As Scientists March, Will Trump give away US Science Lead to China?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 bn.

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south.

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the US, and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The US government and Merck. In the US system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund US vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.”

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.”

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion– US competitiveness.

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding.

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away US education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools. The NSF writes,

“Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the US in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the US on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly.

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%.

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%!

Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded very year in China are in Science and Engineering.

In the US it is only 1/3.

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the US has been deeply cutting ours.

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”. . . “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years. . . Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

The world will not stand still while Trump undermines the nation’s science and technology capacity. And by the way, that won’t bring back jobs — it will send them away.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese.

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The National: Global March for Science raises concern over Trump policies

14 Responses

  1. And then there is the support of science and mathematics offered by music hence music education. One reason that the state of Washington does so well in a variety of high tech areas is the strong support for music education here.

    I’ll just remind us that Einstein was a superb violinist.

  2. In the year 2000 Chinese made 26,445 patent applications (direct and PCT national phase entries) and got 6,446 granted patents (direct and PCT national phase entries). USA made in the same year 280,390 applications and got 136,671 granted patents. Source WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization.

    In the year 2015 Chinese made 1,010,448 patent applications and got 279,501 patents. USA made 529,632 applications and got 257,108 granted patents.

    USA has lost permanently the leading position in the yearly patent statistics and it happened already before Trump.

    • Thanks for this. Chinese technology has become very strong and the U.S. is at risk of losing leadership. One thing I would note is that a lot of those patents are based on very sophisticated reverse technology studies that uses teams to handle each identifiable component of technology being studied. These team studies are much more sophisticated than what the Japanese and South Koreans used in their heyday. Because the Chinese are coming up with new technology on their own, their system is not to be ignored and will cost us if Trump is slack on science and new technologies, and that particularly applies to clean tech. But note that the U.S. still leads in Nobel Prizes, and even the Japanese do better than the Chinese.

      Of course, Trump is an idiot. Despite his denials, he is anti-science. He also supports dying industries, just like the British did when they lost their technology lead to the U.S.

      By the way, note that U.S. patents granted almost doubled in 15 years. Yes, there’s trouble, but it’s reversible.

      • Well Nobel prizes amount is in a way a rear-view mirror to nations’ technological “competitiveness” not the best indicator of the future. The prize is always based on the past several decades work. The US success in the Nobel list is mainly made possible by the admirable “invention” of providing talented individuals and research groups formed around them decades long competitive financing and great independence with demanded results and little bureaucracy. Many of these groups are lead and manned by people born and educated outside USA, but who worked in USA. Later when many of them became US citizens and got the prize they are counted to US “Nobel list”. Also the neutrality of the Nobel committees can be questioned. Are they able to follow the achievements in non-western countries ? Like Obama did win his Nobel prize with rather limed (=none) achievements on the peace sector, also on the science sector politics has had a role during the cold war years and later. Well not in the same scale as in Obama’s case.

        The downright amount of well educated Chinese resources in science and technology development, which are growing with unseen speed, will guaranty that China will be number one in future. US resources and the attractiveness of US universities and research centers are fast declining and Trump’s era will certainly not increase their competitiveness. The fastest supercomputers are now in China, Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2 and are not anymore made of US parts and bought form US companies. The Sunway SW26010 processor is developed and built in China. The days when Chinese will deny USA the usage of their technology for ”national security reasons” will be a reality rather soon.

        By the way notice that with the patent applications the Chinese growth factor is 38 times in 15 years and with granted patents 43 times. It will be interesting to see the WIPO statistics of the year 2016.

        By the way 2. USA did take Germany’s role in the “Noble list” as the leader before WW2 in science and technology, not Britain’s.

      • Nobel prizes are worthless except to the very old men (mostly) that are essentially getting a “life time” achievement award.

        Nobel prizes are awarded multiple decades after the “achievement” and do not reflect current states of knowledge.

        Note that in just over 50 years (less than two generations), Chinese scientists and engineers have already caught up and are now AHEAD of most western scientists and engineers. Yes, they reverse-engineered lots of 1960s technology, but then rapidly implemented it on a massive scale and completely re-engineered it much quicker than Americans have ever been able to do.

        In some ways the Chinese are lucky in that they had nothing to unlearn or discard so they could charge ahead while USA companies were extremely resistant to just scrapping the stuff they had and rebuilding everything. Even today, most USA companies are unwilling to take a few years of losses and to completely rebuild their business to better compete with Chine. They would rather try to rig the game as long as possible, but China is advancing so fast that instead of having imaginal decades ahead, most USA companies may only have a few marginal months left.

