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Tilting at Windmills

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February 1, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BASIC RESEARCH....Extending the R&D credit may have been just a sop to his corporate pals, but George Bush's call in last night's SOTU to increase spending on basic research and encourage more kids to take AP math and science courses was a good idea. A small idea, to be sure, but at least he's acknowledging that declining interest in math and science and reduced R&D funding are problems that needs attention though they're problems partly of his own making since Bush's most recent budget cut funding for science and assigned most of what research funding remained to applied research. As Ben Wallace-Wells pointed out in the Washington Monthly last year:

For decades, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of its GDP devoted to scientific research; now, we've dropped behind Japan, Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland. The number of scientific papers published by Americans peaked in 1992 and has fallen 10 percent; a decade ago, the United States led the world in scientific publications, but now it trails Europe. For two centuries, a higher proportion of Americans had gone to university than have citizens of any other country; now several nations in Asia and Europe have caught up. Those competitor countries...are not only wide awake, said Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, but they are running a marathon...and we tend to run sprints.

Super-alert readers will also remember that Thomas Friedman's chapter on this subject was just about the only part of The World is Flat I liked.

Ben suggests that the answer is not so much to pick and choose winners by investing in specific industries, but to improve what he calls "microeconomic policy" by "making investments, regulatory changes, and infrastructure improvement to spur the economy forward, creating new industries and giving new tools to old ones." Read the whole thing if you're interested in some ideas for accomplishing this that are a little more serious than Bush's call to set up yet another advisory council.

Kevin Drum 1:22 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (91)

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Comments

Who cares what he says in his speech? It's all just PR crapola. He doesn't follow through on any idea that won't directly and immediately benefit his base.

Posted by: cmac on February 1, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, but we lead the world in creation science, right? So no problem.

Posted by: craigie on February 1, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Craigie nails it. We don't need no stinkin' science -- the rapture will save us all!

Posted by: Gore/Obama '08 on February 1, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Our young people can see the writing on the wall. They have little interest in Math and Science because they see those jobs moving overseas. How many new manufacturing positions have been created in the USA versus low cost countries. Engineering and now R&D are now moving closer to support these enterprises.

Posted by: Neo on February 1, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem is our culture doesn't really value the scientist or engineer much. They dorks, nerds, geeks, and the big companies toss them in the trash in late middle age after squeezing as much out of them as possible. The cool kids know to go into finance and management, because there you have a chance to hit the corporate executive lottery.

Posted by: demisod on February 1, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Extending the R&D credit may have been just a sop to his corporate pals, but George Bush's call in last night's SOTU to increase spending on basic research and encourage more kids to take AP math and science courses was a good idea.

And the best way to encourage more kids to take AP math and science courses is to start giving vouchers to private schools. Studies have shown public schools are very bad at teaching math and science courses while private schools are much better. By encouraging young students to go to private schools, we will unleash the competitive spirit of the free market so that all students will do much better in math and science overall.

Posted by: Al on February 1, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

This is a joke right?

The physicists and mathematicians who we already have are so woefully underemployed. Go to any big brokerage house on the wall street and you will find a lot of well trained mathematicaons and physicists with Ph. D. from reputable universities running lame financial models on spreadsheets.

We don't have enough good jobs for physicists and matematicians now. A kid would be stupid to waste his time taking AP math and physics classes.

One of those GWB's jokes.

Posted by: lib on February 1, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno. At my daughter's school there's already huge pressure for kids to take AP math and science--and I think this is pretty common throughout California. In fact, quite a few kids are taking a full year, or more, of college credit while in High School. It almost seems like AP is becoming a requirement for entry into a top college.

I'm not sure there's much low-hanging fruit left on those trees. Certainly not in our school disctrict.

Posted by: Phil on February 1, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with craigie...the irony of hearing this from a president who endorses creation "science" and hires agency directors who ignore or suppress scientific results that don't further the Bushco agenda...well, it's too much.

Tom Oliphant (I know, I know) mentioned last night that the educational portion alone of this program is estimated to cost $50 billion. I'm sure our more science-savvy grandchildren won't mind paying for it while we enjoy our tax cuts.

Posted by: shortstop on February 1, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Some people would rather believe that tech jobs are going overseas because there aren't enough qualified people in the U.S. The reality is that it is cheaper to have someone in India do the job.

One way to create tech jobs here is to demand that engineers expect lower salaries, comparable to those they would get paid in India. Now won't that motivate kids do well in math and science!

Posted by: Super G on February 1, 2006 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Good ol' Al.

When is someone going to do a study on the costs to public schools of getting jerked around by all the guys like Bush and Al? Budget cuts and mandates are all the schools can expect anymore.

Posted by: tomeck on February 1, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently Al doesn't read much or else he would learn that public schools outpreform private schools in math, when corrected for income. I hate when facts get in the way of the GOP talking points.

What uspets me most about the GOP's take on science is that they are trying to turn it into he-said-she-said just like they have reporting. If you followed the news recently, you'd note that the debate amongst scientists now isn't whether global warming is happening, it's whether we can stop it in time before it's irreversible.

