American science and engineering still provide significant leadership to the world in the development of new ideas and technologies, but many individuals and groups interested in American education have voiced concern about whether our nation will continue to provide such leadership in the future. Recent news of South Korean progress with stem cell research suggests that other nations and cultures are in a position to challenge American dominance-if, indeed, we are now dominant. Observers who are old enough will recall a similar foreign challenge in the form of the Soviet launching of Sputnik on October 4, 1957. According to NASA's official account;
That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race.... the public feared that the Soviets' ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S. Then the Soviets struck again; on November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload, including a dog named Laika.
The Soviet Union, like the Berlin Wall, has become a closed chapter in world political history, and while the recent South Korean achievements are notable, few Americans fear ballistic consequences from them. But many citizens are justifiably concerned about the possible economic consequences of a lagging national scientific and technical output, which seems to be evident in many emerging news stories. At the forefront of those concerned are American educators, many of whom have long suggested that our students in high school and college need to improve generally in their mathematical and scientific knowledge.
I cite my fellow editor, Shelley Johnson Carey, who introduces a recent issue of Peer Review, a quarterly publication of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, with the following comments: "Now, more than ever, the challenges of today's world require greater facility with, and comfort in, the worlds of science, technology, and engineering. …