Voices Of Innovation: Shirley Ann Jackson

President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since 1999.

Is the U.S. losing students to other countries?

We still are at the top of the heap. But other countries are really racing forward in terms of publications in the major prestigious journals, breakthroughs in certain areas like stem cell research, and production of new engineers and scientists. If you look at countries in Asia on an absolute numerical basis, they produce many more engineers per year.

It's not just a question of where we are on an exact comparison today but on the basis of projecting ahead 10, 15, 20 years. If we don't increase support for basic research and if we don't develop our own talent while continuing to mine talent from around the world, then the question is, where will we be?

What problems will that create?

Technological innovation, coming out of basic research and invention, has been the engine of our economy and has been the basis of our having the highest standard of living in the world. So the stakes are clear.

What we're seeing is erosion, because fewer of our own young people are interested in science and math. Part of it is that [those fields] haven't been viewed as being very glamorous. In terms of early education and performance in science and math, we haven't done so well in recent times. So these things are all going to exacerbate a growing trend -- a quiet crisis that could lead to a perfect storm if all these factors come together. I'm not saying our economy is about to fall apart. This is a question of looking at trends that, if left unchecked, can lead to a day of reckoning.

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