Posted by: gq on February 1, 2006 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

As usual Al (whether fake or not) is another irrelevant right-winger when it comes to the real world:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/28/education/28tests.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Al, and all idiot failures at school like Al (e.g., the vast majority of the modern GOP), just shut up when you don't know what you are talking about (i.e., always).

Posted by: reader on February 1, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

One way to create tech jobs here is to demand that engineers expect lower salaries

Let's vote! Who's in favor of Super G getting a lower salary? All in favor, say "Aye."

Posted by: tomeck on February 1, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

The number of students taking the AP calculus exam has been going up substantially over the past 25 years and there's been no sign of it slowing up over the past few years. It's gotten to the point where a lot of colleges have had to rethink their introductory courses because the demographics have changed substantially.

Posted by: JeffH on February 1, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

I tend to support the idea that engineers and scientists have not been able to find and keep good jobs. I was an engineer a long time ago and everybody I knew was getting out and going to law school or medical school (as I did) or getting an MBA. That was 1959, long before George Bush. Engineers tend to be weak on business skills, though, although some make a fortune. The mid-level types are the ones having trouble.

I also wonder if the current emphasis on girly-type college programs has an effect. The number of men attending college is down as a percentage and lots of young men are finding that they can make good livings in construction and car repair. I know a number of them and they do at least as well as MDs, especially now.

When Larry Summers gets trashed for suggesting the MAYBE there's a difference in aptitude, it chills a lot of the interest in learning why some kids do better and some don't. The PC world is not that friendly to math and science.

There is also an interesting take on the climate issue and the NASA guy who was complaining about Bush stifling global warming study. Here's a guy who got pressured the other way by the previous administration and resigned. Global warming is intensely political right now. That's not good for science, either.

Posted by: Mike K on February 1, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Bush also said he wanted to bring 30,000 math and science professionals to classrooms to teach. Nothing wrong with that, but the problem isn't getting teachers into the classroom--it's keeping them there. One study found that 29 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first three years; after five years, 39 percent of teachers have left teaching.

And to the voucher fans, private schools have much higher turnover rates than public schools.

So we spend a lot of money to bring teachers in, assign them (usually) to low-income minority students, and then they quit, so we have to do it all over again.

What causes the turnover? Job dissatisfaction. Higher pay would help, but better working conditions may be more important. Until we treat teachers like professionals we'll continue to attract amateurs.

Posted by: Bob on February 1, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

If we are going to spend more on basic research, then it should be open source. Intellectual property and publicly funded basic research are inconsistent.

Posted by: Thinker on February 1, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Until we treat teachers like professionals we'll continue to attract amateurs.

Politicians, too.

Posted by: craigie on February 1, 2006 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Spending more money on Physics and Math R&D means that there will be more opportunities for students from China and India to get research assistantship for graduate work in American universities. That's good, as I myself came here with exactly eight dollars in my pocket and two pairs of clothing in 1970 to get a graduate degree with a reasearch assistantship paying $221 per month. Who knew that Bush will do such wondrous things for people such as myself.

Posted by: nut on February 1, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at last Twig is finally acknowledging what his Educational Guru, Emil Faber, the founder of Faber College, once said, "Knowledge is Good".

Posted by: stupid git on February 1, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Of course increasing funding for basic research a good idea. It's supposed to sound like a good idea, and you're supposed to think, "say... this guy doesn't sound so unreasonable after all." Later, there may be op-eds signing on to this good idea.

So what: it's all bullshit. I believe nothing that President Bush says unless and until he actually does something about it. He's a proven liar, and a double-crosser of friends and foes alike.

With an array of nice-sounding ideas like last night, he & Rove hope specifically to increase his poll ratings. It won't work, but you can't blame him for trying.

Mars, bitches!

Posted by: travis on February 1, 2006 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Neo: Our young people can see the writing on the wall. They have little interest in Math and Science because they see those jobs moving overseas.

lib: The physicists and mathematicians who we already have are so woefully underemployed. ... We don't have enough good jobs for physicists and matematicians now. A kid would be stupid to waste his time taking AP math and physics classes.

Super G: Some people would rather believe that tech jobs are going overseas because there aren't enough qualified people in the U.S. The reality is that it is cheaper to have someone in India do the job.

Cheney's dick: The wog's children can do it cheaper.

Mike K: I tend to support the idea that engineers and scientists have not been able to find and keep good jobs.

==================================================

Wow, I'm pleasantly suprised that so many people on this blog see the truth. And yet we still have pundits and their uncritical lemmings saying things like "we need more engineers" (despite a higher than average unemployment rate).

Funny too, that people who claim to have such faith in markets won't accept that college students avoid majoring in science, math, engineering, etc. as a perfectly rational response to the job market.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend who is an engineer. He was employed in the aerospace industry until he reached his early 50s. Tnen his company reorganized his department and he was out on his butt. Thank God he had stayed in the Air Force Reserve, and especially thank God for President Bush. He is currently working as a crew member on a C-130 taking military stuff in and out of Iraq. Members of his crew include another middle aged engineer and a middle aged scientist as well as two very experienced senior airline pilots. His crew is not unique in his squadron.

