Not-so-Critical Technologies

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Science  18 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5397, pp. 2167
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5397.2167c

Japan's industrial might in the 1980s created a bull market for studies assessing whether U.S. industry was falling behind in the race to master so-called “critical technologies” such as x-ray lithography. But a new White House report suggests that the once-hot topic has become cold, thanks to a healthy U.S. economy and Asia's financial crisis.

The report, based on interviews with 39 industrial titans from the likes of Merck, Motorola, and Lockheed Martin, is largely an exercise in chest-pounding. “Most speakers expressed their belief that the U.S. has regained its edge,” the authors note. At the same time, the industrialists register grave concern with the state of U.S. public school education, a finding that the authors admit seems far removed from anyone's definition of a critical technology.

Perhaps the best gauge of how far techno-fears have ebbed is the affiliation of the authors. The report is from a federally funded think tank called the Science and Technology Policy Institute. Until recently, Washington insiders knew it by another name: the Critical Technologies Institute.

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