U.S. Science Told to Stay on Its Toes

A new essay by the oversight body of the National Science Foundation explains what federal research officials must do if the United States hopes to remain the world's leading scientific power. NSF should sharpen its criteria for choosing research projects to make sure they are "transformative," it says, other federal research agencies should measure their portfolios against what's going on elsewhere, and the White House should make innovation a higher priority by creating a presidential council to track the issue.

The prescription comes from the National Science Board and accompanies NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, a biennial compendium of statistics on the global research enterprise. The volume makes the case that the rest of the world is catching up, and the commentary is intended to hold the current administration's feet to the fire, says board chair Steven Beering.

Beering believes that the Obama Administration is actually doing a pretty good job so far. "I think that President Obama has taken a sincere and proactive stance in promoting science," he says. "But we're asking them to reevaluate the current mechanisms and make sure that they are following best practices."