Sometimes he seems a little bitter.

Are we sure we have enough scientific work to employ the trained people we have?

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 1, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I have a friend who is an engineer. He was employed in the aerospace industry until he reached his early 50s.

Your friend is tbrosz?!?

If our buddy Tom can find work, why can't all the other engineers?

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 1, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

For decades, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of its GDP devoted to scientific research; now, we've dropped behind Japan, Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland.

There's another one of those "percentage of GDP numbers." As though Finland is the colossus of science and technology in the world.

At least comparison with Japan is somewhere in the ballpark, since our GDP is only 2.5 times what theirs is, as opposed to about sixty times that of Finland.

You know, sometimes the actual numbers mean more than "percent of GDP."

Posted by: tbrosz on February 1, 2006 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: You know, sometimes the actual numbers mean more than "percent of GDP."

But this isn't one of those times. Basic research is an investment. If someone making $50k/yr saves/invests $10k/yr that's pretty impressive. If someone making $1M/yr saves/invests $10k/yr it's pathetic.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe Bush can get the Flying Spaghetti Monster on his science advisory board.

Posted by: bebimbob on February 1, 2006 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider,

Well, it helped that Elton John wrote his "Rocket Man" based on TBrosz - "burning out his fuse up there alone..."

Posted by: stupid git on February 1, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Yet another Neville Chamberlain moment for the Drum major.

Posted by: dick tuck on February 1, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Are we sure we have enough scientific work to employ the trained people we have?

No we absolutely don't.

I have anecdotal experience for both older scientists and the ones right out of college. They all have very good paying jobs, but rarely is anyone of them actually doing scientific work.

The so-called 'crisis' of science and mathematics and engineering education that we hear every few years is just some corporate types whining about having to pay a lot of money to employees in these fields when the corporations can be get people with similar qualifications for much lower wages abroad.

Posted by: lib on February 1, 2006 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz,

I think the stats were put there to show the effort being made based on what people could afford. If the entire GDP of Zimbabwe is dedicated to eradicating the threat of the tsetse fly, that's impressive and shows they care, but it doesn't add up to much.

Can you give out of work engineers some career advice? Heck, I'm getting a little tired of fishing body parts out of all this OSHA-condemned equipment here at the bottle washing factory. I just know I could be a great engineer. First, I think Jesus was cool. Second, science doesn't matter anymore--'we make our own reality.' Third, I don't wear t-shirts with sayings on them.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 1, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Bush has installed people at NIH and NSF who have systematically cut basic research in favor of limited, applied projects. Here is another example where Bush's statements and his actions are disjoint.

Posted by: Nancy on February 1, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

lib

Nice post.

Ever try to get an engineering job after age 40?

I am told that you might be hired as a supervisor, but never to do engineering work.

After age 50, like very body over age 50, you are fucked unless you invent your own company.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 1, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I posted this last year. This is the real reason why we invest in math and science. GDP is not a measure of future growth and wealth accumulation.

Nicolas Crafts, a historian of economics at the London School of Economics, has focused much of his career on the question of Britains decline as the premier industrial nation. He also addresses productivity and growth in post-industrial societies. Crafts' evaluation of the so-called neoliberal economic policies has been very influential and he is generally sympathetic to the Thatcherite revolution.

Among the key elements of the new supply-side policy have been privatization and deregulation, downsizing of industrial policy, reform of industrial relations, restructuring of taxation and restraint on the growth of public expenditure, radical revision of vocational training and expansion of higher education.

Crafts argues (look him up for the numbers) that economic growth after the 1920s particularly in the US was driven not by ample natural resources or large domestic markets, which is what allowed the US to overtake Britain at the turn of the 20th century, but by investment in education and R&D.

For post-industrial growth he concludes
First, the driving force of long run growth is technological progress (both through invention and technology transfer) which is brought about through endogenous innovation, that is by attempts to reduce costs and develop new products in the pursuit of profit. Well-designed policy and institutions can increase innovative activities by increasing expected returns for a given volume of effort. In this context, productive expenditure by government, say, on infrastructure or human capital, will have a positive effect but distortionary taxation a negative effect on growth.


Supply-side policies tend to result in an increase in the Gini coefficient of income inequality but this is a trade-off for future growth. What happens in a post-industrial society that does not invest in education and R&D? Do we assume that the risk of this investment can be carried by private companies and can happen in a decentralized non-federal manner? The current American system for higher education and R&D is peerless but others are catching up.

The apocalyptic struggle of American evangelicals against modern science and their hold on the Republican party is not good for the long-term prospects of the American economy (nor is the Republican dedication to corporate misinformation campaigns that denigrate honest scientists). Particularly for an economy that is propped up by petro-dollars and other peoples savings.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 1, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Pale Rider:

Advice? Consult. If you're any good at it, you can manage. Bad news is that it isn't a cushy, guaranteed-income business with benefits and a big retirement program.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 1, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

"What causes the turnover? Job dissatisfaction. Higher pay would help, but better working conditions may be more important. Until we treat teachers like professionals we'll continue to attract amateurs."

