Science Indicators:

Improvements Needed in Design, Construction, and Interpretation

PAD-79-35: Published: Sep 25, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1979.

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The National Science Board's "Science Indicators" reports are collections of measures which attempt to portray significant trends in the condition and direction of U.S. science and technology. Development of these indicators is a very complex and difficult task, and the art is still in an early stage of evolution. Indicators in the 1976 report were examined to determine their validity, their limitations, and possible improvements in their selection, design, and interpretation.

The development of science and technology indicators is extremely difficult for many reasons, including: the complex nature of science and technology, the diverse and pervasive way both interact with society, and primitive understanding of the processes and linkages involved. These factors greatly impede selection of important concepts or kinds of information and measures. In addition to these overall problems, the "Science Indicators" series is confused by disparate statements of purpose that reveal disagreement about whether the reports should include evaluation of the state of science, and whether technology should receive as much coverage as science. A major limitation of the 1976 report is lack of interpretation of the meaning of the indicators. This is at odds with the purpose of the report and limits its capability to describe the state of science and technology.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The National Science Board should direct the "Science Indicators" staff to: use different models of science and technology to present a spectrum of important concepts which need to be measured; emphasize a more conceptual approach in designing indicators which first identify what will be measured, and then generate the appropriate data; include overall interpretation of the meaning of the indicators without emphasizing short-term topical policy issues; continue to experiment in the series by developing and testing new indicators; attempt to more clearly differentiate science from technology and develop distinctive indicators for each; and consider whether sufficient resources are available to perform essential research and experimental development of new and improved indicators.

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