How far can U.S. fall behind in research?

A Marconi Society conference is making headlines this week with dire statements about America falling behind in research, an increasingly common refrain in the technology world. What did not get as much attention, however, was the other half of the equation: If Yankee ingenuity isn't what it used to be, then who is taking the lead?

U.S. research

Shrinking federal budgets are not the only reason that R&D is losing ground. Just as important is the rising brain power in such emerging tech powerhouses as China and India. After years of toiling primarily in manufacturing and service economies, those countries are now seeing their first wave of college engineering graduates who are having a profound effect on research.

In addition, opponents of offshore outsourcing say the practice has made matters only worse for the United States because it has allowed other countries to outgrow their subordinate relationships with U.S. companies and branch out on their own as competitors.

Blog community response:

"To gain an edge technologically, you need proficiency and creativity. With the rise of the East's Academic Institutions (see my entry on outsourcing science), will the East be able to generate NEW technology? Many have argued 'No,' but I think that this is mostly Western prejudice."
--The Daily Transcript

"The cost of offshoring is more than just the loss of jobs. When products are no longer made in the United States, the skills necessary to make them will disappear. Technological innovation springs from research. And manufacturing--which accounts for 60 percent of the U.S. economy and about 62 percent of exports--still supports nearly two-thirds of all research and development."
--Manufacturing Journal

"Now the time has come for the U.S. to move on to higher levels of research and leave the regular stuff to the Third World countries. The bottom line is that when technologies mature, outsourcing is almost a natural economic phenomenon which allows the optimal allocation of economic resources."