Aw, it's more than that. Teaching kids is really, really hard work. Lots and lots of them don't want to learn - they're busy dealing with hormones and such, and they don't see the relevance of most of what you have to teach them. It's worse than dentistry: you have a relatively hostile clientele who may or may not choose to open their mouths. You can't open those mouths yourself, much less control what they do with those mouths when they aren't in your chair, so there's only so much you can do. Fortunately for dentists, they get paid well and no one blames them when their patients can't or won't cooperate.

No, I'm not a teacher. I'm a tutor. I only have to deal with students one at a time, and only when they ask for help.

Posted by: cmac on February 1, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz,

The problem is, I'm exactly like how I post here in real life. No pretense, nothing. I operate in the real world EXACTLY the way I do here on the old blog thread.

Perhaps I need to stay away from management.

Posted by: Pale Rider on February 1, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Aside from the subject covered by your previous post of cutting off promising avenues of research, Bush's plan to throw more money at research and encourage more people to take more advanced math and science in secondary school clashes with the cuts to student aid for higher education we've seen. I mean, what's the point of preparing students better for collegiate math and science programs if less of them will be able to afford to avail themselves of them; what's the point in the US throwing more money at basic research when, with the policies of this government, there will be less basic research allowed to be done, and that which is done will increasingly be done by foreigners, no matter who foots the bill?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 1, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Hey bellumregio, don't expect Al or any other right lurching members of the Republican party to actually understand the implications of what Crafts is saying. If it doesn't appear on the right side of the ledger at the end of the quarter it doesn't even register. Infrastructure? What's that?

Posted by: ExBrit on February 1, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely,

There you go with that "logic" stuff again. In an attempt to atone for my past sins and ingratiate myself with our new overlords, I have a recommendation for them. In addition to expunging evolution from biology courses, we should expunge logic from math courses. We should also eliminate less formal versions of logic in education, such as in rhetoric, etc.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Right. R&D has dropped since 1992 and it's all Bush's fault.

Anything you say.

Posted by: Strick on February 1, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is, I'm exactly like how I post here in real life. No pretense, nothing. I operate in the real world EXACTLY the way I do here on the old blog thread.

I don't get your point. What does that have to do with getting a job? If you're really irritating in person, work online like I do.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 1, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

bellumregio: an economy that is propped up by petro-dollars and other peoples savings

Reminds me of my new favorite quote. Referring to the fact that during the Bush administration there has been a net loss of private sector jobs, and that the overall growth has come entirely from public sector jobs:

"the triumph of Republican-conservatarian economic policy consists of an expansion of government jobs financed by loans from the Communist Peoples Republic of China"

http://maxspeak.org/mt/archives/001939.html

P.S. I've given up on irony - there's no way I can beat the competition.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: If you're really irritating in person, work online like I do.

This made the whole day worthwhile.

Posted by: shortstop on February 1, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

R&D is a classic "public good," and so government support for it is something that all small government conservatives support. R&D - especially basic research, as opposed to applied research - is a "public good" because it benefits everyone even though the costs fall only on the person conducting the research.

By contrast, it's all that clear that education is a "public good." If I get an advanced degree in some scientific field, that obviously benefits me - it improves my employment prospects, and so on. However, there may also be a public benefit to some types of scientific education - if I get a combined MD/PhD degree, there may not be very many jobs that justify the $300-400,000 investment (plus the extra 2-3 years of study) that entails - but nonetheless the public may benefit if I get that degree and spend the next 30 years researching new drugs for a pharmaceutical company.

As for who conducts the research - native born Americans or immigrants - who cares? Who cares if it's conducted here or abroad as long as it's published?

Posted by: DBL on February 1, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

It is safe to conclude that the Republicans are not following a national supply-side economic model. If they were their policies would be more like Tony Blairs Labour. It is really no policy at all except a mid-twentieth century ideological attack on the New Deal (this is mostly moral in origin- social darwinism, individual responsiblity, ownership society) mixed with a corporate spoils system.

Their policies may have made some sense when Americans had large savings and the US produced half of the worlds goods in the years after the war. But now with global competition and a global job market we need more shared risk like single payer healthcare, not less, coupled with a culture of science and innovation rich in individual incentives. Even with all that the middle class will still experience a great deal of insecurity.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 1, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Like other folks have said: What difference does a Bush promise make? He may as well vow to free the unicorns from their Cyclops overlords. When the worthless fucking maggot isn't dissembling and evading, he's lying.

Posted by: sglover on February 1, 2006 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Ever try to get an engineering job after age 40?
I am told that you might be hired as a supervisor, but never to do engineering work.
After age 50, like very body over age 50, you are fucked unless you invent your own company.
Posted by: Ron Byers on February 1, 2006 at 3:05 PM

Boy am I depressed now....

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 1, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

i'm with you on that, sglover! kevin, how can you even comment as if anything bush says has any reality value.

