S&E Indicators Home  >> Digest Contents  >> Preface and Introduction


The National Science Board (Board) is required under the National Science Foundation (NSF) Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1863 (j) (1) to prepare and transmit the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) report to the President and to the Congress by January 15 of every even-numbered year. The report is prepared by the NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) under the guidance of the Board. It is subject to extensive review by Board members, outside experts, interested federal agencies, and NCSES internal reviewers for accuracy, coverage, and balance.

Indicators are quantitative representations—summaries—of factors relevant to the scope, quality, and vitality of the science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. SEI is the major authoritative source of these high-quality U.S. and international data. SEI is factual and policy-neutral; it neither offers policy options nor makes policy recommendations. The indicators included in the report are intended to contribute to the understanding of the current S&E environment.

This digest of major S&E indicators draws from the Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, the 20th volume of this biennial series. The digest serves to draw attention to important trends and data points from across SEI 2012 and to introduce readers to the data resources available in the report. Readers are invited to explore each of the major indicators presented here in more detail in the full report. To that end, each indicator presented in this digest is matched with the SEI 2012 chapter or chapters from which it was drawn. The complete SEI 2012 report and related resources are available on the Web at www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators/.

Readers may also be interested in resources associated with SEI 2012 which include the Board's companion pieces to SEI 2012. The section "SEI 2012 Online Resources" at the end of this digest provides a complete list and descriptions of these products and tools. The Board hopes that readers will take advantage of these rich sources of information.


The United States holds a preeminent position in science and engineering (S&E) in the world, derived in large part from its long history of public and private investment in S&E research and development (R&D) and education. Investment in R&D, science, technology, and education correlate strongly with economic growth, as well the development of a safe, healthy, and well-educated society.

Many other nations, recognizing the economic and social benefits of such investment, have increased their R&D and education spending. These trends are by now well-established and will challenge the world leadership role of the United States.

Major S&E Indicators

The National Science Board has selected 30 S&E indicators for inclusion in this digest. These indicators have been grouped into seven topical areas. Although each stands alone, collectively these seven themes are a snapshot of U.S. R&D capacity and outputs in the context of global trends affecting them. Exploration of areas that indicate capacity for innovation is a thread common to many of the themes presented here. As economies worldwide grow increasingly knowledge-intensive and interdependent, capacity for innovation becomes ever more critical.

Three themes provide a worldwide view, picturing R&D spending, research outputs, and science and technology capacities. Three others share a predominately domestic focus, providing indicators of U.S. R&D funding and performance, federal R&D support, STEM education, and the U.S. S&E workforce. Where possible, the Digest examines the effects of the recent global financial crisis and recession on strength and direction of the major trends that shape the global science, technology, and innovation system. These topical indicators may vary in successive volumes of the Science and Engineering Indicators series as different S&E policy issues emerge.

What These Indicators Tell the Nation

By selecting a set of indicators, the Board seeks to contribute to the assessment of the state of U.S. science and engineering and to highlight issues of current opportunity or concern. These measures address an emerging set of trends of particular interest to planners and policymakers at all levels whose decisions affect our national S&E enterprise.

First Theme
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