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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 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 relevant to the scope, quality, and vitality of the science and engineering (S&E) enterprise. SEI is a factual and policy-neutral source of high-quality U.S. and international data; it neither offers policy options nor makes policy recommendations. The indicators included in the report contribute to the understanding of the current S&E environment.

This digest of key S&E indicators draws from the Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 2014, the 21st volume of this biennial series. The digest serves to draw attention to important trends and data points from across SEI 2014 and to introduce readers to the data resources available in the report. Readers are invited to explore each of the key indicators presented here in more detail in the full report. To that end, each indicator presented in this digest refers to the SEI 2014 chapter or chapters from which it was drawn. The complete SEI 2014 report and related resources are available on the Web at

Readers may also be interested in the online resources associated with SEI 2014. A list and description of these products appears at the end of this digest. 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 and education. Investment in R&D, science, technology, and education correlate strongly with economic growth and with 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 41 S&E indicators for inclusion in this digest. These indicators have been grouped into seven themes. 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 STEM education. Four others share a domestic focus, providing information on U.S. R&D funding and performance, federal R&D support, the U.S. S&E workforce, and public research universities. 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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