Thursday, July 27, 2006

How Much Research is Being Done in the World?

I was curious how much research was being done in the world, and this excellent UNESCO Science Report 2005 answered most of my questions. Of particular value are these two tables on the number of researchers and money spent throughout the world.

Why is research important? It is the key to improving human prosperity and solving the major issues of the 21st century. Tackling the energy, environmental, agricultural problems in the world all require research. Discovering medical breakthroughs and coming up with new and improved forms of communication require research. There is also the value of advancing human understanding of the world and universe just for its own sake.

Why is it important to look at it in a global context? Because most advances from research benefit all of humanity. If a researcher creates a better cellphone in Japan, or a better plasma TV in Korea, or a new breakthrough drug in Switzerland, or a faster microprocessor in Silicon Valley, or new software from Redmond people anywhere in the world will be able to take advantage. My future standard of living and the technologies available to me is determined more by the total number of researchers in the world than just the number of researchers in the US.

As of 2002, there were 5,521,400 researchers worldwide. That comes out to 894 researchers per million people and .193% of all jobs were research positions (based on 2.85 billion world workers). Ironically, there are 5,544,000 people in Bangalore, India, so conceivably all research positions in the world could be outsourced there. :)

$829.9 billion was spent on research which translates to 1.7% of world GDP or $134 spending per person.

In the US, we have 1.26 million researchers or 23% of the world's researchers. There were 4,373 researchers per million people and .872% of 144.4 million workers were researchers. $290 billion was spent on research and development, 35% of total world spending. We spent 2.8% of GDP on research or $1,006 per person.

Comparing the 1.26 million US researchers to the rest of the world, Asia had 2.0 million, Europe 1.8 million, all Arab countries 39,700 (with a population the same as the US), and Sub-Saharan Africa 30,000 (with a population twice that of the US).

What is optimal rate of researchers in the world? I don't really know, but I think we could use a lot more. If whole world had the same rate of researcher per million people that the US had, there would be 25 million researchers, or 5 times as many. If research spending was at the US rate of 2.8% of GDP, total spending would be $1.3 trillion or 1.6 times as much. If research spending was at the US rate of $1,006 per person would go to $6 trillion or up 7.8 times.

Imagine how much faster discoveries would occur if we had 5 times as many researchers. How much sooner would be be able to move off of oil? How much quicker would the speed of the Internet increase? How soon would we cure cancer or be able to get brain implants? How much more environmentally friendly would our products be?

What we need is a UN campaign to have 25 million researchers by 2025.

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