Field of Science

Science, funding, impact - some more questions

To allow the scientists to do good science, governments and the industry need to fund it. Not long ago I pondered why all the governments of big nations spend less than 1% of their GDP on science to which I got no satisfactory answer. Now an article in the Economist has brought interesting facts to light and raised some more interesting questions.

  • The global R&D spend in 2007 was $1.15 trillion. 45% more compared to 2002. Despite all that spending, innovation has stalled. So much so that Tyler Cowen calls this period 'The Great Stagnation'. What is wrong here?
  • In 2007, the US spent 2.7% of its GDP on R&D (GERD), produced 28% of world's publications and 41.6% of world's patents. In comparison, at the same time, the EU spent 1.8% of its GDP on R&D, produced 37% of world's publications and 26.4% of world's patents. Does that make the EU more academically oriented and the US more commercially oriented? Why? What are the factors that contribute to such big differences?
  • China has 1.5 million scientists which is equal to the sum of scientists in Europe and North America. In comparison, India, which has a population only second to China, has one-tenth the number of scientists as China. An anomaly? Is it something to do with the culture of the countries?
Credit: The Economist
Scientists have different motivations to do good science. Making an impact on the world is one of their greatest motivations. Although 'impact' can be a hard thing to define and measure, there are some methods that a scientist can rely on. Even though they aren't flawless, they are the best ways to measure we have today - number of publications, citations and patents and methods that use these base numbers to give a better idea of impact, for example, the h-index

But when figures like the one's quoted by the Economist try to measure the impact of scientists based on spending or question the cultures of different countries in the way they treat scientists, I am left to wonder how to make sense of it.

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