Foreign scientists lead US science
Aug 20, 1999
The United States has "imported" large numbers of scientists and engineers for many years. Moreover, at American universities, more than half of the PhD students in the physical sciences are from outside the US, and many of them never return to their country of birth. Recent research suggests that that foreign-born and educated researchers are now disproportionately influential in US science, particularly in the physical sciences (Science 285 1213).
An earlier report from the National Research Council has already expressed concern that the US may not retain its leadership in science and technology. The report speculated that the supply of foreign researchers moving to the US could dry up as the world's economy improves. The report concluded that more US students had to be attracted to work in the physical sciences. Between 1985 and 1997, however, the number of students studying physics in the US dropped by 24%.
In this latest report Sharon Levin from the University of Missouri-St Louis and Paula Stephan of Georgia State University looked at the number of foreign-born researchers who had achieved any of six key scientific milestones. The milestones included election to the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering, various publication or patent impacts (such as being an author of a 'citation classic' or 'hot paper' according to the Institute for Scientific Information), and playing a major role in the launch of a biotechnology firm.
Levin and Stephan discovered that in the physical sciences a large number of US-based researchers who had been born in German or the UK had produced the most important papers. Over 64% of the most-cited authors and 56% of the citation classics were from foreign-born researchers. Levin and Stephan now plan to study whether "native-born talent is disadvantaged by this inflow and, if so, whether the benefits outweigh the costs."