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News U.S Universities Top Science Innovation List, Asia Closing

  1. Sep 21, 2015 #1

    The United States is still occupies the top spots for scientific innovation in universities, but Asia is closing in on us. Should there be concern?

    Stanford, MIT, and Harvard ranked 1st, 2nd, and 3rd on the list, respectively. Not surprising. :cool:

    Slightly surprised that China only had one school ranked in the Top 100 - 72nd at that.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2015 #2


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    Academia in China is still very much a command-and-control situation. The purpose of all government action is, quite explicitly and openly, to make the CPC look good. Such things have never worked very well from the standpoint of academic advancement nor innovation.

    A big part of the reason the USA is slipping is because it is rapidly becoming more and more command-and-control. Government at the federal and state levels is exerting altogether too much control over universities. The result is less academic freedom, less innovation, and costs that are growing grossly faster than inflation.

    When a government bureaucrat gives you the cash, he expects something that will make his party look good. And he is not happy at all with "well, we'll pour the money into this hole and see what happens." Government insists on "bang for their buck" in the form of things that make the government look good.

    When private enterprise wants research done they must find out what motivates academics. And that is not only, not even primarily, money. Though it includes money. It is all the things that come under the heading "academic freedom." So the electronics company gets some transistor research done. And the only restrictions they put on the research is that they be allowed to make some money off it before the researchers blab all the details. Maybe the details are behind a non-disclose. Or maybe the details are withheld long enough for the electronics company to get a patent and start production. They drop a blob of cash on the physics department for this research with these minimal strings.

    But at the same time, they drop a blob of cash on the university. And they literally do not care what the uni does with that cash. So it can go to whatever the academics find good. Whether it is library books, journals, visiting speakers, visits to places with special facilities or resources, attending conferences, support for post-docs, etc. etc.

    What is the result? When private enterprise does it, they hand the universities about 50 percent more cash, with far fewer and far less intrusive restrictions. And academia flourishes. And innovation flourishes.
  4. Sep 22, 2015 #3


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    The one big issue in the US that are affecting "innovation" is funding, especially in the physical sciences. It is no secret that during the past decade, funding for the physical sciences have been either flat, or have gone down (see: High Energy Physics). But what is even more devastating than budget cutbacks is the uncertainty in upcoming funding budget.

    The US legislators are in a habit that they can't break, i.e. not being able to come up with an agreed-upon budget when they should, i.e. at the beginning of the fiscal year. Instead, they keep passing a continuing resolution, which extended the previous-year budget into the new fiscal year temporarily. This can have a devastating effect AFTER a new budget is passed, especially if the allocated funds are actually less than the one from the previous year. This was dramatically demonstrated when the US govt. went into a year of sequestration with across-the-board cuts. Various projects had already spent money (based on previous year's funds) almost 6 months in, and then when the sequestration kicked in, they had spent more than what they were supposed to get. This has a worst effect than having your budget cut at the very beginning of the fiscal year!

    I'm stating this now because of two things on how this effect innovation from what I can see: (i) the effect of the sequestration is still being felt. Many projects had to downsize, both in scope and in manpower, and are still trying to recover. (ii) this uncertainty and perpetual habit of having a continuing resolution creates an atmosphere where researcher simply do not know if they can go ahead with their projects or simply adopt a wait-and-see attitude. I have seen many projects adopting a more conservative approach, rather than going out for bold, high-risk ideas, simply because they don't know how much money they are going to get for this year, next year, etc.

    There is still innovation in the US, yes. But it isn't flourishing as much as it once was before, and it has been confined to even narrower areas.

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