U.S. Research Looks Strong Except Where It Counts

As U. S. industries, one after another, fall behind in the global economic race, pundits say America must be losing its edge in science and technology. But is it really? Earlier this year, analysts at the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia tackled the question. They calculated how many times various nations' scientific papers are cited in the technical literature, a rough measure of the importance of each article. Judged by this standard, the U. S. research enterprise is remarkably healthy. From 1981 to 1990, the so-called "citation impact" of articles by U. S. scientists rose 6.9%, the biggest increase for any nation.

But now, a more detailed analysis reveals a less rosy picture. By separating the data into individual disciplines, ISI analysts discovered that some types of research are slipping. What's most worrisome is that these areas--metallurgy, computer-aided design, robotics, and other elements of high-tech manufacturing--are precisely those that provide the technological underpinnings of U. S. industrial competitiveness.

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