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Report: Government Action Needed to Maintain US Leadership in Science, Technology

A leading Washington-based research organization, The Brookings Institution, Tuesday released a report calling for increased government action to maintain U.S. leadership in science, technology and innovation. VOA's Barry Wood has more.

The report laments the relative decline of student interest in science and engineering. Currently over 55 percent of students pursuing advanced engineering degrees at U.S. universities come from outside the United States. The relative decline in the popularity of science and engineering, say the reports authors, will impact U.S. economic leadership. "In 1960 we had one out of six college graduates getting their degrees in science and engineering. In 2000 it is one out of ten. So we've had a 50 percent decline," said William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Harvard University professor Larry Summers, a former U.S. treasury secretary, said life sciences are likely to drive innovation in the 21st century as physical sciences did in the 20th. "The question is are we going to be the focal point in these kinds of sciences as they're applied as Europe was in the physical sciences before the Second World War and as we were after the Second World War?," he said.

U.S.-based corporations continue to be leaders in high-tech innovation, devoting huge amounts of money to research and development. Google, the global leader in Internet search will spend $250 million on research this year.

"At a basic level one would conclude that research and development is fairly healthy. And we can't say that the pace of innovation has slowed in any way. I'll buy that. But I think we have to change the terminology. I don't think it is research and development any more. I think it is innovation versus invention," said Michael Capellas, the former head of Compaq Computer and the restructured MCI telecommunications company.

Capellas says that it is in invention that U.S. leadership is beginning to lag. He agrees with other authors that National Science Foundation research grants should be greatly expanded.