Saturday, January 21, 2012

United States in Science and Engineering Research and Education -- Stunning 2012 Report from the National Science Board

The National Science Board has released its report: Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, which contains a broad base of quantitative information on the U.S. and the international science and engineering enterprise.

The report is organized into various chapters with fact-filled findings and stunning, informative graphics and figures.

I have been pouring over the report and am especially interested in the higher education chapter and the academic research and development chapter; the latter chapter has interesting data on the average number of papers published per year in different science and engineering disciplines by an author and the average number of co-authors on a paper, along with trends. It also discusses how the volumes of international collaborations have changed over recent years. Interestingly, according to the academic research and development chapter:

Article output trends since about the mid-1990s have two defining features: the rapid growth of articles with authors from the developing world, and a rise in the percentage of global article output that is the result of collaboration among researchers internationally. Articles with authors from different institutions in the United States and from different countries have continued to increase, indicating rising knowledge creation, transfer, and sharing among institutions and across national boundaries.

The report was brought to my attention by Catherine Rampell, writing in the New York Times Economix blog on Why Students Leave the Engineering Track.

Interestingly, in last Sunday's New York Times, there was a provocative essay, The Rise of the New GroupThink, by Susan Cain, that argued that creativity required solitude and intense focus -- think of great artists and novelists but also of Steve Wozniak, who is quoted as saying: “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me ... they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone .... I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone... Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

For me, hours of intense sessions in solitude work for certain research problems and projects, whereas, for others, I thrive on brainstorming sessions with collaborators and students, in a combination of virtual and face-to-face communication.

As for my most recently completed paper, it was with a new French collaborator, Dr. Christian Mullon, who is a mathematical ecologist and with whom I completed a paper on predator-prey models and game theory using some of my previous work on migration networks and his expertise on ocean fish. We had been corresponding for a while and I had a chance to meet him and his wife when I was in Paris last October to give a plenary talk at the NetGCoop conference.

If one works on crossing disciplines, one needs collaborators, and, besides, it is just very rewarding intellectually and personally to work with others.