Is that the haunting ping-ping-ping of Sputnik?

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An "American Competitiveness Initiative"? Doubling federal funding for science research? Encouraging kids to take more math and science courses? I feel more hopeful already! A New Frontier is on the horizon!

Hey, have any conspiracy-mongering Bush-bashers spread the idea that he had Coretta Scott King bumped off to give him a good liberal-conciliatory opening bit?

NEXT: Tim Kaine, RIP

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  1. Hey, have any conspiracy-mongering Bush-bashers spread the idea that he had Coretta Scott King bumped off to give him a good liberal-conciliatory opening bit?

    Are you suggesting he didn’t? He probably had the same secret agent that Clinton used to bump off Vince Foster to get the job done.

  2. “Encouraging kids to take more math and science courses?”

    Science? Intelligent Design, that’s a science!

    See, the people who prea…er…teach Intelligent Design even told us it’s science, so it must be true!

  3. Apparently on the Democratic Underground, they found out it was that Alito’s confirmation was the final straw.

  4. An “American Competitiveness Initiative”? Doubling federal funding for science research? Encouraging kids to take more math and science courses? I feel more hopeful already!

    Those of us who are scientists and engineers are not, in general, seeing any shortage of engineers and scientists in the job market. Excepting a few hot areas (which tend to shift every few years), we surely don’t have employers beating down our doors. So, uh, tell me again why we need to produce more scientists and engineers?

    Oh, I forgot. It’s because China and India are now producing more engineers than we are. Which has absolutely nothing to do with relative population sizes, and everything to do with how lazy Americans really are.

    Not.

    The big problem with engineers is summed up simply: engineers are some of the lowest paid “smart people” around. Many of them either move into management or another career track to up their salaries after a few years.

    I heard the story about the “shortage” of engineering PhDs, and how there aren’t enough of them to supply academia. Once I actually got my PhD in engineering I found that tenure track faculty openings routinely have 400 applicants and up….I’ve heard of over 800 for some openings.

    In fact, the only “shortage” of PhDs is for approved, PC minorities and women. Meanwhile us white males are the minority nobody wants.

    So let’s see. Bush (and every other president in recent history) is going to increase the supply of engineers, depressing salaries even more, which will further discourage people from becoming engineers.

    Washington will never get a clue.

  5. You aren’t seriously suggesting that a 78 year-old died of natural causes, are you?

  6. I haven’t noticed any problem with either the pay or job prospects for engineers. I know my company has a heck of a time recruiting and reatinaing them because the market is so tight right now.

  7. What Kahn said.

    In addition, what the tech companies REALLY want is cheap foreign labor. H1-B visas are their wet dream. Foreign scientists and engineers get treated like indentured servants. Their pay is pitiful and they practically can’t leave their job. There are more than enough Americans with the educations to do tech jobs; the tech companies just don’t want to pay them shit!

  8. Kahn is right, particularly with respect to science.

    Training 100,000 new scientists and engineers may sound like a good idea, but it isn’t. This is the track we have been taking for some time, and it is falling apart. Why? Because we have a mis-match between trainees and jobs. It is particularly bad in the sciences, where unemployment is at all time highs, and that is not even counting the ever-expanding “post-doc” phase of a scientists career.

    If you do not know what a post-doc is, imagine after grinding through six years of 14 hour days in grad school on a substistence-level wage, you are rewarded with a “job” which consists of several more years (often changing location at least twice) with the same hours and only marginally better pay. Typically, pay is around $35,000. Scientists now are working well into their early thirties before they can expect to earn a salary which is enough to buy a house, save, or support a family.

    Worse yet, few companies are hiring in the states, as science can be outsourced to cheaper countries. After all, the “product” of science is information, which knows no borders. If you want an example, go to General Electric’s career page and do a job search for a “chemist”. Stare in awe at the waves of openings in Shanghai and Bangalore.

