A new report from the National Science Board says that when it comes to high tech industries, the U.S. is still by far the global leader.
There's a common trope that the United States, having been gutted of its manufacturing jobs by the brute force of globalization, is now on the verge of giving up its crown as the world's leading innovator. Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article on our loss of high-tech manufacturing jobs to Asia that played right into the theme. Here was the apocalyptic lede:
The United States lost more than a quarter of its high-tech manufacturing jobs during the past decade as U.S.-based multinational companies placed a growing percentage of their research-and-development operations overseas, the National Science Board reported Tuesday.
Scary stuff. And a bit overwrought.
There's no question that the U.S. needs to be vigilant about its place as the world's research lab. But when it comes to R&D, we're still number one, and the report cited by the Washington Post, "Science and Engineering Indicators 2012," actually helps our case.
In 2009, the United States was responsible for 31% of of the world's R&D spending. That was down from 38% in 1999. As the Post dolefully notes, R&D expenditures in "China and nine other Asian countries have risen to match that of the United States." Is that so scary? It takes China, Japan and eight other high-growth Asian countries just to equal total research spending in the U.S. Are we supposed to mourn the death of a unipolar R&D age?
The picture brightens further once you look at US R&D growth independently. From 2004 to 2009, it grew from $302 billion up to more than $400 billion. Even after the recession, investment (at least, non-residential investment) in the United States has been anything but moribund.
Some American corporations have moved their highly technical design and engineering work to manufacturing centers in Asia, particularly China. But that shift hasn't been dramatic. In 1999, U.S.-based multinationals spent 87.4% of their R&D budgets, about $126 billion, domestically. In 2009, they spent 84.3% of their budgets here, or roughly $199 billion. We're taking a similar slice of a much bigger pie.
So a massive shift in R&D towards Asia is still largely hypothetical. But what about those hundreds of thousands of high tech manufacturing jobs we've lost? In some industries, the losses have been due to the migration of manufacturing to Asia, such as personal electronics. But that's just a piece of the story. We can also blame the recession and the large jumps in U.S. productivity fueled by technological advances.
In the end, the U.S. still has the world's most robust set of high-tech manufacturing industries, which according to the NSB include pharmaceuticals, communications equipment, computers, aircraft and spacecraft, scientific and measuring equipment, and semiconductors. We may not rule in cell phones these days, but we do well in aircraft and drugs. Measured by value added, the U.S. high tech sector was worth $390 billion in 2010. Compare that to the second place European Union, at $270 billion, and third place China, at $260 billion.
Should we be on guard? Yes. We need to keep investing in education and research to maintain our place in the world of discovery and technology. But, despite some dour headlines, we're still here.
Is a lack of meaning really worse than a lack of freedom?
A man named François is a professor in Paris. He is a scholar of Joris-Karl Huysmans, an obscure 19th-century author who, in his later years, converted to Catholicism in an epiphany. François is the hero, or rather anti-hero, of French novelist Michel Houellebecq’s Submission. François is listless—even his attitude toward sex is uninspired, as if it’s an activity like any other, perhaps like playing tennis on a Sunday, but probably with less excitement. There is too much freedom and too many choices, and sometimes he’d rather just die.
The world around him, though, is changing. It is 2022. After a charismatic Islamist wins the second round of the French presidential elections against the right-wing Marine Le Pen (after gaining the support of the Socialists), a Muslim professor, himself a convert, attempts to persuade François to make the declaration of faith. “It’s submission,” the professor tells him. “The shocking and simple idea, which had never been so forcefully expressed, that the summit of human happiness resides in the most absolute submission.”
But what foods are actually associated with weight gain in kids?
To find out, a group of researchers from Duke–National University of Singapore looked to the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which consists of 15,444 children born in 1991 and 1992 around Bristol, a city in southwest England. For their analysis, they included the 4,646 children who filled out a three-day food diary and had their height, weight, and physical activity measured at ages 7, 10, and 13. They tracked the changes in their BMI and measured how much chubbier or thinner they were than the average kid their age.
New evidence challenges one of the most celebrated ideas in network science.
A paper posted online last month has reignited a debate about one of the oldest, most startling claims in the modern era of network science: the proposition that most complex networks in the real world—from the World Wide Web to interacting proteins in a cell—are “scale-free.” Roughly speaking, that means that a few of their nodes should have many more connections than others, following a mathematical formula called a power law, so that there’s no one scale that characterizes the network.
Purely random networks do not obey power laws, so when the early proponents of the scale-free paradigm started seeing power laws in real-world networks in the late 1990s, they viewed them as evidence of a universal organizing principle underlying the formation of these diverse networks. The architecture of scale-freeness, researchers argued, could provide insight into fundamental questions such as how likely a virus is to cause an epidemic, or how easily hackers can disable a network.
A new study explores a strange paradox: In countries that empower women, they are less likely to choose math and science professions.
Though their numbers are growing, only 27 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female. The gender gap only grows worse from there: Just 18 percent of American computer-science college degrees go to women. This is in the United States, where many college men proudly describe themselves as “male feminists” and girls are taught they can be anything they want to be.
