Nations can do something similar by monitoring imports, exports, and trade balance.  The high-technology product sector is particularly valuable as a measure of the success of a nation’s overall R&D investments.  After all, about the only way one can get any financial return whatsoever on their investments in research is to manufacture the resulting innovations, and sell them in domestic and foreign markets.

First the good news: imports of these products are growing rapidly in the US, EU, and PRC providing a cornucopia of snazzy new products like iGadgets for everyone to enjoy: Figure 1.  Figures Here  There is just that little dip in 2009, presumably because of a slowdown due to the Great Recession.  All these graphs are in current dollars.  

The Obama Administration has a goal of doubling exports, and Figure 2 shows that high-tech products are contributing mightily.  The not so good news is  that while US exports of these products are growing rapidly, China’s, and even Europe’s, are growing much more rapidly.

The really bad news is in Figure 3.  US and Japanese market share in this sector has dropped like a rock as they moved their manufacturing off-shore.  Also, like the market share of a company, the trade balance of a country (Figure 4) is an overall measure of its business strength in relation to its competitors.   Until the 1990s the US was a high-tech powerhouse; a trade surplus in this sector helped balance losses in sectors like automobiles.  Then China started manufacturing high-tech products in quantity and selling them at prices no one could compete with.  (Try finding a PC made anywhere else at Best Buy.)  Unfortunately this indicator is also a measure of the overall ROI on research investments.   Heretical thought: could it be that our herculean efforts to innovate our way out of our economic problems and build up our STEM workforce may actually be counterproductive, if our competitors reap ALL the benefits of making and selling the resulting products?!

 R. D. Shelton

WTEC output on 2/15/11

Yesterday I picked up from the Baltimore office the final report for the scalable software workshop.  This is an important contribution to an important problem.  Dave Nelson, Ben Benokraitis, and Patricia Foland did a very good job in making this a big success.

Last night I heard that the paper by Shelton and Leydesdorff was accepted for presentation at the ISSI conference in Durban in July; I passed out hardcopies of this at our last staff meeting.  Yesterday I also submitted a longer version to the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.  Loet posted this one at a preprint service hosted at Cornell. http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.3047 

Yesterday we also finished a draft of the brochure summary of the nanoEHS stategy, which I will bring to NNCO today.  Patricia, Matt, David, and I have been crashing on this for the last few days.  I think this looks very good, but we’ll see what the client thinks.  In any event, we will now turn our attention back to the similar brochure on Nano2.  OmniStudio is going to prettify both.

I suppose that Geoff and company are also finishing their supplement to the President’s FY2012 budget, a document with considerably higher stakes.

R. D. Shelton

New WTEC Book on Nanocatalysis [sic]

 

This handsome new book has been published by the Imperial College Press based on a 2009 WTEC study on nanocatalysis.  Actually the title is An International Assessment of Research and Development in Catalysis by Nanostructured Materials.  Robert Davis of the Unversity of Virginia was chair of the WTEC expert panel, and is listed as the book’s editor. 

We learned the hard way in the course of the study that the shorthand title, “nanocatalysis,” is touchy.  Some in the catalysis community believe that catalysts have always operated at nano scales and thus research on nanotechnogy is nothing new.  Of course, you could say the same thing about any field of nanotechnology, since everything is made out of atoms.  What is really new about the field of nanotechnology is new tools that permit manipulation of matter at nanometer scales, thus the full title we used.

The book is available from the publisher for $99 at http://www.worldscibooks.com/chemistry/p772.html  Amazon doesn’t have it in stock yet.  Or you could download the full text from wtec.org for free.

 R. D. Shelton

Innovation in the State of the Union Address

For decades the US innovation community has been trying to get the attention of the White House and Congress for this issue, which has been way down on the list of Washington priorities.  This grassroots lobbying effort has been greatly handicapped by not having the money to buy access that some other lobbies have.  Still, some modest success was gained with the NIH doubling initiative, the American Competitiveness Initiative, and the America COMPETES Act.  Except for the NIH money and a small portion of the ARRA stimulus bill, this has been mostly talk and not much action.  At last we’ve got the attention of the White House, and maybe the Congress.  When a State of the Union address from the President to the Congress is focused almost entirely on this issue, we’ve got the best lobbyist in town on our side. 

WTEC has played a very small role in this movement though its pointing with alarm abroad.  With this new attention at the highest levels, we are positioned to do a lot more.  This President reaffirmed President Truman’s 1950 goal in the address,  “Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.”  Logically, if one has a goal, it is necessary to measure progress toward that goal.  Measuring world leadership of S&T is our middle name: World Technology Evaluation Center, Inc.  And we have a 20-year record of doing more of this than anyone else by the on-site, peer review method that some believe is the most accurate method.

I think we are ideally positioned to take advantage of this new priority that our issue has in Washington.  As the country as a whole focuses on competing in innovation worldwide, WTEC and WTIP should focus on redoubling our efforts to do our part to help.  And as in the case of the country as a whole, we have a very tangible motivation for this: our prosperity depends on it.

The Made in Canada Challenge

Over Xmas and New Years, we went to Montreal.  Why north in the winter?  Well, when you get back, it really seems refreshingly balmy at home.  Think about it; the Canadian snowbirds have it backwards.  They should go to Greenland for winter vacations, instead of Florida.

 Since I couldn’t find any Made in the USA clothing in America, I tried to find some Made in Canada clothing in Canada.  I did find one item in the Montreal Walmart, a belt, which I bought.  In the 8-story Bay department store (BTW, this is where E-Bay comes from) I asked a clerk if there was any men’s clothing made in Canada; he said no with some regret.  I did find a cap, which I bought.

What has this got to do with S&T?  Well, manufacturing is the business end of the innovation cycle; that’s where the money is made to recoup R&D investments.  By ceding this phase to other nations, the US, and now Canada, is giving up on the opportunity to actually make money from S&T.  I don’t think that is a sustainable policy.

 R. D. Shelton

Blogging is Back!

After months of reading blogs instead of writing them, I take mouse in hand to use this medium to promote WTEC.  As before, I will try to cover international S&T policies generally.  I’ll get caught up by writing some posts on recent WTEC workshops and reports.   We’re redesigning our wtec.org homepage to include some trendy media like FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube.  A blog isn’t quite so trendy, but I know how to do it, and there may be some old fashioned users who like this medium.

Duane