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