Category Archives: Reports

China’s US Portfolio: a CRS Report

Here’s one of those elusive reports from the Congressional Research Service, normally only available to the Congress.  This one tabulates how much the US owed in China in Feb., 2009: $1,200,000,000,000 [this is not a misprint].  Since this was five times the 2003 figure, it might be just a bit more than that now, probably a cool trillion and a half dollars.  The CRS report estimates that, counting China’s holdings of dollars themselves, the total was at least $1.5 trillion by June, 2009.  But, hey, that’s only about $5000 for every man, woman, and child in the US.

The authors, Wayne Morrison and Marc Labonte, also analyze the risks to the US in owing so much money to the People’s Republic of China, which is not exactly a friend of ours.  If they suddenly sold US bonds, it would cause their value, and the dollar, to plummet.  This would reduce the value of the remaining ones held by China, but it would have a catastrophic effect on the US economy.  It is already clear that a threat to do so gives China powerful leverage over US policies–just watch how US leaders behave in Beijing.  Have a nice day, and Merry Christmas; you’re free to celebrate it any way you wish in the West.

R. D. Shelton

The End of the American Century

You thought I was Chicken Little for warning about the decline of American S&T.  This book by David S. Mason makes the case that everything is going down the drain! The blurb says the book documents “the interrelated dimensions of American social, economic, political and international decline, marking the end of a period of economic affluence and world dominance that began with World War II. The war on terror and the Iraq War have exacerbated American domestic weakness and malaise, and its image and stature in the world community. Dynamic economic and political powers like China and the European Union are steadily challenging and eroding US global influence. This global shift will require substantial adjustments for U.S. citizens and leaders alike.”

The author has a blog for discussion of these issues at

Sounds like my kind of gloom and doom.  I’ll have to mosey over to Amazon and buy a copy 

R. D. (Cassandra) Shelton

PS: The Chinese must have liked the book, too. They’ve already translated it into Chinese:

Science The Endless Frontier

Talk about ancient history! This influential report was written by Vannevar Bush in 1945.  This more constructive Bush had coordinated R&D during WWII with great success, including the Manhattan Project, military applications of radar, sonar, the proximity fuse, the Norden bomb sight, and many others that had helped the Allies win the war.  Near the end of the war, he was asked by President Franklin Roosevelt to study how R&D could be organized after the war for peacetime benefits.  One recommendation led to the National Science Foundation, but there is much more in the report.  Today when we seem to be at a loss for justifying investments in R&D, the report’s eloquence on the benefits of R&D, particularly basic research, to the nation in economic prosperity and national security can be an inspiration.

Bush’s letter of transmittal closes with, “Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”

Another snippet from later in the report:

“Progress in the war against disease depends upon a flow of new scientific knowledge. New products, new industries, and more jobs require continuous additions to knowledge of the laws of nature, and the application of that knowledge to practical purposes. Similarly, our defense against aggression demands new knowledge so that we can develop new and improved weapons. This essential, new knowledge can be obtained only through basic scientific research.”

The report is at:

Here’s Bush’s Wikipedia biography.

R. D. Shelton

China’s Emerging Technological Edge by Simon and Cao

The controversy over the influential “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report brought the issue of China’s science personnel to national attention.  The Academy’s “RAGS” report got the attention of the White House and Congress partly by pointing with alarm at huge and rapidly growing numbers of technical graduates in China.  Then it was found that some of the data used was suspect, undercutting some of the basis for the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act. 

Simon and Cao have perfomed a much needed service in compiling a defensible database and a comprehensive analysis of Chinese data on their human resources in scientific and technology (HRST). While their findings are much more nuanced than those in the RAGS report, they confirm that its general picture was true.  Chinese HRST is growing rapidly in quantity and quality, contributing to a challenge to Western science leadership generally. While rapid growth has its problems, as the authors show, huge investments in science education are paying quick dividends to China’s efforts to become an S&T superpower.  Unlike the West, there is no shortage in China of well-qualified students who want to train for science careers; with a population of 1.3 billion, China has more smart people than the US has people.

Of course, the book’s focus on HRST prevents detailed coverage of other factors contributing to China’s sharp advance in S&T.  Your reviewer believes that huge and rapidly increasing direct investments in R&D are even more important.

R. D. Shelton

China’s Emerging Technological Edge

This new Cambridge University Press book focuses on the rapid growth of S&T personnel in China–in quantity and quality. If you don’t have your reading glasses, its exact title is China’s Technological Edge: Assessing the Role of High-End Talent. Here’s a review by Adam Segel:

‘Exploiting a wide range of primary and secondary sources, Denis Fred Simon and Cong Cao have produced an extensively researched, finely argued, and methodologically sophisticated study of science and engineering talent in China. This book will be a critical resource for all those in business, academia, and the policy making community who wish to better understand China’s ability to develop and foster innovation.’ Adam Segal, Council on Foreign Relations.

