Amid a sea of statistics and dire warnings suggesting the decline of American science, a new National Science Foundation report  offers some hopeful signs. The number of doctorates awarded in scientific and technical fields by universities in the United States rose in 2004, representing the second straight annual increase after several years of decline. And the increases were spread across many different disciplines, with fields such as mathematics, computer sciences and most engineering fields seeing significant growth.
The NSF report is drawn from the forthcoming Survey of Earned Doctorates for the 2004 academic year, an annual review conducted by the foundation's Division of Science Resources Statistics and five other federal agencies.
Over all, according to the NSF report, the number of doctorates awarded by American universities increased to 42,155 in 2004, up by 3.4 percent from the 40,770 given out in 2003. Of the 2004 doctorates, 26,275 were in science and engineering fields, up 3.9 percent from 2003 and the largest number of science doctorates awarded since 1998. The 15,880 nonscience doctorates awarded in 2004 were the largest number in a decade.
Doctorates Awarded by American Universities, 1995 to 2004
|Year||Total doctorates awarded||Science and engineering doctorates||Non-science doctorates|
The pool of those receiving doctorates in 2004 differed in some significant ways from those who received doctorates a decade earlier. In 1995, 61 percent of doctoral recipients were men, 32 percent were citizens of countries other than the United States, and 87 percent were white. In 2004, 55 percent were men, 33 percent were non-U.S. citizens, and 80 percent were white. Members of underrepresented minority groups made up 14 percent of the 2004 cohort, compared to 9 percent in 1995.
The NSF report says that it is too early to be certain that the two-year increase in the number of science doctorates awarded represents a new upward trend. But the statistics are likely to hearten science educators, business leaders, politicians and others nonetheless, given the significant concerns they've expressed about the country's ability to keep pace technologically with other countries.
Doctorates Awarded by American Universities, 2000-4
|Science and engineering||25,966||25,548||24,588||25,289||26,275|
|----Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences||663||630||673||646||672|
|-------Other physical sciences||29||30||18||36||15|
|Non-science and engineering||15,399||15,276||15,401||15,481||15,880|
Source: National Science Foundation
If the NSF report hints at some positive developments for American science, it also contains some data certain to trouble those concerned about the country's standing vis a vis other countries. It shows that in several key fields -- computer sciences, mathematics, physics and engineering -- more than half of the doctorates awarded in 2004 were given to non-U.S. citizens. The proportion was above 40 percent in agricultural sciences, chemistry, the physical sciences as a whole, and total science and engineering doctorates.
Doctorates Awarded to non-U.S. Citizens by Field of Study, 2004
|Science and engineering||40.7%|
|Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences||37.4%|
|Other physical sciences||33.3%|
|Non-science and engineering||20.4%|