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Is American Science in Decline? Hardcover – June 11, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

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A compelling book that rigorously answers all the parts of a deceptively simple question. (Michael Hout, University of California, Berkeley)

Opinion about the state of American science ranges from alarmist concerns that the enterprise is in imminent decline to the observation that there are many well-trained scientists with weak career prospects. Xie and Killewald bring a vast array of empirical evidence to bear on the issues. Their clear and concise analysis—and sometimes surprising findings—illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of the American scientific enterprise and, fortunately, lead to a nuanced, but essentially positive diagnosis of its health and prospects. (Robert M. Hauser, University of Wisconsin–Madison)

In the heated debate over the state of U.S. science, alarmists say there are too few young high-flyers; others, too many. Enter sociologists Yu Xie and Alexandra Killewald, whose nuanced view is backed up by able number-crunching. The United States, they found, is still a scientific superpower: the workforce has grown, and numbers of new graduates at all levels of higher education are rising. But the future is less certain: the number of US doctorate holders taking up academic posts is in decline and earnings are stagnant, for instance. (Nature 2012-07-12)

Xie and Killewald take a forensic look at who does science in the U.S. today, where they work and why. Their approach is thorough and systematic, and draws together a variety of available data, as well as offering some fresh analysis. This is a short book...It is also a useful one, providing a welcome corrective to the wailing and gnashing of teeth that too often accompanies this debate. (James Wilsdon Times Higher Education 2012-09-06)

About the Author

Yu Xie is Otis Dudley Duncan Distinguished University Professor of Sociology, Statistics, and Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Alexandra A. Killewald is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (June 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674052420
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674052420
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,626,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Yu Xie holds several faculty appointments at the University of Michigan. He is Otis Dudley Duncan Distinguished University Professor of Sociology and Statistics and Research Professor in the Survey Research Center and the Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research (ISR), where he directs the Quantitative Methodology Program (QMP). He is also a Faculty Associate at the Center for Chinese Studies.

Professor Xie's main areas of interest are social stratification, demography, statistical methods, and the sociology of science. He recently published Statistical Methods for Categorical Data Analysis with Daniel Powers (Second Edition, Emerald, 2008), Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes with Kimberlee Shauman (Harvard University Press, 2003), A Demographic Portrait of Asian Americans (Russell Sage Foundation and Population Reference Bureau 2004) with Kimberly Goyette, and Marriage and Cohabitation (University of Chicago Press 2007) with Arland Thornton and William Axinn.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
An interesting and concise effort to address prevailing concerns about the status of American science. The authors use a series of large, particularly longitudinal, datasets to address questions about the status of American science relative to other nations, the state of American science education, the employment prospects of American scientists, changes in the nature of the scientific workforce, and public attitudes towards science. Overall, the authors present a relatively reassuring picture of American science. In terms of people entering science, public attitudes, employment prospects, and science education, there is little evidence of decline. In some areas which have attracted a lot of attention, notably primary and secondary school science education, the authors point to good evidence of rising performance of American students in some important respects. The authors identify some very interesting changes in the scientific workforce, many of which are well known to scientists, notably the increasingly large number of immigrant scientists and women scientists. As the authors note, its interesting that American science retains considerable prestige despite becoming increasingly populated by immigrants, minorities, and scientists. The authors identify some areas of concern. Salaries of scientists have fallen relative to other professions demanding extensive training, which could reduce recruitment of talented individuals into science. While there is arguably not the "glut" of scientists suggested by some, the existence of large numbers of subordinate post-docs and their often limited prospects, is a real problem. The authors recognize that there are potential problems with academic science, a small but crucial sector.

The authors' analyses have limitations.
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Yu Xie and Alexandra Killewald have good news for Americans. They have concluded that American science is NOT in decline. Their glass is more than half full, even brimming. There's just one hitch. They really only looked at a small part of American science: mainly its human resources.

Graduates can be considered to be one output of America's science establishment, but there are actually a few others that might even be more important--like discoveries from research and innovations from development.   One can measure papers, patents, citations, prototypes and pilot plants, high-technology exports, and the investments that make these outputs possible. Those indicators of R&D are not nearly so favorable to the U.S. 

The authors' try to broaden their scope by citing a 2008 RAND report that largely based its findings on indicators from many years earlier. which I pointed out at the time.  When your competitors' indicators are increasing exponentially, it isn't wise to use old data.  Most notably, China has come out of nowhere with a skyrocketing challenge to the U.S. in many indicators of science and technology, as well as in business. This competition for market share extends to the placement of scientific papers in a fairly fixed number of slots in journals, explaining why American growth rates in publications tanked in recent years as they report in Chapter 2.

Revealingly, the authors divide those writing in this domain into two camps. They use the pejorative term "alarmist" to characterize those who think that American science is in decline, while they have no comparable term for the critics of the alarmists, like themselves. My thesaurus draws a blank for an antonym, but I might suggest "pollyannas.
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