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Indians are a force in US but beware of statistics

According to the available data, the statistics quoted in Parliament to highlight Indian professionals' contributions are either overstated or unverifiable.
IANS | By Parveen Chopra, New York
UPDATED ON MAR 16, 2008 12:04 PM IST

Indian professionals in the US truly make India proud, but the statistics quoted in parliament to highlight their contributions are either overstated or unverifiable, a scrutiny of available data reveals.

Minister of State for Human Resource Development D Purandeswari had sought to reveal some statistics in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, last week, ascribing impressive numbers to Indians who are contributors to the US' knowledge economy.

Thirty-eight per cent of doctors in the US are Indians, as are 36 per cent of the scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and 34 per cent of Microsoft employees, the minister said.

The statistics have since invited critical comments on the internet, with many bloggers and internet chain mails describing the data as being exaggerated and with no verifiable claims - even as some others defended the Indian minister.

"You can't blame just Indian politicians for faulty data," said Vivek Wadhwa, a Harvard fellow and Duke University professor, who also said that US companies cannot ask employees about their ethnicity.

"US senators and congressmen have been citing inflated numbers on the graduation rates of engineers in India and China versus the US," added Wadhwa, who has led a study at Duke on engineering and globalisation.

Only broader questions whether an employee is an Asian or a Pacific islander can be posed, he said and estimated the number of Indians at Microsoft operations at 10 per cent at best and not 34 per cent as suggested by the Indian minister.

The data on doctors evokes similar answer, with a spokesperson for the American Medical Association saying out of 900,000 doctors in the US, 720,000 actually see patients and of them 48,000 have degrees from India.

This places the share of Indian doctors in the US at 10 per cent - the largest among all physicians educated in the US, but not 38 per cent as stated in the Rajya Sabha.

This also corroborates the data available with the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), that claims a membership of more than 40,000 doctors and another 15,000 medical students and residents.

Inder Singh, the international president of the Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin, adds that the AAPI has few second generation Indians as members - and that even by that count one can barely get past the 10 per cent mark.

On NASA numbers, Inder Singh said, there are a good number of Indians - and not just astronaut Sunita Williams - working for the space agency but they are far less in numbers than the 36 per cent as cited by the Indian minister.

Nonetheless, Indians have a good share in the US knowledge economy with Wadhwa's research suggesting that 15.5 per cent of all Silicon Valley tech start-ups had Indians as key founders, with a nationwide average of close to seven per cent.

"The more remarkable statistic was the contribution of Indian nationals - not just those that became citizens - to US intellectual property creation. They contributed to 13.7 per cent of all US global patents," Wadhwa said.

One reason for Indians' remarkable contribution in the knowledge sector is the US education and the US Census Bureau says 64 per cent of Indians over 25 years of age have a bachelor's degree against the national average of 24 per cent.

Another field where Indian Americans have a lion's share of the market is the hospitality sector, as revealed by the statistics with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).

The association claims a membership of 8,000, who together own more than 22,000 hotels, with one million rooms, that represent over 50 per cent of the economy lodging properties and 37 per cent of all hotel properties in the US.

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