    Not surprisingly, American students are fleeing science. Doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and many other professions make more money over their lifetimes and start getting paid at younger ages. Even BS-level engineers now have comparable lifetime earnings, if you figure in taxes. Of course, they also have the advantage of getting paid at 23 rather than 33. If the government wants more American-born scientists, it has to quit training scientists and instead starting hiring them at rewarding salaries. There is no way around this.

    To: Stormy Dragon. There are thousands of brilliant post-docs running around, working for low salaries and few benefits. There is your gold mine. Don’t be like the typical CEO and say these people aren’t out there, just because they haven’t trained in the precise skill-of-the-week you are looking for. These people are almost universally highly intelligent and hard working.

  9. Math and science education:

    It is pretty simple here. The pay system for teachers has to be changed. Trying to pay elementary teachers the same as physics teachers has clearly failed, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the unions are starting to concede this point. Every student in middle-school and high-school should be taught math and science by someone with at least a BS math, science, or engineering. We should pay whatever it takes to get these types of people into our schools. I would be a teacher myself if it wasn’t for the absurd union-controlled pay schedules.

    Also, as there are dozens of applicants for most elementary position nowadays, it is clear we can set the bar higher. Make them all take at least two real science classes at university. By “real”, I mean ones with math. It sure isn’t helping our kids when their first few teachers are all people who avoided math and science at all cost.

  10. My reaction to pushes for government initiatives in science and technology education is that they are among the worst forms of corporate welfare. By and large, the companies calling for it are doing quite well, and the surplus graduates are among the highest paid. If there is a need for incentives to get more employees into the field, the employers should be able to manage it themselves.

    As for H1B visas — just as with all immigration — the caps and limits should be eliminated. Preventing US companies’ drawing upon the supply of technical graduates from other nations, while taxing janitors to pay for the education of highly paid and presumably highly demanded workers domestically, is plain old protectionism — the kind that the president decried a few minutes prior.

  11. I agree with you Mike. Let’s let them all in. I can better compete with a Chinese scientist living in the US than I can with one living in Shanghai, where the cost of living is but a fraction of what it is anywhere in the states. Essentially, we should be letting in any highly-educated person who isn’t an obvious security threat. It is better to have them with us, pay taxes to our nation and usually our companies, than having them paying taxes to some foreign power. The brain drain is a blessing. We shouldn’t be giving it up.

    I agree, the government has really mucked things up with the supply/demand balance of scientists. Things would be better if they hadn’t messed around with it in the first place. If the US government wants American scientists, then create jobs specifically for us with good pay and benefits. If that is done, some of us will step up to the plate. However, for the love of God, quit “training” people for jobs that do not exist.

  12. madscribe,

    The outsourcing of legal services to India has already started. I read an article a while ago about the outsourcing of brief writing to Ivy-educated Indian lawyers for approximately $25/hour. These people live like Kings in India, with many servants and large estates. Meanwhile, it is very, very hard to maintain a middle class lifestyle in the U.S. billing anything less than $100 per hour (unless you want to work 100 hours a week to live a middle class lifestyle).

    That said, lawyers, like doctors have two things going for them that others don’t:

    1) Some parts of their jobs require physical presence, like litigators (for doctors, surgeons). That part will never be “out-sourced”.

    2) They have strong, historical political lobbies that have procured mercantilist favors from the government in the form of licensure, which include certain requirements that will diminish the ability to out-source.

    Look for this to be a big fight in the future, especially with state bar associations lobbying vigorously for all kinds of things that sound reasonable, but are really protectionist policies in disguise. They’ll follow the AMA’s playbook, which has been successful beyond belief.

  13. There seems to be a common belief that high schools and middle schools simply need someone with a degree in the subject area in order to teach the subject effectively. In doing some research for a paper on teacher qualifications,I encountered a recent study that indicated that subject area coursework has only a slight impact on student success in math, and a barely noticeable effect on other subjects. It is assumed as well that people with extensive coursework in science and math choose not to enter teaching because of the pay scale, and the research does not back that up. Many of the concerns center around location, student discipline, opportunity costs, and personal experiences in school. Raising the pay of teachers in whatever field may get some few more into the field, but it will not keep them there. An example: our biology teacher just quit after Christmas to take a government chemist position, not because of salary, but because she does not have to teach reading strategies, deal with IEP’s and parents, attend pointless training sessions and faculty meetings, or deal with increasing disrespect from ignorant adolescents.