Sounds interesting to me. The influential Rising Above the Gathering Storm report was criticised over its stats on Chinese HR, and I’ll bet these folks have more data.  I’ll have to surf over to Amazon and buy a copy.

R. D. Shelton

NAS Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP)

The National Academy of Sciences has boards of distinguished volunteers on many aspects of S&T.  One that is relevant to this blog is the STEP board at 

I see that Mary Good and Arati Prabhakar are among the members, innovation experts that I have encountered in earlier incarnations.  STEP has published several reports on international innovation that readers of this blog would probably find interesting.  I particularly liked the one on Innovation Policies for the 21st Century: A Symposium at 

It contains a facinating account by Tom Howell on how the PRC recently learned from Taiwan how to quickly reform its semiconductor industry.  This process has worked so well that he estimates that there will be 30 fabs built in China in the next few years, compared to 6 in the US.

R. D. Shelton

AAAS Analysis: R&D Budget Nears Completion

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has an S&T policy program that performs a very useful service in tracking the budget development for R&D in the Federal agencies.  A concise summary is in their table of the 12 bills that make up the overall budget of the U.S. Government.

At this writing, only four of the bills have completely made their way out of this maze and been signed by the President.  Since the fiscal year (FY2010) started on October 1, most of the Government is operating under a continuing resolution until the others are completed.

Unlike the waning years of the last administration, when President Bush could and did veto appropriations bills passed by a Congress controlled by his opposition , there is little prospect that President Obama will overturn the remaining bills.

One bill that has now passed both House and Senate, the “CJS” bill for Commerce, Justice, and Science, funds the NSF, NIST, and NASA, which have a big piece of the R&D pie.  While there are still some small differences between the two versions that have to be reconciled in conference, we can now predict some numbers for these agencies.  A separate post will summarize the situation for NSF, as an example.

R. D. Shelton

New UN Report on National R&D Investment and Human Resources–Worldwide

The United Nations UNESCO Institute of Statistics has just released a report that is very interesting to me, and I guess to a small circle of S&T wonks.  It  is a survey of indicators for the S&T enterprises of all the world’s nations–there are over 200 on the list.  The data is mainly for the labor (number of researchers) and capital (R&D investments, i.e. GERD) inputs to the S&T production process. UNESCO seems to be collecting this data every two years now.

The OECD has been doing such surveys annually for decades, but only for its 30 large industrialized members, and during the last decade for 9 additional affiliates.  The largest players that are missed by OECD are India, Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Thailand.  I’ve been saying that the OECD data covers roughly 90% of the world’s R&D investment, but the UN report allows one (me) to actually calculate such things–91.9%.

One curious footnote (from me) is how these international agencies deal with Taiwan.  The PRC sits at the UN table, and refuses to let them talk to Taiwan, even to get data from them, apparently.  The UN report has rows in it for the Maldives, Niue, and the Papal See (all with zeros), but none for Taiwan.  According to OECD (where China is not a voting member), Taiwan, which OECD diplomatically calls “Chinese Taipei,” invested $14.9 billion in 2005 (with the usual PPP, year 2000$ normalization).  Orwell called it Newspeak, “the only language whose vocabulary gets smaller every year,” because it tried to eliminate subversive ideas by eliminating the words that describe them from the language (like Taiwan).  I guess other nations are already so scared of the PRC that they newspeak, too.


R. D. Shelton

S&T Strategic Plans: EU Overview

The ERA Watch monitors EU progress toward a more integrated European Reseach Area, plus progress (or lack thereof) toward meeting the Lisbon goal of increasing R&D investment to 3% of GDP.  The report below has a lot on S&T policies of the EU and its 27 member states, and a bit on output indicators at the end–which mostly seem to come from OECD via Eurostat.

R. D. Shelton

S&T Strategic Plans: EU Report on Benchmarking National S&T Positions

This is a comprehensive report on methods for benchmarking.   It was motivated by deciding how to measure progress toward the 2000 Lisbon goals for EU leadership. 

<href=”” mce_href=””>

One of the position papers prepared for this exercise is particularly interesting.  Remi Barre from OST tried to make the case that national level benchmarks like papers/funding proposed by Sir Robert May (and knave Robert D. Shelton) are fatally flawed.  M. Barre was particularly miffed by the distinguished Brit’s claim in a Science Magazine article that the UK was twice as efficient as France.  Barre points out flaws with both numerator and denominator:  (1) Propensity to publish papers [and citations] varies widely by discipline, and countries have very different mixes of disciplines, distorting the aggregate. (2) Aggregating funding in the dominator also suffers from the different effectiveness  of various types of funding (defense vs. civilian, public vs. private) in producing papers.  When these corrections are applied, guess what? France is just as efficient, and maybe more so, than the UK, QED, vive la France!.

 R. D. Shelton