        This is the BIG problem the USA has, USA businesses are so focused on next months profits, there is no though given to what happens next year. Also there is a mindset in the USA that no one can ever be better than the USA so USA businesses constantly get blind-sided by the advancements in Asia, even though the Asian business, scientific and engineering press make most of the advance public. USA businesses are too arrogant to even read the English versions of the Asian press (I do though), let alone try to learn Chinese.

  3. Very well said, but not well heard: The six-corporation-pro-war-monopoly USA MSM won’t publish it. Nor would it publish another distinguished professor, linguistic Chomsky, who demonstrates how the MSM “manufactures” news and commentaries to make believe that the public is, a-well informed and b-that the public supports the forces that control the USA government; all of which is plain political propaganda.
    A free press, free political speech, is the only salvation for the Republic. Public demonstrations may be a good tool to achieve it.

  4. Did anyone in their right minds ever think that we’d one day be in the situation where scientists actually need to hit the streets of America to make the point that science matters?

  5. malPOTUS only knows what he heard last night over chocolate cake or saw scrolling-by on FAUXNews. The only way “science” fits into the up/down, right/left, no/yes world of this President is that many scientists and highly-educated citizens oppose his actions and appointments which makes “scientists and highly-educated citizens” the ENEMY.

    Normal citizens and Trump voters alike must fully realize the new President is a spoiled, stoned-out, paranoid old man whose early-onset of dementia gives him the mind of a curious ten year-old boy. Certainly other world leaders once getting a dose of Trump realize that?

    The country must come to grips with the fact a grave mistake has been made which is far beyond internationally embarrassing. malPOTUS and those around him have unnecessarily placed all of us in greater DANGER especially those West of the Rockies.

    • Re-igniting the 1950s Korean War with a nuclear-armed enemy.
    • Reversing efforts to mitigate homogenically-induced climate change and the on-going rapid desertification of our West Coast.
    • Significant number of undocumented residing there.
    • None of the West Coast States went to Trump in the election.
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC Berkeley are both there.

    More or less in order of demonstrated animus.

  6. “As Scientists March, Will Trump give away US Science Lead to China?” Yes, if he can make more cash, as to him, everything is up for sale, even our democracy!

  7. For almost 5000 years China was a MAJOR regional power and heavily influenced all of Asia, which is why there are “china towns” all throughout Asia.

    Then in the 1600-1700s the Europeans sprinted ahead and for about 200 years China was subservient to the “west.”

    BUT . . .

    Over the last 60 years or so, China has managed to catch up with the west and in many areas of science and technology they are now surpassing the “west.” The “west” helped by providing lots of help in exchange for exploiting China as much as possible, but once China achieved parity, they quickly left their “western” counterparts in the dust.

    Now in many areas, robotics, manufacturing, non-carbon energy to name a few, China is the clear world leader And as noted in the the article and comments, China is INVESTING, not in war (like the USA), but relationships and advancing their capabilities ahead of the USA as fast as possible.

    Chinese leadership has drawn on 5000 years of community based culture to enhance the future of most Chinese, unlike the USA which has followed the teachings of Ayn Rand and glorifying the ruthless individual. Since WW2, the USA has wasted trillions of dollars that could have been used to vastly improve the lives of all Americans instead of just a few because of racism and “rugged individualism.”

    Americans will react very negatively to the rise of China, but will find that they have wounded themselves because of hubris.

    America has made some very, very bad choices and they will have severe consequences in the coming years as the economy declines. I fully expect that over time, Asia and Europe will eclipse the USA.

    BTW – the “flyover states” clearly have a deep anti-intellectualism mindset which prevents them from understanding how the world is evolving.

    • Have you heard of the book “Late Victorian Holocausts” by Mike Davis? I’ve only read parts of it, but it puts into context the abnormality of the era of White global domination by showing that India and China had comparable standards of living to Britain until the 19th century. And it shows how Britain used its advantages to dominate and ruin both societies and plunge them into depressions from which they are now recovering.

      Now if you consider that Britain was the world’s #1 creditor and the US was its #1 debtor in 1914, and that much of US industry and railroads were built by British investors, you have to wonder how much Indian and Chinese blood was on the money that powered our rise to global economic dominance over Britain.

  8. FYI – China has already launched its SECOND aircraft carrier on 29 April 2017.

    link to

    USA sources think it will be operational by 2020, but given how wrong they were about the operational capabilities of the first carrier, the new carrier will probably be operational by late 2018.

    Note how disparaging the CNN story is about the alleged “inferiority” of the Chinese carriers while failing to note most other nation’s carriers use a design similar to the Chinese design.

    While the USA brags about their engineering, China, Iran and many other nations quietly make “war toys” that are very effective and much less expensive than USA war toys.

    USA Hubris know no bounds.

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