Assessing the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI, www. nano.gov) is a complex problem. Over the last century the assessment of research projects has been increasingly treated as a scientometric one, that is to say, one that requires a statistical investigation of the impact of scientific research publication productivity through the analysis of scientific publications, patents, and their citations. Scientometrics began to take its more contemporary form as a tool of assessment through such efforts as Eugene Garfield’s Science Citation Index and the research of Derek de Solla Price in the early 1960s, and the US National Science Board’s creation of Science and Engineering Indicators in 1973. Since the early 1970s bibliometrics has assumed an ever-increasing role in the evaluation of national science programs. By the time the NNI was being framed in the 1990s, scientometrics had become the standard means for assessing research output. In the first decade of the 21st century the US National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel declared that publication and patent metrics were “the most salient metrics” for assessing the NNI. Accordingly the more notable assessments of US nanotechnology strategy have relied on bibliometrics.
Given that NNI objectives go beyond R&D to include sustainable societal development, metrics based on patents and publications provide an incomplete means for evaluating the NNI. While scientometrics can be used to construct indicators for commercialization, e.g., linkages between scientists and commercial entities, patent and publication indicators can reveal only a fraction of the NNI’s societal impact.