A Moment on Research Money Numbers

While science agency budgets in the U.K. and (probably) the U.S. facing lean budget times, efforts to fight the cuts sometimes look to China to make their case.  (Given the President’s focus on a new “Sputnik moment,” this may prove a lousy strategy, but it’s beside the point of this post.)  The sheer numbers of science and engineering graduates from China underpinned the campaigns behind Rising Above the Gathering Storm, and the size of China’s economy and rate of economic growth have likely sparked concern in various places.

Where science and technology are concerned, another statistic is the growth of China’s science and technology budget, which is now seven times what it was in 1998.  Looks dramatic, and is.  But like the numbers of science and engineering graduates, the numbers only tell a little bit.

A lot of what’s missing is context – the budget is now seven times what amount, and how does that compare to other research powers?  A recent report by Batelle and R&D Magazine gave some numbers on global research and development (R&D) that help answer this question.  From Page 3 you can see that China still only accounts for between 12 and 13 percent of global R&D spending, just over a third of that spent by the U.S.  Additionally, China is only spending 1.4 percent of its GDP on research and development.  President Obama has urged that the U.S. increase its spending on R&D to 3 percent of its GDP (it’s presently at 2.7 percent).

So, is China outperforming the U.S., catching up, or doing half as well?  Continue reading