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The US National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation) generates detailed statistical analysis of the scientific workforce in the US and beyond. We can infer from this data that biomedical science is growing, not just in the US but globally, with dramatic increases recently in countries like China.

Most of the graphs in this answer are from the NSF. Three sets of data:
I. R&D (Research and Development) funding trends: US and beyond.
II. Scientific workforce trends: Ph.Ds in S&E (science and engineering).
III. Trends on patents granted: emphasis on biotech and medical sciences.

I. R&D (Research and Development) funding trends: US and beyond.
Total US R&D spending increased tremendously from 1958 to 2011, according to the US NSF.

Drilling down into R&D expenditure on medical sciences, the following are noteworthy,

  • US academic R&D expenditure on medical sciences was already highest at the beginning of the timeline, i.e. 1999.
  • US academic R&D expenditure on medical sciences increased 2X by 2011, increase unmatched by any other field.

Rather astounding considering such increases happened even with the Great Recession.

II. Scientific workforce trends: Ph.Ds in S&E (science and engineering).
Tracking the scientific workforce began with early 20th century efforts by the American psychologist, James McKeen Cattell. These early efforts, focused entirely on the US male scientific workforce, were self-reported responses to questionnaires Cattell solicited from respondents he identified based on publicly available information such as scientific society memberships. In other words, humble beginnings.

These days, the data is collated on an industrial scale using much more rigorous methodology such as annual S&E Ph.D degrees (figures A and B below).

  • According to the US NSF, there were a total of 52 760 US Ph.Ds in 2013.
  • ~40 000 of these were in S&E.
  • In comparison, there were ~6 000 S&E Ph.Ds in the US in 1958.
  • 2013 S&E Ph.Ds accounted for 74% of total research Ph.Ds compared to 59% in 1973.
  • Steady increase in US S&E Ph.Ds granted to foreign citizens.
  • Total of 13 436 US S&E Ph.Ds in 2013 given to temporary visa holders.
  • In other words, S&E PhDs are increasing in both number and proportion of total annual Ph.Ds in the US.

Diversity of US S&E Ph.Ds also increasing (figures C and D below).

  • 10 countries, China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Turkey, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, Germany account for 70% of foreigners receiving US Ph.Ds.
  • China, India and South Korea account for >50% of these Ph.Ds.
  • Bulk of foreign Ph.Ds were in S&E.
  • Women US Ph.Ds are increasing steadily year-on-year.
  • Women accounted for 46% of all Ph.Ds granted in 2013.

Drilling down into US Ph.D diversity (figures E and F below),

  • Women accounted for 32% of US S&E Ph.Ds in 1993.
  • This increased to 42% in 2013.
  • Black/African American Ph.Ds increased from 4.5% in 1993 to 6.4% in 2013.
  • Hispanic/Latino Ph.Ds increased from 3.4% in 1993 to 6.3% in 2013.
  • American Indian/Alaska native stayed low and didn’t budge.


  • Annual China S&E Ph.Ds have already overtaken those of US S&E Ph.Ds, since at least 2007 (figure one left below).
  • Parallels dramatic increase in annual China R&D funding in the 21st century (figure on right below).

III. Patents granted trends: emphasis on biotech and medical sciences.

  • # of patents granted by the USPTO (US Patent Office) increasing year-on-year since 2008 (figure below).
  • Proportion of USPTO patents granted to non-US universities have also been increasing dramatically since 2008.

Proportion of US patents granted in biotech-pharma-medical devices increased from 2003 to 2012 (figure below).

20-year trends show that proportion of US biotech patents increased dramatically from 1993 to 2012 (figure below).

Similar to US patent trends, EPO (European Patent Office) patents also increasing year-on-year since 2000 (figure below).

Updated June 27, 2015: Forgot to add this recent Vox article American companies are investing way less in science than they used to. Most of their data is from this paywalled paper, Killing the Golden Goose? The Decline of Science in Corporate R&D.

Page on nsf.gov
Godin, Benoît. “From Eugenics to Scientometrics: Galton, Cattell, and Men of Science.” Social studies of science 37.5 (2007): 691-728.Page on www.csiic.ca