Posted by: brkily on February 1, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Nice enough, I guess, but:

a) What's new about this? A Nation At Risk came out in, what, 1983?

b) With respect to K-12 edjimacation, wasn't "No Child Left Behind" supposed to fix all this?

c) As Kevin noted, Bush was against spending on basic research before he was for it.

Posted by: RT on February 1, 2006 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

The current American system for higher education and R&D is peerless but others are catching up.

bellumregio, you completely missed the point. Other nations have not only caught up, they're ahead.

Way ahead.

And Bush's policies are not likely to do a damn thing.

Well, maybe as much as his Mars program has...

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 1, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

The south is filled with Christian universities which don't offer science beyond simple simon stuff. The wingnuts send a lot of their kids to these institutions and the grads come out knowing bugger all about science, especially biology.

Posted by: JimBobRay on February 1, 2006 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus

Sorry you are so depressed.

On the other hand your comments are dead on.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 1, 2006 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

it's not only engineers who are beginning to go jobless, Peter Drucker is quoted in "The End of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin, "the disappearance of labor as a key factor of production" is going to emerge as the critical " unfinished business of capitalist society."

Posted by: brkily on February 1, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K: Global warming is intensely political right now. That's not good for science, either.

The science of global warming is not political. The question of what to do about global warming is political. There's nothing wrong with that; any question regarding such wide-reaching, collective actions or policies of human societies as will be needed to deal with global warming is by definition going to be political.

Unfortunately, some people (e.g. Exxon Mobil) don't want to do anything about global warming, because they recognize that doing something about global warming will cut into their astronomical profits, and since they also recognize that the public won't have much sympathy for such concerns, they use their political power to attack the science. That's what the Bush administration, on Exxon Mobil's behalf, is doing to Hansen.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 1, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

As an engineering professor, I'd surely like to see the funding for basic research in this country increased. I don't for one minute though think that it'll happen just because GW tossed it out in his SOTU.
Things have gotten beyond the point of ridiculous with funding cuts at NSF. I've served on review panels where many really great ideas/proposals simply don't get funded due to budget cuts year after year after year. In my own field, it gets harder and harder to compete with peers from Europe and Korea due to lack of resources.

Posted by: ugly_duck on February 1, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Ask yourself these simple questions:

Why are engineering and technical and other knowledge-based jobs going to India? Is it because there is a dearth of people here who can do that sort of work?

The answers to the questions are obvious, and they lead to the conclusion that this need for funding of science and math education is so much nonsense.


ugly-duck

I empathize with your position, but having spent some years in the academia myself, I think that most really good ideas find funding. Those who see money for marginal ones are well -deservedly rejected.

Posted by: lib on February 1, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

The biggest single drain on US competitiveness is the race to the bottom of colleges in dumbing down the required courses. Since 50% of the population does not attend higher education, I'd recommend we require some return on their investment in subsidizing college students by requiring some math, engineering, hard sciences, or foriegn language courses for support.

Posted by: wks on February 1, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

lib,

Why do so many of the engineering jobs from the US get out-sourced to India? Simple. The wages there are so much lower. A company can hire 4-5 engineers there for the same amount it would cost them to employ one engineer in the US.

On the whole, to remain competitive, engineers in the US must be that much better than their counterparts in other countries. So, engineering graduates in the US will have to be more and more productive and creative. Cutting resources for math/science/engineering education and research in this country doesn't help.

Posted by: ugly_duck on February 1, 2006 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

I had a 33 year career as a scientist, and never met any other who would recommend that his children go into the field. The problem is that there is no money for scientific research anymore; American corporations don't do real R&D, and the government has also cut sharply back. There is really little point in educating more people who cannot put their skills to use.

Posted by: bob h on February 1, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

NIAID funding level for the coming year is 14% of applications

Posted by: cq on February 1, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Lib, I have to disagree that only the undeserving projects don't get funding. I've seen plenty of good projects not get funding because there simply wasn't enough grant money to go around and the decision makers had to prioritize.

That didn't mean that the projects that didn't get funding were bogus. It more often meant that they were less likely to have immediate and/or dramatic results. Especially results that could be spun to make an impression on lay people who do not have the background in the area, but are involved in the decision making process nevertheless.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 1, 2006 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Bob h,

Engineers and scientists are creators of new technologies that create whole new markets. We throw in the towel and give up on educating engineers and scientists at our own peril.

That said, I'll admit that its one helluva tough way to make a living.

Posted by: ugly_duck on February 1, 2006 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

I think people conflate (to use the overused word) three aspects of the issue of math and science education and research.

1. We need math and science education to have a population with a rational mindset. In this case it does not matter whether the people directly use their knowledge on the job.

2. We need math and science education because many routine tasks in this day and age require employees who have a good basic understanding of how to operate machines and run computer programs.

3. We need math and science education because without it we will lag in innovation and creation of new technologies.

Given that we are far ahead of any country in innovation and new technologies I don't think that (3) is the issue.

You cannot expect the obscurintist Bush admininstration to worry about (1), because more scientifically illiterate the voters, the easier it is for them to be duped by the Republicans.