Meanwhile, in Algeria, 41 percent of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM,” as its known—are female. There, employment discrimination against women is rife and women are often pressured to make amends with their abusive husbands.
According to a report I covered a few years ago, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries in which boys are significantly less likely to feel comfortable working on math problems than girls are. In all of the other nations surveyed, girls were more likely to say they feel “helpless while performing a math problem.”
Tech analysts are prone to predicting utopia or dystopia. They’re worse at imagining the side effects of a firm's success.
The U.S economy is in the midst of a wrenching technological transformation that is fundamentally changing the way people sleep, work, eat, shop, love, read, and interact.
At least, that’s one interpretation.
A second story of this age of technological transformation says that it’s mostly a facade—that the last 30 years have been a productivity bust and little has changed in everyday life, aside from the way everyone reads and watches videos. People wanted flying cars and got Netflix binges instead.
Let’s call these the Disrupt Story and the Dud Story of technology. When a new company, app, or platform emerges, it’s common for analysts to divide into camps—Disrupt vs. Dud—with some yelping that the new thing will change everything and others yawning with the expectation that traditionalism will win out.
Last weekend’s security conference in Munich was a stark reminder that this class has nothing of substance to offer a world in turmoil.
Eighty years ago in Munich, French and British politicians handed Czechoslovakia over to Adolf Hitler’s carving knife. Twenty-five years later, a German veteran of the ensuing war founded a conference in Munich that, in its own way, was designed to ensure that such a mistake would never reoccur. That veteran, Ewald von Kleist, came from a distinguished Prussian military family; he served as an officer in the Wehrmacht, had opposed Hitler, and participated actively in a plot against him. He was sent to a prison camp, and was lucky to have escaped execution.
The conference was originally called Wehrkunde (loosely translated as “military affairs”), and since 1963 it has met almost every year in Munich. The picturesque old Bayerischer Hof Hotel, where the event is held each year, becomes a seething mass of nearly 700 politicians, businesspeople, pundits, and officers, all eyed coldly and shoved out of the way by squads of contemptuous bodyguards. Attendees not eminent enough to have reserved seating often cannot elbow their way to the policy wonk mosh pit that the conference floor morphs into. The bathrooms can barely handle their traffic, and the hotel takes on the moist warmth and stale air of an aging high school gym. But still they come, now in the many hundreds, slowed by the officious motorcades of the truly important, trudging past half a dozen security cordons manned by thousands of vigilant German police.
Reuters photographer Stéphane Mahé visited a farmer named Jean-Bernard Huon on his farm in western France, where he deliberately lives a traditional, non-mechanized farm life.
Over the course of several recent months, Reuters photographer Stéphane Mahé visited and photographed a farmer named Jean-Bernard Huon on his farm in western France. Huon, now 70, grew up here, and deliberately lives a traditional, non-mechanized farm life, favoring ox teams over tractors. From a Reuters article: “When farm machinery revolutionized French agriculture in the years after World War II, a young Jean-Bernard Huon turned his back on the new technology. Half a century later, in a corner of southern Brittany on France’s west coast, Huon still uses oxen to plow his fields, determined to preserve an ancestral, peasant way of life.”
An investigation into a surprisingly divisive question
It seemed like an easy question.
The query came from a Twitter poll I spotted on my news feed last week, from user @cgpgrey. “Please help resolve a marital dispute,” @cgpgrey wrote. “You would describe the color of a tennis ball as:” green, yellow, or other.
Yellow, obviously, I thought, and voted. When the results appeared, my jaw dropped with cartoonish effect. Of nearly 30,000 participants, 52 percent said a tennis ball is green, 42 percent said it’s yellow, and 6 percent went with “other.”
I was stunned. I’d gone from being so sure of myself to second-guessing my sanity in a matter of seconds. More than that, I could never have imagined the question of the color of a tennis ball—surely something we could all agree on, even in these times—would be so divisive.
For a century, urban commotion has been treated as a moral failing of individuals. Fixing it will require systemic changes to environmental noise.
What are your ears hearing right now? Maybe the bustling sounds of a busy office, or your partner cooking dinner in the next room. Whatever the texture of the sonic landscape of your life may be, beneath it all is the same omnipresent din: the sound of cars.
That might seem benign, or perhaps even endearing—the sound of the bustle of the big city. But the din of vehicles, along with transit and industrial activity, is making people sick. People forget that noise pollution is still pollution. And noise pollution is everywhere.
Unlike many other injuries, hearing damage is irreparable. It also functions differently. People tend to assume that hearing loss is akin to turning down the volume in one’s head—that everything just sounds quieter. But it’s more complex than that. Sound at certain frequencies just vanishes—birdsong, intelligible human speech, the gentle rustling of leaves, the crispy highs of brushes on jazz cymbals. People can avoid using earbuds excessively or attending loud concerts. But people do not necessarily have the ability to avoid high levels of environmental noise—it’s in their neighborhoods, near their schools, at their workplaces. That makes noise pollution a matter of bodily autonomy.