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Is American Science in Decline? Hardcover – 8 Jun 2012


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In the heated debate over the state of US science, alarmists say there are too few young high-flyers; others, too many. Enter socologists Yu Xie and Alexandra Killewald, whose nuanced view is backed up by able number-crunching. The United States, they found, is still a scientific superpower: the workforce has grown, and the numbers of new graduates at all levels of higher education are rising. But the future is less certain: the number of US doctorate holders taking up academic posts is in decline and earnings are stagnant, for instance. --Nature, Thursday 12th July 2012

About the Author

Yu Xie is Otis Dudley Duncan Distinguished University Professor of Sociology, Statistics, and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Alexandra A. Killewald is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Qualified No. 8 Jun 2014
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
An interesting and concise effort to address prevailing concerns about the status of American science. The authors use a series of large, particularly longitudinal, datasets to address questions about the status of American science relative to other nations, the state of American science education, the employment prospects of American scientists, changes in the nature of the scientific workforce, and public attitudes towards science. Overall, the authors present a relatively reassuring picture of American science. In terms of people entering science, public attitudes, employment prospects, and science education, there is little evidence of decline. In some areas which have attracted a lot of attention, notably primary and secondary school science education, the authors point to good evidence of rising performance of American students in some important respects. The authors identify some very interesting changes in the scientific workforce, many of which are well known to scientists, notably the increasingly large number of immigrant scientists and women scientists. As the authors note, its interesting that American science retains considerable prestige despite becoming increasingly populated by immigrants, minorities, and scientists. The authors identify some areas of concern. Salaries of scientists have fallen relative to other professions demanding extensive training, which could reduce recruitment of talented individuals into science. While there is arguably not the "glut" of scientists suggested by some, the existence of large numbers of subordinate post-docs and their often limited prospects, is a real problem. The authors recognize that there are potential problems with academic science, a small but crucial sector.

The authors' analyses have limitations. As they acknowledge, their analyses depend on the nature of the datasets they used and some qualitiative features may be overlooked. In some areas, for example, leadership has left the USA. High energy physics is an area traditionally led by the USA but now led by Europeans. The authors deal with public attitudes towards science, which they show as stable over decades but don't discuss a more important constituency, politicians. The bipartisan consensus of support for American science has eroded considerably in recent years, particularly among conservative-Republican lawmakers. The analysis of school education performance deals only with mean values, and doesn't discuss the spread of performance across the USA. Relative to our GDP, American performance is average and not that much worse than the best performers like Taiwan of Finland. The best performing American regions, like Massachusetts, perform right at the top, so the inevitable conclusion is that American performance is pulled down by poorly performing regions. While the authors' analysis of immigrant scientists is quite interesting, there is no mention of the major changes in immigration policy that changed the landscape in the mid-60s and makes comparison with prior periods difficult. Finally, this book was published in 2012 and is based on data accumulated earlier. The considerable stresses on American science of the past few years isn't covered.
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