So the only issue is having enough well educated people to do routine tasks that require scientific knowledge. Since such jobs are easily outsourced, this aspect of the problem is of concern only to the corporate types who want a steady supply of cheap labor.

Posted by: lib on February 1, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever it is for individuals it is a necessity for industrial and post-industrial economies to invest massively in education and science as I tried to point out above. In economies that are already at the cutting-edge of technology, like the US, it is the only way to increase national wealth since technology transfer is not an option. What individuals should chose to do is another matter.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 1, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

The way to technical dominance is to import millions of incompetent third world techs to replace the great U.S. R$D machine of the past. Ha, ha. Businessmen screwed themselves by getting Congress to open the immigration floodgates to get cheap techs. They thought R&D personnel were just labor units and any gook could do it. Surprise!

Posted by: Myron on February 1, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

lib,

I agree we need math and science for all of the three reasons you listed. I would only say that we aren't as safe on reason (3) as you think. Historically, the US may have led in new technologies and innovation, but I'd argue that was because of our history of investment in basic research and development.

Posted by: ugly_duck on February 1, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

ugly_duck

Of course I wholeheartedly agree that our lead in innovation and new technologies is because of our investment in basic reasearch and devlopment. However I am not at all pessimistic that we are going to lose that lead any time soon even with the current levels of funding for scientifc R&D.

Look, the agencies like NSF, DARPA, AFOSR, NIH, etc must know very well that much of the research that they fund is not of the paradigm shifting variety. Whenever they have funding cuts, its the mediocre proposals that are rejected. The only affect that such cuts have is that Professors cannot hire an army of graduate students and post docs to do routine work at low cost.

Posted by: lib on February 1, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

ugly_duck: Why do so many of the engineering jobs from the US get out-sourced to India? Simple. The wages there are so much lower. A company can hire 4-5 engineers there for the same amount it would cost them to employ one engineer in the US. On the whole, to remain competitive, engineers in the US must be that much better than their counterparts in other countries.

Good luck getting US engineers to be 4-5x better than their Indian counterparts (and I say that as a US engineer). Better, perhaps, but not 4-5x.

The reason that I as a US engineer (or you as a US engineering professor) earn 4-5x as much as our Indian counterparts (maybe 2x on a PPP basis) is that we live in a prosperous country.

Obviously that raises the question, why is it prosperous? Much of that has to do with a long history of investment in education, R&D, infrastructure, a decent balance between public and private sectors, political stability, etc., etc. In other words, we benefit from the legacy of previous generations.

Unfortunately that legacy is being spent by MNC's engaged in labor arbitrage. Instead of home grown Indian (substitute country of your choice) companies developing know-how, markets, etc., they're being fast-tracked by being given the experience of advanced work by US based MNC's. While some would argue that this helps alleviate Indian poverty, the truth is that it mostly only benefits India's upper-middle class. India's real growth is mostly home grown. It dates from the early 1980's when the Congress party liberalized their domestic markets. The early 1990's trade liberalization by the BJP did not increase their GDP growth rate. "Globalization" proponents will say otherwise, but they ignore the very clear data.

Cutting resources for math/science/engineering education

Why should we increase it? Engineering unemployment is higher than the average unemployment rate, let alone the unemployment rate for the college educated.

The fact that fewer college students are majoring in engineering is a completely rational response to the job market.

and research

Different story. I agree with you there.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure repukelican faith-based science has nothing to do with America's fall.

republican mantra: glory to ignoranace, ridicule to intellectual acheivement - very conducive to interst in science.

Posted by: gak on February 1, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Mike K: Global warming is intensely political right now. That's not good for science, either.

The science of global warming is not political."

But it is dominated by people who are. That's why the Forest Service is full of environmentalists who oppose administration policies. The same with NSA. If you are a hammer, all the world looks like a nail. My point, which you omitted, was that a scientist who didn't think all global warming comes from human activity was told to shut up or be disciplined. The difference was the administration, Clinton.

"The question of what to do about global warming is political."

If anything can or should be done.

"There's nothing wrong with that; any question regarding such wide-reaching, collective actions or policies of human societies as will be needed to deal with global warming is by definition going to be political."

And especially if we are trying to reverse a recovery from an Ice Age. Ever read about the Little Ice Age that began in 1350 ? It ended in 1850. We are in the warming phase now. Maybe that's all this is. That's why Greenland settlements failed.

"Unfortunately, some people (e.g. Exxon Mobil) don't want to do anything about global warming, because they recognize that doing something about global warming will cut into their astronomical profits,"

10% is "astronomical "?

"and since they also recognize that the public won't have much sympathy for such concerns, they use their political power to attack the science."

Or people who hate capitalism use the same data to try to reverse the 20th century.

"That's what the Bush administration, on Exxon Mobil's behalf, is doing to Hansen."

And what Clinton did to the other guy who was skeptical of both the magnitude of human effect and the cost of trying to modify it. Bjorn Lumborg was relentlessly and unfairly attacked for questioning any of the assumptions that underlie the current conventional wisdom.

That was my point and I think you missed it. If politics, of one side or the other, prevents objective science that doesn't have an agenda, maybe some kids decide that they should do something else. Like making $100,000 a year fixing Mercedes.

"Posted by: SecularAnimist "

Who missed the point or doesn't want to debate it.

Posted by: Mike K on February 1, 2006 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

lib,

Yes,some academics build empires of grad students and post-docs. Although cynical, they're often really good at playing the game. If you think primarily of these academic empire-builders, it is easy to say no to increased MSE funding.


Alex,

I agree that US engineers cannot be 4-5x as productive as their foreign counterparts.

Posted by: ugly_duck on February 1, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

I can forgive Secular Animist for declining to debate with you, Mike.

Ever read about the Little Ice Age that began in 1350 ? It ended in 1850. We are in the warming phase now. Maybe that's all this is.

Maybe there some actual geo-scientists who would seriously make such a statement. But I doubt it.

Nevertheless, your criteria for giving credence appears to be whether you like what you hear, as opposed to whether the source is in a position to know.

Or people who hate capitalism use the same data to try to reverse the 20th century.

That is truly an idiotic statement, Mike. Rather, a good case can be made that us liberals value capitalism quite a bit more than you do. The difference is, we understand it better than your cartoon version. And we understand that for capitalism to thrive and serve human beings some regulation is necessary.

You're wasting your time here.

Posted by: obscure on February 1, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Bush's idea for increasing spending on this kind of research is good. I don't have much of a hope in hell that he's actually going to do it, either. But it's worth a shot. We certainly cannot just ignore competitiveness.

Those who claim that no jobs exist for engineers anymore - I just don't believe it. When a good idea gets created here, not all of the implementation can be outsourced - nor do companies even always want to outsource it. Sometimes outsourcing becomes a risk of inadvertantly making your winning ideas common knowledge.

Furthermore, engineers are usually needed for more routine, non-cutting edge aspects of all types of physical plant.

Bellumregio:
If there's any actual logic or evidence that ties the basic R & D part investment of your argument to the Thatcherite, "distortionary taxation", and supply-side part of your argument. Maybe nobody else here has enough econ experience to call you on this, but I sure am. Tell me, how exactly is increasing R & D investment related to tax cutting and deregulation, hmmm? I see them as being totally un-fucking-related. Some famous infrasture/R & D investing administrations include the Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy administrations.

You're sneaking in supply-side baloney under cover of the sensible R & D / public goods argument. The truth is, supply siders and Thatcherites reject R & D spending as inconsistent with the mantra of limited-government, pro-market claptrap. They don't even believe public goods *exist. After all, if it's a good in any way, shouldn't the free market provide it on its own?

If you disagree with the above statement at all, you are not a pure neoliberal.

Posted by: glasnost on February 1, 2006 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Add to the rest of the mess is that the US isn't very attractive for scientists in certain areas right now. There's a sense of hopelessness I've been hearing when talking to scientists, a sense that the good sense and appreciation of rational thinking we used to have in the US has been swamped by the anti-intellectual crowd. I have no doubt but that there is a high chance some really stupid government regulation "against any research leading to chimeras" will get passed by grandstanding Congressmen, gutting medical research and sending the whole field into a tail-spin for months if not years. Because they don't think about the consequences, and it was easier to play political theatre rather than ask "wait, what are we doing with this?" (The Radical Right will be cheering on the tumbrils all the way, wringing their hands about morality and godless scientists.)

After one sees this happen, over and over and over, one is forced to the following conclusions:

1. The US doesn't want to remain a rational country any more.
2. The US is turning into a land where Belief trumps Reason.
3. The US is turning into a country where for people like me, there is less and less hope.

Posted by: tzs on February 1, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

glasnost: Those who claim that no jobs exist for engineers anymore

Who claimed that "no jobs" exist? The claim is that the job market is poor, future prospects are no better, and hence putting more resources into engineering education is foolish. Why increase the supply when the demand isn't there? My evidence is the high unemployment rate.

nor do companies even always want to outsource it. Sometimes outsourcing becomes a risk of inadvertantly making your winning ideas common knowledge.

Never heard of companies sacrificing long term interests for short term gain? Who cares if we're creating foreign competition - next quarter's results will be better.

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

I think that the much more prominent problem is that this administration is not "showing through example" the value of math and science. Why waste your time and effort on learning hard exact subjects when all you see is an administration who ignores their own scientists unless they are really links to corporate sponsors.

Posted by: John on February 1, 2006 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

try and hire a skilled Canadian or European in the US. The salary needed to assure their quality of life (assured healthcare, higher education for their children, income security, and retirement) is cost prohibitive - no one moves in, they all go out.

Posted by: yowzer on February 1, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

engineering is the skill of problem solving. engineers make the best workers period: best managers, best marketers, best financiers, best technicians, best ops researchers, etc.

Posted by: 234560192 on February 1, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Estimates of employment opportunities over the next few years for engineers and others, here.

Posted by: tbrosz on February 1, 2006 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

What's the point of talking about advancing science and math on the night before the House eviscerated school loan funding? Bush's big talk on the Ryan White Act was equally mendacious as that was one of the programs cut in today's Budget Reconciliation Vote.

