Technology Gap: Reality or Illusion

December 22, 1978

Report Outline
Status of U.S. Technology
Expanding U.S. Role in Science
Linkage with American Economy
Special Focus

Status of U.S. Technology

Conflicting Evidence as to U.S. Decline

Leaders of business, industry and government are troubled these days by accumulating evidence that the nation's technological leadership is slipping. “There are trends that are worrisome….,” Frank Press, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said recently. “If we're losing our edge, we want to know where we're losing it and why we're losing it.” To help in this assessment, President Carter in May ordered a study of industrial innovation, the process by which scientific and technical advances are incorporated into the economy. The president ordered that the study be conducted as a “domestic policy review,” the highest kind of attention a problem can get in the executive branch. The study is scheduled to be completed in April by a Commerce Department staff directed by Assistant Secretary Jordan J. Baruch. An advisory committee represents business, academia and the public.

While the United States frets about the possibility of a technology lag in relation to other industrial nations, the world's underdeveloped countries fear that the technological gap between them and the industrial nations is growing — to their own detriment. This question is due to be explored at length at the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development, Aug. 20–31, in Vienna, Austria. A series of international symposia, beginning Jan. 8–12 in the Soviet Union, precede the conference Many smaller, unofficial gatherings are planned in connection with the Vienna conference, including one in Houston, Texas, when the American Association for the Advancement of Science holds its annual meeting there Jan. 3–8.

The evidence supporting the contention that the United States is in the midst of a technology lag is sketchy and subject to varied interpretations. The congressional Office of Technology Assessment said in a recent report: “Most of the quantitative indicators now employed are ambiguous and sometimes even deceptive, and better ways of assessing the situation are badly needed.” Nevertheless, the data are troublesome even to those who are not completely persuaded by it.

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