  14. There’s no shame in being a well-educated (BA/BS or more) and being unable to solve quadratic formulae and complex geometry problems. Calculators can solve almost any math problem that you will be confronted with on a given day. The important things that are taught in math and science classes are the Scientific method and a rational, skeptical world view. Ideally, these two basic ideas are enough to arm your average citizen for a productive life. I don’t understand people who claim that everyone needs to be a philomath.

  15. “STUDIED MORE MATH AND SCIENCE, and now I’m back to my former salary level.”

    What exactly did you study, Madscribe ? I’m really curious. I see a lot of colleagues doing mid-career continuing education, but its never a sure thing ie not all have been able to capitalize afterwards.

  16. An example: our biology teacher just quit after Christmas to take a government chemist position, not because of salary, but because she does not have to teach reading strategies, deal with IEP’s and parents, attend pointless training sessions and faculty meetings, or deal with increasing disrespect from ignorant adolescents.

    The majority of new teachers leave within the first five years, and according to a srruvey in a teacher’s union magazine I read a few years back, “low salary” was at the bottom of their complaint list; the more serious complaints were exactly what Steve listed here. Well, that and “Lack of support from the administration.”

  17. Well, low pay and all the other crap will keep me out of teaching. I’m certainly not about to waste a year or so of my life getting a credential. If anything, I’m overqualified to teach high school math and science. Why the hell should I have to get a stupid credential? Protectionism, that’s why.

    Also, to clarify my above statement concerning H1-B visas. I object to the visa requirements, not to competing against foreign-born workers residing in the US without such restrictions.

  18. Steve M: Actually, there is essentially no quantifiable attribute that has much of an impact on student learning, and as far as I have seen, no evidence at all that there are long-term impacts due to having a “good” teacher.

    There is a wonderful chapter in Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” that talks about the role of genetics with respect to intelligence and other behaviors. We know that about half of the variance is genetic. So what is the other half? Well, surprisingly, it is NOT parents, who make almost no measurable difference. The same is true with schools. Kids seem to turn out the way they were destined to, despite good or bad teachers and parents.

    Having intelligent teachers won’t cause miracles put it sure can’t hurt – especially among our brightest students, who are demonstratably well behind those of other nations. How is a top 1% student supposed to learn from teachers who know less than the student does?

  19. Chad, I’m not as convinced about genetic determinism as you are. Being the (male) “Lisa Simpson” of my family of idiots, I’d have to conclude that biology and cognitive hard wiring are not such set-in-stone factors, considering my level and academic and professional accomplishment compared to my “In Need of a Good Eugenics Program” siblings. I believe genetics, barring major physical disabilities, is more of a floor than a ceiling.

    Quasibill, I’ve done quite a bit research on “legal offshoring”, particularly in regards to IP, and your points are well taken. I think paralegals stand to lose more than attorneys, initially. If a company can send analysis overseas to actual attorneys for a fraction of what many paralegals in America charge and earn, I think the vocational handwriting is on the wall.

  20. Bush should encourage kids to make sure their parents are rich and powerful, so they can get into Yale.

  21. What is mysterious about the nature vs nurture debate, to me, is the startling conclusion that whatever the “environmental” fraction is, it is not the most obvious things – parents and teachers. If it is not these, what is it? “Culture”? Peer groups? Chemicals in the environment?

    For example, it is well known that identical twins have lots of similarities in intelligence and temperment, even when raised separately. What is less well known is that there is almost no difference in variance between twins raised apart and twins raise together. In other words, twins raised together are essentially no more alike than twins raised apart. The same holds for fraternal twins or normal siblings. Likewise, adopted siblings have barely any more correlation than two strangers from that society plucked randomly off the street.

    This is a true scientific mystery, and a rather depressing one at that.

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