To hear him tout those two things knowing they were one the chopping block today was seeing clearly that Bush is completely out of touch, not only with the concerns of ordinary Americans, but also with what his party is doing on the Hill.

Posted by: kija on February 1, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Estimates of employment opportunities over the next few years for engineers and others, here.

Due to rounding the percent of workforce column shows no change, but comparing the growth in number of engineering jobs to total jobs shows engineering growing at about half the rate of the total (7.4% vs. 14.8%).

Posted by: alex on February 1, 2006 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

You and Tom Friedman are on the same page, Kevin. You guys think it is absolutely imperative that we remain number one in science and math. May I ask, why? Besides the vicarious ego satisfaction one might get from living in the country that is the top dog of science, has it been worth the effort?

I saw a survey somewhere that looked into the daily lives of the citizens of every country and ranked them by quality of life. America came in 23rd. In happiness surveys we are in the middle of the pack, behind most South American Countries, but above Estonia and Latvia. Our strip mall engorged environment makes us the ugliest of all the first world countries. Except for those with money to pay, our medical care is the joke of the Western Hemisphere.

As all this was being perpetrated we achieved the heights of science. A little gear switching might be a good idea. Let's take the money and build top notch old folks homes and transit systems. Let's educate the underclasses and put the arts into our schools instead of yet more math and science courses.

Posted by: James of DC on February 1, 2006 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Several years ago there was a brilliant BBC series called "Yes, Minister".

I recall one episode which focused on education policy. The gist of it was that if ensuring a literate, well-informed, well educated populace was a truly desirable goal that it could and would be accomplished in short order but no one really wanted such a thing.

Brilliance in engineering or mathematics alone will not suffice without the critical thinking which directs their endeavours into meaningful and cost effective paths or balances what engineers think is important, or cool, (Mars!) with what is in the best interests of society as a whole.

I was raised by an engineer, I've happily worked with them on many occasions. The issue is always the 'how' of getting something done and never the crucial 'whether something should be done'.

There's the ever present 'Gee whiz' factor in play.

Posted by: CFShep on February 2, 2006 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

Just for the record 'raised by an engineer' means the late Chris O'Shaughnessy.

A truly decent and brilliant man. Born in Limerick, raised in Brooklyn and capable of extemp examples of the form at a moment's notice, to say nothing of hilarious satiric heroic quantrains that Pope himself might well have admired.

A Marine Raider, veteran of the war in the Pacific and Korea, and 'best damned radar man in the country' (ask Lockheed and McD-Douglas about that).

"Civilized human never fail to return borrowed books and refrain from kicking small defenseless animals - particularly children."

What wouldn't I give to have the opportunity to debate him about all this crap.

Posted by: CFShep on February 2, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

tzs,

3. The US is turning into a country where for people like me, there is less and less hope.

I couldn't agree more. More and more I am seeing the number four for your list:

4. It's not what you know it is who you know.

Maybe the tech boom during the cold war was an aberation and things are finally getting back to normal. If so it is damn depressing.

Posted by: Tripp on February 2, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Not to brag, but to illustrate, both of my kids in grade school were identified for inclusion in the local gifted ed program which was to provide an opportunity for independent study so the bright kids wouldn't be bored. Every year the budget for gifted ed was cut so that it no longer exists. Because of federal cuts to schools, and mandated focus on No Child Left Behind (and no child getting ahead), The local schools have no budget to increase math and science proficiency. Our high schools are desperate for science equipment so they can do any research. Of course, local property taxes can't be raised because no one has any money. Just more empty rhetoric from the liar in chief.

Posted by: Dick (no, not that one) on February 2, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

1. The US doesn't want to remain a rational country any more.
2. The US is turning into a land where Belief trumps Reason.
3. The US is turning into a country where for people like me, there is less and less hope.
Posted by: tzs

Hear! Hear! (No, it's not Here! Here!)

Bill Moyers "One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts."

Posted by: CFShep on February 2, 2006 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

But on the bright side, we lead the entire world in "Mass Communications" graduates. 50,000 such to each possible opening.

In my attorney's office alone there are the proud mothers of three such aspirants. All three fervently espouse as their life's ambition the desire to replace that vacuous blond on Entertainment Tonight.

So what if they can neither read nor write to any reasonable standard?

Look at the semi-literate nonentity currently occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Posted by: CFShep on February 2, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Last year IBM said it would be a corporate leader in ensuring a steady supply of new tech talent, so it put in place a program where it would 'help' the older employees retire and become public school teachers.

Yeah, sure, cut my pension, outsource my job to India and China, force me out, and then expect me to be a public school teacher to help supply you with more labor.

Public school teachers have been shat upon and treated like dirt for years. Now you want me to do something like that for your benefit?

I've got a couple very bright kids and I've advised each one to avoid the tech sector. No jobs. I'm not the only one, either. Read any book today which advises where the future jobs will be: pharmacy, nursing, chiropractor.

Posted by: Tripp on February 2, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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