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Experiments in International Benchmarking of US Research Fields
The benchmarking model might be adapted at the agency level to evaluate research programs and instruct advisory committees. Agencies would need to determine their own benchmarks, such as comparison with other US scientists or programs.
Two independent benchmarking experiments in mathematics— despite dissimilar panels, mandates, and leadership—produced similar results, lending credibility to the technique.
Experts on several panels suggested that a diminished flow of foreign-born scientists and engineers to the United States could weaken the research enterprise in coming years. This underscores the importance of drawing more American students into science.
In seeking to explain the overall dominance of US research, participants pointed to diversity, flexibility, research-based graduate education, a balanced research portfolio, national imperatives, and a favorable innovation climate.
It was suggested that an accumulation of benchmarking exercises might lead to better understanding of the factors that yield research excellence and might better educate the public about the value of research.
The following excerpts and quotations are offered to summarize the issues discussed.
Was The Exercise Successful?
The benchmarking chairs were initially skeptical that the study could be conducted. For example, Arden Bement, chair of the materials science and engineering study, said:
''I started out as a skeptic, but became more of a believer that 1) it's possible to do, 2) it can be done within a short time, 3) the committee got a lot out of it. It's not perfect. I think we got 80-90% of what we looked for, within the scope we chose to probe. You can get 80% of the value in 20% of the time. After we'd finished, my thinking on it was much clearer than before."
Comments received by Dr. Bement after the release of the report were positive. The concerns were focused on sub-subfields not addressed, such as research areas important to industry (for example, corrosion).
In addition, some surprises were illuminated as a result of the analysis. For example, Peter Lax, chair of the mathematics panel, indicated that although he knew that many leading mathematicians were from abroad, he was surprised to find out the degree to which US leadership depended on non-US talent in the United States.