The National Science Foundation and the National Science Board have just released their biennial "Science & Engineering Indicators," a voluminous document describing the state of American technology. There are facts and figures on research and development, innovation and engineers. But the report's main conclusion lies elsewhere: China has become — or is on the verge of becoming — a scientific and technical superpower.
We should have expected nothing less. After all, science and technology constitute the knowledge base for economically advanced societies and military powers, and China aspires to become the world leader in both. Still, the actual numbers are breathtaking for the speed with which they've been realized.
Remember that a quarter-century ago, China's economy was tiny and its high-tech sector barely existed. Since then, here's what's happened, according to the "Indicators" report:
● China has become the
"We are involved in a global race for knowledge," said France Córdova, head of the NSF. "We may be the innovation leader today, but other countries are rapidly gaining ground."
It is hardly surprising that China has hitched its economic wagon to advanced technologies. What is less clear and more momentous is our willingness and ability to recognize this and do something about it.
Read more from Robert Samuelson's archive.