US science chief warns: 'China will eat our lunch'

Soviet Sputnik satellite launch in 1957 threatened American pre-eminence. Now Beijing poses a similar danger, says Obama adviser

Washington

China is in pole position to overtake the United States as the premier nation for scientific and technological innovation, and will do so if Americans fail to raise their game, President Barrack Obama's own science adviser has told The Independent on Sunday.

John Holdren, the director of the White House office of science and technology policy, explained that the US faces a similar technological challenge to the one it faced half a century ago when the USSR launched the world's first satellite – to the surprise of the Americans.

He warned that the United States faces another "Sputnik moment", but this time the adversary is China, which is investing heavily in scientific research and development. Chinese schoolchildren are now consistently outperforming USpupils in science and mathematics.

"Everybody is looking at China and saying, if we don't lift our game, China is going to eat our lunch economically because the amount they are investing in science, technology and innovation, while it has not yet reached anything like our level, is rising very quickly," Dr Holdren said.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address last month that Americans today face their own "Sputnik moment" and that the US needs to reach a level of research and development that the country has not seen since the height of the space race five decades ago.

Dr Holdren, who trained in aeronautics and plasma physics and is a professor of environmental policy, explained what President Obama meant by his reference to the Sputnik satellite: "When the Russians put the first artificial satellite into orbit [in 1957], and we were able to look out at the night sky and see that glimmer of light as it passed overhead, it really had a profound effect on the people of this country and its policymakers," he said.

"We always thought of the United States as being the first in science and technology, and suddenly we were beaten into space by the Russians, who at that time were our adversaries. What it led to was an enormous effort to catch up, and it led to the space programme as we know it, including the moon mission and the moon landings."

"It led to enormous numbers of young people interested in and inspired about science, maths, and engineering. I'm in that cohort, somebody who was a kid at that time and who became even more excited about science and technology than I'd been before – by this event and by the challenge of catching up and doing exciting things. So when the President talks about the 'Sputnik moment', what he's saying is that we are at some kind of turning point. He's saying essentially it's a wake-up moment. It's time to realise we have to get going.

"Part of that Sputnik moment is the test scores of our kids on the international science and maths tests where the US typically ranks between 17 and 25. Part of our Sputnik moment is realising how hard we need to work to lift our game in science, technology, engineering and maths education."

Dr Holdren, who was a guest speaker at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington this week, said that China is doing "extraordinary things" in terms of science and innovation. The Chinese are investing in major university research facilities, such as huge experimental wind tunnels to test advanced passenger trains.

"So people are looking in there and saying 'you know, it's not automatic that the US will be number one in science, technology and innovation'. This is something that has to be cultivated, it has to be invested in, and the President has been very clear that he wants to see us having innovation, education and out-build the competition," Dr Holdren said.

"He does not want to preside over the US sliding into an inferior position. It ends up compromising our economy, compromising our balance of payments and ultimately compromising our security."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions