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United States Science

US Losing its Scientific Dominance 1382

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the science-of-war-still-going-strong dept.
ScaredSilly writes "The New York Times is reporting that the US is losing its dominance in the sciences. They cite lowering research budgets, increased military spending and 'reverse brain-drain': fewer techies staying in the US after school. I personally think that our comparatively crappy K-12 educational system, and an increased dominance of military research over core scientific research plays a big role. (It's easy to get DARPA, DoD and DoE funding, but difficult to get NSF funding). What do you folks think?"
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US Losing its Scientific Dominance

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  • by NinjaPablo (246765) <ninjapablo AT smashtech DOT net> on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:19AM (#9039097) Homepage Journal
    The education system in this country is a mess. Sure there's a few bright spots here and there, but for the most part it has fallen apart into arguments of political correctness, violence, and debates over evolution vs. creation. More school funding is given to non-science activities such as sports, instead of funding a new science lab.
    • by millahtime (710421) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:25AM (#9039133) Homepage Journal
      I don't believe it's where the funding goes that's the big problem. I came from a school district that had pleanty of money for all areas. It just wasn't cool to be smart. The smart kids go teased and beat up. Who wants that.

      There is also an increase in laziness in the US. Kids today don't want to work hard for anything. Just take the easy road. I know because they are my friends. They think I am nuts for reading and working hard at things.

      So, in K-12 education it's not cool to be smart and you get torn into if you are added with the US laziness equals less qualified people to do the jobs

      Example: in college engineering 4 of the top 5 students were foreign. Either Arabic or Asian.
      • by minotaurcomputing (775084) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:39AM (#9039240) Homepage Journal
        "It just wasn't cool to be smart. The smart kids go teased and beat up."

        How is this a new phenomena?

        • by Perl-Pusher (555592) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:05AM (#9039422)
          I went to High School in the seventies, the class valedictorian was by far the most respected student there. He was not in any sports but was the nicest guy in the entire school. He is now our family doctor. Things are different today, it's not that we didn't have some of the same things going on. But today it's just more extreme. People got beat up in school or about something that happened at school that never got settled, not often but it happened. Today people get killed in school,not often but it happens. There is a big difference. The popular songs talked about alot of things. Sex, drugs, love etc. Now I hear songs that talk about popping a cap in someones ass. Or a dead girl friend in the trunk. Things are different, while alot of themes are similiar, it's just alot more extreme.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 03, 2004 @12:37PM (#9041608)
          I did my highschool and undergrad in India. Back there, the people who were respected were not the jocks or the cool guys, but the smart ones and the toppers.

          People looked upto the guy who went to science fairs and won prizes, and the guy who could solve differential equations by graphs.

          Coolness was not a factor - how geniune a person you were and how smart a person you were was what mattered. Social life was not a function of how well you pretended or how well you could throw a ball - it was a function of who you were as a person.

          Geek and nerd were used as complimentary terms - the smart ones were called "genes" or "genies", a friendly term respecting their intelligence and skills.

          I come here and notice that being smart or good is being made fun of - this, despite the fact that I'm in one of the US's top engineering schools. The ones with the social life are the ones who show off or the ones who throw ball. Even here, being really smart or nerdy is looked down. People do not respect the need for some of us to be introverted and reclusive, and people are branded as obnoxious or stereotyped as nerds or geeks, most often in a derogatory manner.

          Am I bitter? Absolutely.

          I come from an environment where both my parents went to grad school, half the people in my family are PhDs and my uncle is a quantum physicist at CERN. When I was in middle and high school, I wanted to be a physicist or a mathematician. Social life was not an issue, it was always a given.

          I thought that the US would be a haven for scientists and engineers, but I come here and see that except for some people in the academia, people do not really respect science. People like to use the work that scientists do, but do not like them - the populace is either scared or jealous of really smart people.

          The haven that is equal for all that America once was is gone - today, all that I see is people who are scared of most foreigners, and people who discrimate against the very smart ones in your own country.

          People like Jack Valenti are willing to sacrifice the rights of the smartest of America for the profits of a few. People want to justify that not going to school and getting experience is somehow better than people who work their asses through grad school. Money is your new God and Television is all that America seeks.

          The guy who used to sit next to me in class and had won International Math and Physics Olympiad championships got a fellowship at CMU, but dropped out because his research needed defence approval. He is now in Tel Aviv working on the same stuff, with no hassles whatsoever.

          As I write this, I see an ad on TV advertising for ITT Technical Institute saying how they will change your life, and saying how a career in IT will get you the hot babes and the cool cars. Is that why you want to do science? I wanted to do science because I loved science. I wanted to do science because since childhood, I enjoyed doing it. I did not do it because I wanted the cool cars or the hot babes (although, I did know that I will have a better salary than most and that did help a little).

          If you want to set your system straight, look at the problems. Make sure the next generation knows that science and engineering saves lives and improves our quality of living. Throwing a ball does not matter, its not going to pay your bills when you are 40 and has no more entertainment value than a clown. Actors and entertainment artists are given importance. I do not see people going to Orchestras, I see people flocking to Britney Spears.

          I grew up in an environment where USSR was India's friend, and had Russian comics. Misha was a popular one, and all the kids in my generation wanted to be like Yuri Gargarin. We all wanted to be as smart as Einstein. Kids wrote essays about winning the Nobel Prize. We grew up in an environment where our parents and teachers helped us make Tesla coils in our middle school, so that they can demonstrate the effects of electricity.

          My school libr
          • Mandatory education (Score:5, Interesting)

            by garyrich (30652) on Monday May 03, 2004 @02:15PM (#9042803) Homepage Journal
            "I did my highschool and undergrad in India."

            By high school in India all the people that don't want to learn have dropped out. US schools are chock full of people that have no interest in learning and no ability to learn. The "average" student in an Indian english language high school is already the geek elite.
          • by HiThere (15173) * <charleshixsn AT earthlink DOT net> on Monday May 03, 2004 @03:06PM (#9043416)
            Don't be bitter. Just realize that in only a few decades your society will be far more wealthy than this one. Get you education, and go home with the prestige that supplies, and get yourself a good job in a country that's on the way up, not on the way down.

            The US has always had a tendency to be anti-intellectual. It once didn't matter much, as things were simple enough that most people could understand them and make the correct decision. Now absolutely nobody can, and those who can face this are abused by those who can't. We can't even hope for enclaves that aren't polluted, as the only such groups are 1) those who neither watch TV nor listen to the radios (possibly the newspapers also figure in here, but they are a much weaker influence) and 2) those who are impervious to being influenced, because they already felt that way.

            The first group is divided into those who voluntarily isolate themselves from society and those who are coerced into isolation (e.g., children of Memmonites). Neither the first nor the second group make suitable leaders for a civilization. And so we are left with those whose personalities and view of the world are shaped by TV and other popular media. Which, examination quickly reveals, is a very poor model of actual reality.

      • by kryonD (163018) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:47AM (#9039317) Homepage Journal
        I think the laziness factor is the big one. I went to the Naval Academy, supposedly an institution that only accepts America's brightest well rounded "leaders of the future" and I lost count of the number of times I heard statements like "2.0 and go" or "Poli-Sci and fly."

        The real wake up call was getting stationed in Japan and travelling around SE Asia. I simply couldn't believe the work ethics I saw. You can make all the jokes you want about Japan producing mindless robots, but the guys who worked for me didn't just stay after hours until the job was done, they stayed until the job was done right. Most of them were pretty damned creative and willing to try new things too.

        I've always been impressed with America's ability to fight back to the top when we realize we are the underdog. The question simply is, when are we going to wake up?
        • by dnoyeb (547705) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:09AM (#9039455) Homepage Journal
          "c me and free me" was the saying at my school. But this has always been the way, its not a new trend.

          We know Japanese work long hours. We also know they don't work nearly as hard as Americans.

          I do not agree that laziness is a major issue, as much as greed. Management is the number one issue.

          Managers or CEOs make almost exclusively short term decisions to make themselves look better; Then they leave for a better job before the piper has to be paid.

          America is capitalist, but we are becomming short term only capitalist. Mortgaging our future on almost every single issue.
          • by MrAndrews (456547) <> on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:26AM (#9039565) Homepage
            We know Japanese work long hours. We also know they don't work nearly as hard as Americans

            I can't say I have actual numbers for this, but in my experience, both Americans and Japanese put the same amount of energy into their work. Where you see a difference is the mentality that their work must be done right and on time... in Japan, the greater-good mentality pushes everyone to work as hard and as fast as they can. In America, the individualism approach tends to make the over-achievers work harder, and the rest just cruise along at mediocrity.

            Looking at the broader picture, I think that in a lot of cases, the American school and support system for sciences probably produces a lot of very talented people, but they're less interested in serving the country that helped them than they are in furthering their careers (by moving abroad etc). Which is not a bad thing. In a choice between having a stable life working for a foreign company and staying at home and living in uncertainty, any well-educated talented person would have to choose stability.

            It's a question of making the work environment at home more friendly to talent.

          • by RickHunter (103108) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:46AM (#9039711)

            Note that, to avoid flames from the Manager-Apologist camp, one has to explicitly point out what the problem is. Management makes short-term decisions, which means they completely ignore the long-term. Thus, instead of spending money on basic research, or even any research at all, they spend it on marketing campaigns, creative accounting, and themselves.

        • by gfxguy (98788) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:34AM (#9039612)
          Life is just a series of decisions. People have become so split in the U.S. it's amazing we can accomplish anything at all. On the one side, you have people who work and try to prove themselves by doing the best job possible, and you have those for whom existence is all they need. Then sometimes you have people like me with contrary goals - want to work and get ahead, but also want to spend as much time with my family (and doing my own things) as possible.

          Recently, right here on Slashdot, we had a lot of discussion about the 35 hour work week. I don't remember how it came about, or what the main topic was, but I got into a lengthy discussion about how I abhorred the very idea - if I wanted to work hard to get ahead, and sometimes that means working more than 40 hours (with no extra compensation, just the desire to do the best job I can), then please let me do so. We don't need the government restricting how many hours I can work.

          I was actually met with resistence. A lot of people don't want to get ahead. They want to get by, and if they can do it at 35 hours a week, then they'd be happy if the government stepped in and required that employers cannot have people working more than 35 hours. Meaning that it's not optional. The government has already decided that 40 hours defines the workweek, and anything more is overtime... now some people want a maximum number of hours allowed to be set.

          I don't know where everyone else works, but people where I work do plenty of overtime (mostly compensated, I'm the only one in my department on salary). They don't do it just for the money, they do it because we have drop-dead deadlines and they need to finish things, but what amazes me is, even after a long day and the possibility of overtime, they will nit-pick about things that most other people wouldn't notice and they spend time fixing every little problem they possibly can.

          I know it's probably the exception to the rule, but I wanted to point out the contrast that you can see... we're becomming the nation that shuns hard work and belittles those that work hard as "tools."
        • From a teacher (Score:5, Insightful)

          by peyley (776476) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:43AM (#9039678)
          Work ethic is one of the biggest predictors of student success. For years, I have helped students who have it succeed and those who are lacking it fail (no matter how many meetings, chances, extra help, etc I give.) Unfortunately, it is a moral taught by parents, and the school system has little impact in that area. I am never surprised when I meet the parents of a failing student and find that the parents are no different from the student. I guess breeding is everything.
          • Re:From a teacher (Score:5, Insightful)

            by gfxguy (98788) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:47AM (#9040277)
            Well, as a teacher, maybe you can give us the other side of the view as a lot of us hard working parents see it; the schools foster the public correctness and equality, they don't foster individual achievement. This fosters the belief in the nanny system, whereby you don't have to work hard if you think the government will ultimately take care of you.

            Examples: child enters first grade with his brand new notebook, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, crayons, glue, tape, etc. First day in class teacher collects everything and hands it out on an as needed basis because not everybody in the class can afford all the supplies they need.

            That is NOT how real life works. I know it's not every school that does this, but it happens and it's wrong, and does not teach a student how to succeed. It also subtly influences children is ways you might not think at first - the child realizes that his parents may work extra hard to give him what he wants and needs, but the other kids parents do not - yet they are receiving the same necessesities. In other words, you don't have to work to get what you need.

            In GA, where the idiot superintendent of schools recently wanted to change "evolution" to "biological changes over time", we have what they call the HOPE scholorship. You need minimum grades to get it. A majority of teachers are found to be guilty of grade-inflation simply so that they won't be the ones responsible for a child... scratch that, a young adult losing their scholarship.

            Again, what does that teach? That you don't have to work hard to get by.

            In New York you have teachers unions and a lot of parents complaining about grade 3 testing. If the student fails the test ,the student does not get promoted. Now there is outrage about this because it might negatively affect the child. So instead of keeping the child with the group where the child belongs (to learn that material before being promoted), they want the child to move ahead because it might cause the child to have bad feelings about himself and be a recipe for dropping out and not getting an education at all. I can see that side of the argument, but what about all the kids who worked hard and studied - are they to be ladened with the burden of students slowing the whole the class down? What does it teach them? Both the hard working and the underachieving students will learn that you don't need to work hard to keep being promoted.

            I know these aren't the only issues, and I realize that what the child learns at home is probably much more important; that's why I work at least two days a week with my son on learnign (Hooked on Phonics, or writing, for example). In preschool HE read a book to the class. HE helps the other kids learn how to spell and write their names. It's not just stuff like "Hooked on Phonics", but playing games like Monopoly Jr. (counting) and even playing video games with him.

            There are a lot of kids who simply do not want to work hard because they will be thought of as geeks or nerds (hey, we were all there, some of you still), and they won't be "cool." However, there are a lot of subtle (and some not so subtle) bad influences in school.

            There are also too many deviations from core studies. We must never forget the basics: reading, writing, math, history and science. ANYTHING beyond that should not in any way, shape, or manner, take away from that core. Is phys-ed important? Music? Of course, but those things are gravy to the meat and potatos of the core curriculum.

            I could go on about how history is being butchered in the name of political correctness, too. Just keep in mind the famous saying: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (George Santayana)

            Anyway, that's the side of the story from my perspective. I think too much effort is wasted on things that are not core and are, in many ways, detrimental.

            So yeah, it works from both sides, but I guess what I'm really asking is if, as a teacher, do you see a lot of politics revolving around political correctness and how students "feel," and do feel pressure to promote students when they may not otherwise deserve it?
        • by erktrek (473476) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:59AM (#9039858)
          I don't necessarily agree it's the "work ethic" as people here in the US typically work over 40 hrs ( []) and take far less vacation time than other countries. This may in fact be dissolving the basic "family unit" which traditionally has helped guide us through to maturity and success.

          With our techshare diminishing and our workload increasing I think we are the ones who are becoming mindless robots.

          Also I heard an interesting thought from an old interview with Isaac Asimov on PBS - He mentioned that the modern idea of "education" has become something that you "finish" or "complete" rather than pursue throughout your life.

      • by dyefade (735994) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:50AM (#9039326) Homepage Journal
        It just wasn't cool to be smart. The smart kids go teased and beat up.

        Is this actually true? I'm from the UK, and there is a stereotype of the American geek as small, weak, beaten up, no girlfriend etc, but I've wondered if this is accurate.

        In the UK, (at least, in my highly subjective experience) this doesn't happen. I'm really geeky, and am recognised as such, but I've still got a lot of friends/girlfriends/social life, and I, nor any of my friends get "beaten up" or teased for being intelligent/liking science/computers etc.

        Maybe it's a cutural thing?

        • Is this actually true? I'm from the UK, and there is a stereotype of the American geek as small, weak, beaten up, no girlfriend etc, but I've wondered if this is accurate.

          I can tell you from personal experience that this is accurate, at least in high school. But then you grow up and then people realize that nerdiness is a good thing. You get stuff women really want: earning potential and stability.

          In exactly that order.

          • by nikster (462799) on Monday May 03, 2004 @11:27AM (#9040747) Homepage
            i think this is highly interesting. whenever i talk to americans about it, i get the feeling that american high school is hell - a place where the small get bullied, the ugly girls are outcasts, and generally there is mobbing, backstabbing, and most importantly everybody gets judged by an arbitrary and cruel standard. the dark side of the american dream.

            while i am pretty sure that is not all true, in the place where i grew up (Austria, Europe) none of that was an issue. at all. sure, there were people who didn't do well in sports, and people who were uncool (like myself in my later teens for not smoking or drinking or getting any girls) but in general, those people had their place and were never terrorized. we were all part of the group. we had jocks and nerds, but they would hang out together.

            i am sure part of the reason is that the class system is very different: you get a group of 25+ kids, call that a class, and they stay together for 5 years or so, teachers come by to teach classes, and there is very limited choice in subjects. e.g. you spend all your time with the same people. and there are lots of social activities with those people.

            i don't think that explains it though. UK has the same system as america...
        • by StormReaver (59959) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:34AM (#9039613)
          "I'm from the UK, and there is a stereotype of the American geek as small, weak, beaten up, no girlfriend etc, but I've wondered if this is accurate."

          Like all stereotypes, this has an element of truth. In this case, it's a large element of truth. I'll answer each element in turn:

          1) American geeks tend to be smaller and non-violent (I'm 5'8" and 170 pounds, somewhere around "average" to "small"), and tend towards software development because I'm not particularly drawn to physically demanding activities. This in itself is a relative distinction because an overwhelming number of American males in my age group are "large" due to all the huge amounts of extra fat they carry.

          2) When I was growing up in the public school system, I was teased, taunted, picked on, and generally made to be a borderline social outcast because I didn't play sports (which is extremely boring stuff). I tended towards intellectual activities, something which was highly frowned upon by my peers in the U.S. I ended up learning Okinawan Kempo just for the psychological terror it inflicted upon the school bullies. A short demonstration as part of a required class presentation (subject matter was at the student's discretion) was the key to freeing me from the "targets" list.

          3) Not having a girlfriend is hit and miss, as it is in most walks of life in America. Being the brunt of cruelty does a lot to damage one's self-respect, and therefore one's ability to interact with other people and with the opposite sex. Not being a part of the mainstream opens one up to this type of cruelty in America. There is also the matter of a small pool of desirable and available women, part of another very true American stereotype: more Americans than not, of both sexes, are grotesquely fat.

          So yes, it's largely a cultural issue. America has turned into a cesspool of worker bees happy to pull in a small weekly paycheck in exchange for not having to stress their brains too hard.
        • by mike77 (519751) <> on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:42AM (#9039676)
          there is a stereotype of the American geek as small, weak, beaten up, no girlfriend etc, but I've wondered if this is accurate.

          Alot of times it's true. It's the rare case which it isn't. I was/am a geek and am built like a linebacker and played football. I hung out w/ the jocks and the geeks. The biggest problem is that geeks tend to spend most of their time learning/getting better at the intellectual(or whetever) side of things. And believe it or not I think this is the problem. I found that I got lucky and was ok because I worked at the stuff I was bad at, and not what I was good at. I hit the football field, hit the weight room, got to be sociable and know the other side. As a result I was respected by them. The typical geek (and i may get flamed for this but oh well) is somewhat scared/timid, and will retreat to that which they know best and get better at it, and shrink from the rest of the world. In order to change the stereo type, we need to fit in and get better at what we're not good at...

          Anywho, just a long random rant.

          • by infinite9 (319274) on Monday May 03, 2004 @11:49AM (#9041026)
            The typical geek (and i may get flamed for this but oh well) is somewhat scared/timid, and will retreat to that which they know best and get better at it, and shrink from the rest of the world.

            You've hit the nail on the head. I was exactly this way growing up. I avoided a lot of social situations and spent my time around a small group of (equally socially inept) friends.

            I think it's important for men to have a certain quality to their personality that's hard to describe. It's a form of aggression, recklessness, or self-confidence. You have to have the bravery to step up to the plate no matter what you're facing. Because trying matters most, even if you're defeated. You must be willing to put your safety on the line when it matters. That's character. You must also project the image of self-confidence. You must be sure of who you are and how you will allow yourself (and not allow yourself) to be treated by others.

            I wish I had known this when I was growing up. I was smaller than everyone and constantly bullied, because they knew I would back down every time. I wish I could go back and tell that kid that he doesn't have to be bullied. Had I leveled the playing field with a 2x4, maybe I would have won, maybe not. And maybe I would have gotten busted for using a "weapon". But it would have ended the bullying then and there.

            I'm teaching my sons the right way to be and act, so that it never goes that far for them. I'm teaching them to be strong, but compationate, agressive when necessary, but calm and even-handed in all things. In short, I'm not raising a pussy like my parents did.
        • It's true (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Loco3KGT (141999) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:13AM (#9039986)
          In high school i was just mocked incessantly for being a geek. In college I was still mocked occassionally but everyone would be my friend when they needed computer help.

          My last year of college (jan 03-dec 03) I did a social experiment. When I talked with new people I expressed my interests as being motorcycles, mountain biking, that I was a Business Management student (I am), etc, but I never mentioned computers.

          Not only did girls stop asking me to fix their computers all of the time, I started getting laid.
      • by bwalling (195998) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:34AM (#9039617) Homepage
        It just wasn't cool to be smart. The smart kids go teased and beat up. Who wants that.

        There is also an increase in laziness in the US. Kids today don't want to work hard for anything. Just take the easy road. I know because they are my friends. They think I am nuts for reading and working hard at things.

        We send our kids to school expecting the schools to overcome our culture. Our culture is lazy. Our culture values television, movies, and sports over intelligence. Parents inadvertently raise their kids to be lazy and to have no interest in learning. Parents don't think smart is cool - they think beauty or athleticism is cool. That passes right on to their kids.

        I just finished reading The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (a collection of various things Feynman said). When he was a kid, his father used to teach him to learn by teaching him to question everything. Instead of just saying "that bird is a robin", he would ask what makes that bird different that the other birds. They would then observe the bird's behavior and try to deduce reasons for what it was doing.

        Example: in college engineering 4 of the top 5 students were foreign. Either Arabic or Asian.

        These are cultures that value hard work and discipline. Sure, you can make the stereotype that Asians are smarter. It's not likely that they are genetically smarter. It's much more likely that they are raised with different values.

        We need to start embracing responsibility and discipline. We need to start valuing hard work over luck. There is much reward in working hard and accomplishng great things. Everyone is all about the almighty dollar and not about accomplishment.
    • by jtwJGuevara (749094) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:36AM (#9039212)
      More school funding is given to non-science activities such as sports, instead of funding a new science lab.

      Because sports brings both money and recognition back to the school and increases the public image. What does the science lab do? It costs a hell of a lot of money with no return for the school system (at least in a short term/micro view) . Schools want to be viewed as prestigious institutions, and the number one way to do that is through athletics. Just look in your local daily newspaper. In all of the sections count the number of stories related to high schools in all of non-sports sections that are positive stories. Then, flip to the sports section and read how many stories/reports there are about local area high schools. The ratio is going to be immensly in the favor of sports stories. Local people couldn't care less what their children are learning in their coursework in school. To them, school is just another hoop to jump through for their children to move forward in the real world. Sports on the other hand gets their children and their organizations on the front page of a newspaper section and on the nightly news. When the local sports team does well, the community gains in recognition and prestige. It's no wonder that the money goes to sports and not real education... it's what the community wants.

    • by andy1307 (656570) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:42AM (#9039275)
      Public school education is just part of the problem. Specifically: the lowering of standards and the dumbing down of kids.

      The real problem is lack of parental involvement. If you aren't doing what it takes to ensure your own kid reaches his potential, you can't blame the public school system.

      • by DarkBlackFox (643814) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:31AM (#9040115)
        I'm inclined to agree. I'm fresh out of high school, and I can assure anyone here that legislation like the "No Child Left Behind" act are complete crap, and are weighing down the education system.

        Our school had a level system, level 1 being honors, level 2, accelerated, level 3 general, level 4, special needs. When students started failing out of level 4 (which is as basic material as you can get, essentially ABCs, and basic math), they didn't attempt to address why the students were failing. Instead, they created level 5, where the students essentially sit there. In addition, they spent a bunch of money on a program where these failing students would learn by computer. They would get a quick electronic lesson, then were presented with a quick multiple choice quiz. If they passed these courses with a reasonable grade within 3 months, they got a high school diploma, with the same recognition as a regular student who passed all level 1 courses with straight A's.

        Seems more schools these days are more concerned with sheer numbers- number of graduates and grades vs. quality of education.
    • by SerpentMage (13390) <> on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:43AM (#9039281)
      I would not blame Public Education entirely...

      What disappoints me about the US is its screwed up immigration policy. I am University educated and hold a degree in technology. Classically what the US would like. I once tried to immigrate, but learned that all I could get is an H1B. The H1B would allow me in the US while I might get a greencard. I looked at that and said no way as I would like to build a life.

      Then I read Business Week and read the article, "Aliens: A little less alientated". Essentially it talks about how illegal aliens can get bank accounts, driver's licenses, mortgages, etc. I just read that and shook my head. I am not shaking my head at the aliens, but the fact that the aliens get so many rights. On the one hand I want to do things by the book and become part of society. Then I read the way to do it is become an illegal alien in the US. IT JUST DOES MAKE SENSE...

      • by KingJoshi (615691) <> on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:37AM (#9039635) Homepage
        I mentioned this before. I came (age 5) to the US because my dad came here to study. I went through the schooling system and graduated early and finished second in the class (my sister was valedictorian), yet I couldn't get any scholarships to public undergraduate schools. Even though they happily took taxes from my parents for years, I'm still considered "international" for all fees. And due to technicalities, I can't get a Research Assistantship or Teaching Assistantship but only fellowships. But most fellowships go to US citizens and residents, of which I'm neither.

        I'm just very lucky that my parents lived dirt poor and worked long hours to save money for my education. And though I've lived here for almost 20 years, I'll probably be leaving and doing my PhD in another country.

        For those that are wondering, I came here on a J-2 visa (which has requirements on going back to your home country and so forth). If I had come illegally, I'd have many less legal issues. There are many well-meaning laws that have many unintended consequences...
    • Blame Public Parents (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kpharmer (452893) * on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:31AM (#9039590)
      The problem isn't entirely schools and teachers. Sure, they can be contributors - but like most problems there are multiple factors.

      The single, largest factor is the child's immediate social group. Typically starting with parents, branching out to siblings, then to cousins & friends. If this social group puts no value on an education, does not read, is not curious - then the child is almost guaranteed not to develop much intellectually. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but just that.

      And the parents can almost completely compensate for a poor school system if they want, here's how:

      1. restrict all non-productive distractions. This includes television, gameboys, and computer games. In my household there is ZERO broadcast television, ZERO non-public radio, ZERO gameboys, and about 2-4 hours of computer games a week. Some folks think this is hard it isn't - you especially realize this when you find that your children never beg for toys around christmas time - they just don't see the commercials.

      2. read stories to your children every day. There's a wealth of great children's literature, and I have yet to find a pack of boys that could resist for a moment a reading of Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Once the television is off, once you start reading the good stuff, and there butts will be solidly planted. You can give them paper & pencils to draw with as well. BTW, I'd consider the fun authors to read: Roald Dahl, Kipling, EB White, Grahame, Mary Norton, Sid Fleischman, Elenor Estes, Joan Aiken, Louis Sachar, Walter Brooks, etc. Oh yeah, and if you've waited until your kids are 15 to start this it might not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it's too late.

      3. Provide them books as gifts
      4. Fill the house with books
      5. Spend time with them at the library every week
      6. Help the children find interesting ways to approach homework
      7. Encourage good grades (with allowances tied to grades, etc)
      8. Pursue your imagination with them: just do things that are fun and interesting that they can learn from: - bulid a trebuchet - travel to a foreign country - every night read a poem - join a story-telling group - just use your imagination I've got two boys that are in the top of their class in a pretty good school system. We never pushed them - we simply read to them. That's all it took. Once their imaginations were engages the rest happened all of its own.

      The single biggest reason that most children leave school with a poor education - is probably that their parents assumed that they could simply "out-source" the responsibility of education to an institution. I suppose this is a recursion problem isn't it?
    • by dculp (669961) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:39AM (#9039652)
      This is coming from the perspective of a middle school science teacher. Our educational system is not to blame, it is not perfect, but it is a good one. Our society is to blame for the lowering importance of education and the failure of students to succeed. . This post is not meant to be an explanation of why these events our happening, only a post of my observations.

      In my school and in my teaching career I meet very few teachers who do not care passionately about education and work as hard as they can to educate students in their chosen area of education. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Those teachers who are bad teachers generally get run out of the business.

      You cannot properly educate a child who simply does not want to be educated and has no driving force behind him. Students today simply do not care about their education. Nearly all of the students who are discipline problems have one thing in common, they have apathetic parents. One of the most frustrating things for me as a teacher is dealing with parents who simply do not care. I have been told "Hey, he is your problem while he is at school" by parents. I also have difficulty in finding parents in many cases. When the parents do not care enough to discipline their child at home for behaviors at school there is absolutely nothing you can do to the child at school. What most people do not realize is that teachers have no power over students except that power which students give to the teachers. If you suspend a student it does no good if he doesn't care and his parents do not care. Once the suspension is over he is back at school disrupting the education of students who are actually there to learn something.

      This would not be so bad if students and parents like this were the exception; however, they are quickly becoming the norm in today's schools. Most parents simply want to send their kids off to school and forget about them for the time they are there. I spend my days battling rude, disruptive and apathetic students rather than teaching. The sad thing is, that these students will grow up without a good education and then blame the "system" for not giving it to them. I have students from other countries where a free education is not guaranteed to you and their school s do not have textbooks, computers, even running water who marvel at the American students and wonder why they are pissing this wonderful opportunity for a free education away.

      I also teach another class of students, our district has a special program for the brightest of the bright. All students who qualify for the program come to our school where the curriculum is accelerated and depth and complexity is added to suit the needs of these students. I can tell you the main difference in these students as compared with the regular students, without fail they have parents who are actively involved in their lives and truly care about them. I have no difficulty getting in contact with these parents; in fact, they will usually contact me first. These parents are the ones who actually show up to parent-teacher conference night, open house and attend games and concerts their kids are in. These parents take an active role in their child's life. These parents go out of their way to accommodate their children.

      Do not take this as meaning I hate my job, I love my job and can never see me doing anything else. However, it can be extremely frustrating at times. I have much more to say on this subject and did not come anywhere close to voicing my actual and complete views on the subject, however, it is time to go to work. Perhaps tonight when I get home I will expand on the post.

      David Culp
  • by kidventus (649548) * on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:19AM (#9039098) Homepage Journal
    from the DOD and other areas because they have modernized their websites and bid / awards area. Most likely this is because of the money they receive from the government, but running a small scientific firm I know that I get at least four mailings about how to apply for DOD grants for scientific research while I get none from any other government agency. I have appled for grants through NSA and others so they have our company information. I think science in general in the public sector is poor. The whole thing, from NASA to NSA to their websites looks like it was developed with the 1960's in mind. Beyond medical and geographic reasearch, public scientific information and research is very limited.
    • by call -151 (230520) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:55AM (#9039347) Homepage
      The NSF Fastlane website [] (you need an account set up by your campus/organization Sponsored Reseach Office to see anything, though) is modern and reasonably efficient. You upload proposals, check on their status, file reports, make budget requests all in a reasonable way. I have NSF funding and can't say anything about applying for DOD or NSA grants, but for the NSF, Fastlane works well and is quite efficient. People complain about NSF but it is a massive improvement over the old (send 15 copies of your 150-page grant application in this very specific format, and make a table of contents by hand please, and a bunch of other tedious junk...) It's not the webpages that are sending people elsewhere to look for grant funding. It's the fact that these grants are very hard to get, and even top researchers with excellent track records of doing things with funding are not getting grants. It seems like a greater fraction of the NSF money is used for certain programs inspired by the latest trends, and there is less money for the less glamorous "basic research" that fuels scientific progress.

      The NSF grant search website [] is far more primitive than Fastlane, but if you haven't used it to see who has NSF grants at your institution, it can be revealing. A good way to search is to look for "investigator contains" and "start date after 1-1-2002" to find people at UCLA who have recent grants, though only the PI's email addresses are listed under investigator, so that won't find grants where the UCLA person is a "co-principal investigator." But it's a good start.

  • Post 9/11 syndrome? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Colonel Sponsz (768423) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:20AM (#9039102)
    I wonder if the post-9/11 paranoia has something to do with it?
    One of the US's major strengths in research has always been the ability to attract top scientists from all over the world, but with the more and more draconian immigration and visa laws it's becoming harder and harder for foreign scientists to work in the US...
    • by KingJoshi (615691) <> on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:33AM (#9039189) Homepage
      The article mentioned that there has been a 25% dropoff of international students since 9/11 for graduate school. I have met people that had to wait a year(s) to get his visa. Many decide that the benefit of coming to the US is not worth the hassle.

      But if you had RTA, you'd also notice that the trend had been going for many years prior to then. So you can only blame the Bush administration little (if at all, for it had been happening prior to them ever coming to office).
    • by Angry Toad (314562) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:44AM (#9039288)

      I'd put a lot of it down to the post-9/11 environment. They would have to dump a truckload of money on me before I'd even think about moving to the US anymore. This isn't antiamericanism - I'd honestly just be scared witless to live there as a foreign national - one no longer has any obvious legal rights. From what I've seen it is apparently quite possible to be thrown in jail for years at a time with no representation, no rights, no due process, etc.

      Gah - thanks but no thanks.

  • Campus... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hot_Karls_bad_cavern (759797) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:21AM (#9039107) Journal
    If you are on a university campus this morning...take a look around; it's no big suprise. Even more so, sit in on some general credit classes...or hell, *simple* college math courses. That's not to say those on higher levels aren't there, but damn, it just seems as though there is a huge influx of...just well, morons. Graduating too many highschoolers thinking they are headed for 13th grade. Sad really....we have so much potential to do better, but we can't get the fucking congress to fund education to the top of the list. We'll get our paybacks soon enough :(
    • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot AT keirstead DOT org> on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:26AM (#9039144) Homepage
      Every year there is a huge influx of morons into first year.

      And also, every year there is a huge *outflux* of morons from first and second years who finally realize they can't hack it.

      Every decent university sees this. They encourage it. Hell most overbook themselves on the basis that only 65% of students stay past their first year.

      The reason? Why turn away a morons first year tution? :P
    • Re:Campus... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by queen of everything (695105) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:28AM (#9039155) Homepage

      In public schools teachers are encouraged not to fail students who can't perform, it will make them feel bad about themselves. Who cares if a high school senior can't hardly read, let's graduate him just so that the school can maintain its 97% graduation rate. The majority of high school graduates go on to higher education. Do they deserve to? I don't think so but that's a different discussion. These are the people that are our future. I can't say I'm surprised that the US is falling behind in the scientific arena.

      I remember my college physics classes and half the class didn't understand basic algebra yet they were going to major in physics. If I were a scientist, I'd go somewhere else to research too.

      • Re:Campus... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mephie (582671) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:10AM (#9039462) Homepage
        Another, more recent, thing adding to this is policies like No Child Left Behind. It sounds like a great idea and a good way to motivate schools to concentrate on making sure kids are learning what they need to learn. Unfortunately, the sad reality is it simply causes schools to lower their standards such that ANY kid will pass.

        A friend of my mother's is a teacher in the public school system in Georgia. The state of education in GA is not great to begin with, but still. This teacher has actually been informed that she cannot fail a student as long as the student shows up for class. Regardless of whether he or she does the work or falls asleep, as long as the student is present, they pass. Otherwise, the school loses funding.

        Sadly, the poor performance of public school tends to widen the class gap. Public schools perform poorly so those who can afford to send their children to expensive private schools. Those kids get what's regarded as a better education at K-12, which gives them a better chance to get in to what is regarded as a better University. Graduating gives them a shot at a better paying job, and the cycle begins anew.

        This is not to say that most of these kids don't deserve the acceptance to a better Uni (most.. I'd bet everyone knows someone who probably didn't deserve it), or that even a kid from a poor school can't get in to a good university; they can. But at the same time, I had someone from the admissions office at a highly regarded University in North Carolina once tell me that a 4.0GPA from one of the local public schools was regarded with less merit than a 3.2 from one of the local private schools. Whether this type of evaluation is general practice, I cannot say, as I've only heard from one person at one university.

    • Math? (Score:5, Funny)

      by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:40AM (#9039251)
      Why would students take math?

      Math causes more problems in public schools than it is worth. Students who do not grasp the concepts have their self esteem suffer and don't feel very good.

      Personally, I believe that math and science courses should be reduced in schools. We could teach more tolerance classes and fire science teachers to buy laptops for kids.

      Laptops can do the math that students can't. Anything that the laptop cannot do can be outsourced to India.
  • by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:21AM (#9039108) Homepage
    11:21am, "MSNBC Looks At Patent Abusers' Victims"
    12:15pm, "US Losing its Scientific Dominance"

    Well duh! Let's spend a load of time doing science, I'm sure we won't have to spend millions on a legal defense when somebody sues us for using an obvious idea...

  • by sczimme (603413) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:27AM (#9039150)

    "We stand at a pivotal moment," Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, recently said at a policy forum in Washington at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nation's top general science group. "For all our past successes, there are disturbing signs that America's dominant position in the scientific world is being shaken."

    I thought science was the one area where there should be no borders. Why is it so disturbing that other countries are doing well in scientifical-type stuff?

    Mr. Daschle accused the Bush administration of weakening the nation's science base by failing to provide enough money for cutting-edge research.

    Okay - this is ridiculous. The graphs cover 20 years - 1983-2003. Bush has been in office for ~3 years. Explain again how this is his fault...??

    PS I'm not defending Bush - I'm defending basic math skills.

    Oh, and here [] is a link to the printer-friendly version. Kudos to the submitter for including a link to the reg-free version.
  • by binary_life (656759) * on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:29AM (#9039162)
    My family has been working as teachers and staffers in my town's public school system for almost 30 years. In those 30 years, the school budget has been approved only 28 times. No one wants to pay for education. However, people are more than happy to pay for our HS's absurd sports program. Every year the administration tries to move money from sports to academic programs, but outraged parents always reverse the decision. Last year the administration faced such a budget shortfall that they put a referrendum out to the town - Cut the sport's budget by 50% or cut music/wood|metalshop/arts/home-economics entirely from the budget. Guess which one the people chose?
  • by skifreak87 (532830) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:33AM (#9039191)
    Our culture is becomming exceedingly more materialistic and money-driven in my not-so-expert opinion. Consequently, people are shifting towards jobs that pay higher and better. Among the most popular majors here at Princeton are (last I knew) Economics and Operations Research & Financial Engineering.

    To me, the problem is, people view a job as something you do to make money, and there isn't that much one can do in the pure sciences beyond research (unless you're exceedingly lucky/brilliant and come up with some essential new product) which for the most part, in my limited knowledge, doesn't pay that well compared to other things one can do w/ a similar education (science/engineering people are VERY desired in the financial industry which often pays VERY well).

    Solutions I have come up with: a) make culture less materialistic - not happening anytime soon; b) give a lot more funding to pure research so that it'll pay better and also be easier to do - bigger budget means getting more of the toys you need for your experiments
    • by dpilot (134227) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:03AM (#9039404) Homepage Journal
      This is a side-effect of the 'greed is good' culture of the 1980's. It used to be that a car manufacturer was about making cars, a movie maker was about making movies, etc, and if they did a good job at what they were about, money came. If they were also good about handling their money, they were profitable and got the chance to make more cars, movies, etc, and make more money to keep doing it.

      After the 80's this shifted. Whatever you made, it was about making money, and cars, movies, or whatever simply became a way to get the money, but the money came first. The corollary of this is that top management USED to be car or movie men (or women) who also knew how to manage money. Now top management BECAME money men (or women) who *might* also know something about cars or movies.

      There are two net results out of this:
      * First, it leads our young adults to chase money instead of chasing cars or movies, for careers. It actually denigrates the act of creating cars and movies in favor of managing the money to fund those cars and movies. The best and brightest go where they perceive the best careers are.
      * Second, it leads to inferior products. Since those at the top are not really car and movie men, (or women) they don't have the best instincts about their products. Hence you tend get 'follow the herd' products. I can't do too well with the cars, but with movies you get sequel-itis, comic book adaptations, and Michael Crichton movies. Not that Crichton's books are bad, or make bad movies, it's just that you get *too much* repetition of known-good formulas. (Nothing wrong with a known-good formula, we need new stuff, too.)

      I've used the samples of cars and movies. I'm sure the /. crowd would like to extend it to recorded music, too.

      Other causes:
      Advertisers and the people to hire them may not even admit it to themselves, but they tend to want to turn us all into consuming idiots who buy their products without thinking. Hence advertising which attempts to bypass the consiousness and go for the glandular reactions.

      Another part of the 80's money culture: Get the quarterly report looking good. Research is a drain on this quarter. Of course it's good in the long run, but we must 'balance' the long run against the quarterly results. Guess which way the balance usually ends up tilting.

      In the long run, a culture works as long as the most competent rise to the most responsible positions. Education is seen as key in our culture, and we have 'tried' to make it available to all. Aside from the fact that we haven't 'tried' hard enough, take a look at college: It's the gate to the top positions. If you want to take this as a class warfare issue, it's in the interest of the wealthy for colleges to be expensive. That way only the children of the wealthy can qualify for the top positions. In that light, it's simply enforcing a class system while paying lip service to equal opportunity and objective standards. But the real sin to our society is the smart, poor kid who can't afford the education while an academically mediocre rich kid can, and gets the associated opportunities.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:33AM (#9039193) Homepage Journal
    Europe and Asia are ascendant, analysts say, even if their achievements go unnoticed in the United States. In March, for example, European scientists announced that one of their planetary probes had detected methane in the atmosphere of Mars -- a possible sign that alien microbes live beneath the planet's surface. The finding made headlines from Paris to Melbourne. But most Americans, bombarded with images from America's own rovers successfully exploring the red planet, missed the foreign news.

    IOW, the real problem is Roman ... er, Spanish ... er, British ... er, American, damn it! ... cultural arrogance. We've been the most powerful country in the world in every way -- not just militarily, but scientifically, economically, culturally, and politically -- for somewhere between six decades and a century, depending on your specific measure. We're used to thinking of that state of affairs as though it will last forever, as though it were personally handed to us on a silver platter by God Himself. But it doesn't work that way.

    Ideally, of course, it doesn't matter where the knowledge is -- knowledge is knowledge, and an American is not diminished if the latest miracle drug or neat gizmo he uses to make his life better comes originally from outside our borders. But it adds up over time. Part of the reason for America's dominance of most of the 20th c. was simply that we were a huge nation with lots of natural resources ... but there were and are other nations fitting this description that didn't get so far. The reverse is also true; consider that (just barely) within living memory, a small island in the North Sea controlled the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and its language and culture are still the closest thing to universal in human history. A nation's position on the world stage is primarily determined by its culture.

    We are not, hopefully, going to turn into Russia: a Third World nation with nukes. But if we don't pay attention, we are going to see the permanent decline in living standards for the average American, in not only relative but absolute terms. This trend has already begun. That's not the future I want for myself and my children.
  • by thebdj (768618) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:33AM (#9039194) Journal
    It does simply boil down in the end to a total lack of government concern about the education system.
    Most states have lowered the amount of funding they are providing to education at all levels.
    From K-12 through the college system the amount of funding is in constant decline and is doing nothing more than hurting the youth of america today and hurting america as a whole in the future.
    If that were not enough, those students who are actually prone to creative and/or intelligent thought are often stifled by a system that looks more like the Special Olympics with the every student is equal approach that prevents them from advancing at the proper pace.

    5 Ways to Improve the system:
    1. More available private school systems
    2. More funding for education programs
    3. Allow students with talent to advance
    4. Advanced schooling for aforementioned students
    5. In college, more research opportunities for undergrads.

    The last one may seem a bit iffy but I can state from personal experience that I would have loved to get more time actually working on stuff in my field and be left out because I wasn't a grad student yet.
    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:51AM (#9039328)
      More money at the schools is not the answer. Stripping the schools down to basics of education is the answer. Our state as a massive buget shortfall and one school district had to layoff 20% of its teachers. The next week they dedicated their $3.2M new football stadium. This was a High School.

      Stip the schools down to reading, writing, math, sciences, and for god's sake Civics. If you want music, art, drama, or sports then goto private lessons or community bands, theater group, art classes, and sports clubs.

      Let's get the schools out of the sports business and into the education business.

      • by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:42AM (#9040226) Journal
        You are mostly right.

        Cut the sports budget by a lot, but keep up with physical education. Students need to have physical activity, especially in this country of morbid obesity and fast-food instant gratification. In fact, I would go as far as to say that mandating four years of P.E. would go a long way in keeping kids healthy, and would help in keeping many important blue-collar fields supplied; it's hard to be a plumber if you can't lift the 5lb wrench.

        Ditch competitive sports in high schools, though. We don't need multimillion dollar stadiums for kids who can't read. All you need for a PE program is a couple of retired drill instructors, a field, a swimming pool, and a small weight room. We're talking maybe a few hundred thousand to start this kind of program *from scratch*, and most schools already have the equipment and personnel to handle things now.

        Don't scrap art. Or music, or drama. These are all important parts of education, because they are important parts of the human experience. Shakespeare, Strauss, and Michelangelo are all as important facets of our culture as Science, Math, and Civics. Especially for developing minds. Kids, even up through high school, need creative outlets, and often don't have the ability to seek these on their own -- it's not easy being a sixteen year old guy and telling your parents that you want to paint, but signing up for an art class because you 'have to' is easy.

        Cut the multimillion-dollar stadiums, stop spending millions on computer upgrades, stop buying into the latest educational trends, and stop buying new textbooks all the time -- basic algebra hasn't changed in fifty years. Just pay the teachers well, give the schools the ability to discipline students who step out of line, and watch education get back on track.
  • Brain Drain (Score:5, Informative)

    by zx75 (304335) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:34AM (#9039198) Homepage
    "Reverse Brain Drain"? No, when people you've educated tend to move away, its simply 'Brain Drain'. Canada has been suffering its effects for years to the US. It just so happens that it used to be the US was the beneficiary of brain drain in other countries. That would be the 'reverse'.
  • by Faizdog (243703) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:35AM (#9039206)
    As a Grad Student rushing/hating to finish his Master's Thesis, I think I can offer something here.

    Typically there are two sectors where research is done, academia or industry. In the USA, Industrial research unfortunately is usually the first to take a hit during bad economic conditions as we are presently in. Furthermore although some companies still do longterm innovative research that may not yield results for many years, this is becoming less common. What little research is still being done is done more for immediate application based work.

    The traditional research for the general betterment of society without much regard for profit happens in academia. Unfortunately, academic research is suffering recently in the US. First as mentioned, due to the recent emphasis in defense funding and more grants available from DARPA, DoE, DoHomelandSecurity, research is focused into the application/results based work these agencies require rather than the open knowledge for discovery's sake approach of the NSF.

    Furthermore, the core element of academic research are the Grad Students that do all the grunt work. In the US, most Science/Engineering grad students are international students. Given current visa restrictions, harrasement and a host of other problems, international student applications to the US have dropped significantly. This is having a noticable impact on research in universities.

    Finally, meaningful R&D is now not exclusive to the US as it was a few decades ago. Many other countries are now making breakthroughs, or striving to establish resesarch institutions. For example, Indians know that their outsourcing days are limited, either 'cause either the outsourcing trend will stop or someone else (Phillipines, etc) will do it for even cheaper. So their next big thrust is to bring R&D into the country.

    Nothing too organized there, just a few random musings that I thought could add to the discussion.
  • by mc6809e (214243) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:35AM (#9039210)
    I asked a guy I worked with to write a C function to compute the distance between two points.

    He didn't know how. So I wrote the formula down for him.

    "What's that", he asked, pointing to the symbol for square root.

    I asked if he had a high school diploma.

    "Of course", he exclaimed.

    Now, how does someone get through high school not knowing what a square root symbol is?

    Then there are the smart kids that get bored after going over the same material year after year. Why? Because Johnny half-brain needs the lesson again. And since we're all just have to be one big happy group of robots, all the same, well, we'll just have to wait for him to catch up so that we're all equal at the end.

    There's plenty more to complain about. Am I bitter? Sure. I was tested gifted. I was a clever kid. I should have gone to a university when I was 18. Instead, I was going to summer-school just to graduate.

    Why? Because the lesson of public education isn't education, it's busy work. Well, I didn't need busy work like Johnny half brain to understand the lesson. My punishment for understanding the material without doing all the busy work was failure.

    I was intellectually a free spirit and I wouldn't follow their plan.

    And I payed for it. I'm still paying for it.
  • by dioscaido (541037) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:36AM (#9039214)
    I don't know if we previously performed better, but for the past 7 years, when I've been tracking a few of the world wide computer science challange competitions, I've always felt conflicted about the fact that even the most prestigious U.S. C.S. Universities (MIT, Stanford, etc...) never achieve higher than 4th or 5th place. Inevitably, there are Russian, Chinese, or Indian universities that whup our butt.

    Yet, people live and die to go to these U.S. Universities, and never consider going international.
  • Science is hard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by starseeker (141897) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:38AM (#9039230) Homepage
    and in order to do it right you have to have people who really want to learn it, and live it.

    Our culture does not tend to produce such people. America tends to think on the very, very short term (this is an inevitable consequence of allowing corporate/profit oriented thinking to dominate our culture) and it should come as no surprise that the get rich quick philosophy by which we define success is incompatible with good scientific training. There are always some people who will be scientists, but if you want a lot of them you can't just do nothing to promote science and then expect results.

    Frank Herbert said it best - "short term decisions tend to fail in the long term". We constantly make short term decisions - we don't accept anything except instant gratification. So as a consequence the hard, long term skills tend to go undeveloped.

    The question we need to ask ourselves is - do we care? I don't mean you or me, but as a country, and as a society, do we value science and other difficult skills enough to give up some of our short term gratification attitude in order to socially promote the long term view? If not, then the result is inevitable. I rather suspect we don't care, as long as our quality of life doesn't drop. The future isn't of much interest to America - we're too busy living in the present. Until that changes, and we start to value long term thinking and decisions (like putting ATTENTION, not $$, into education - $$ are just a feel good measure and do nothing to solve the real problem) we will continue to fall behind.
  • by arhar (773548) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:44AM (#9039290)
    When I came here at the age of 16, one of the biggest cultural shocks for me was that among people my own age, intellect and doing good at school was not encouraged.. even mocked.

    Those who are born here in the US probably don't even think about it, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that it's incredibly stupid that when someone does well on a test, his reward is getting called a geek by the basketball players, who are on top of the social ladder.

    And this stuff doesn't stop at college, when retards who can throw a football get automatic A's in their classes, and get a diploma and a million dollar contract handed to them (maybe I'm exaggerating there, but you get the point).

    And with that kind of social values, what the fuck else can you expect from American education system? The opportunity to learn is there - our university system is one of, if not THE best in the world - but ...

    I can't speak for any other country, but in Russia kids wanted to become scientists and astronauts [up until the 90's, but that's another story]. Here unfortunately, kids just don't want to become scientists, or engineers, or anyone of that sort. They want to become Brett Favre, 50 Cent, and Donald Trump (not that there's anything wrong with wanting to become a billionaire).

    So my point is, until we will WANT to excel at science, we won't - it's as simple as that.
  • Half Empty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:46AM (#9039311)
    I suppose you could also view this from the other side.

    Poor Nations Stem Brain Drain

    US Exports Knowledge Overseas

    Will Military Research Yield New Public Sector Products?

    You get the idea

  • by shoppa (464619) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:53AM (#9039337)
    From WWII onwards, most science fields grew greatly as a result of government spending. Without a doubt the military money was significant, but there was a lot of money going to science of all kinds, some of it "trickle-down" through defense contractors and their contractors.

    Problem is, this boom was seriously unsustainable.

    What we are seeing now is a readjustment to the more normal situation, but we are still doing substantially better than pre-WWII levels in terms of science spending/graduates/jobs. I don't necessarily believe this is a zero-sum game, our investment over the past fifty years has paid off very well, and I think we are a better nation and a better world as a result.

    Just to give an example of pre-WWII science job market: Feynman's first job was as a plastic chemist, and he spent some time as basically a mechanical engineer (albeit a high-powered one) before he got into the Manhattan project. The point is, only for the past 50 years has there been much money at all for "basic unapplied" research.

  • by OMG (669971) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:53AM (#9039340)
    One of the biggest German political magazines, the Spiegel [], has a story about this topic in German []. Here is the automatic translation into something similar to English [].

    Personally I do know at least one person that won't be allowed to study in the US anymore. She is listed in one of those mysterious lists and as a consequence isn't allowed to study in the US anymore. She can't figure out how and for what reason she came into that list. Perhaps she knows the wrong people like some of my friends and ... ohhh, I should ask too, I guess.
  • by Theovon (109752) on Monday May 03, 2004 @08:58AM (#9039369)
    One of the reasons our schools are ineffective is this: If we had standards, a lot more kids would flunk out of school, putting more criminals on the street.

    The reason for that is that parents don't teach a work ethic. School is "uncool", and work sucks.

    In the short term, raising standards would create more delinquents and criminals. If we did introduce standards it would take more than a few generations to undo the damage and bring the passing rates back up.

    Many students do poorly in school due to lack of work ethic in their parents. Many students, such as myself, do poorly in school, because school really sucks, due to the lack of work ethic in other students. (I did great in college.)

    Many teachers see this and feel like it would be futile to try to fight the status quo.
  • by lukesl (555535) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:02AM (#9039391)
    As a scientist in the US, I have to say the biggest fixable problem is the ridiculous immigration policies that have been adopted after 9/11. Sure, public education needs improvement, but most of the world's smartest people never have and never will be born in a country representing 6% of the world population. The lab I work in has three Europeans, one Chinese, one Australian, and two Americans (including me), and it's great. The success of the US scientific enterprise has been (and should be) dependent upon concentrating the best talent from other countries in one place, and the US is going in the wrong direction. I personally know plenty of foreign students and postdocs getting screwed, and news has gotten back to their universities. A friend of a friend was barred re-entry into the US from Portugal after a speeding ticket and forced to drop out of the top theoretical physics PhD program on the West Coast. A coworker has been unable to visit home (China) for six years because if she leaves the country there's a 50% chance she will be denied re-entry for a six-month waiting period, which would destroy all of her experiments. A very good friend of mine was in deportation danger for smashing a guy's car window (the guy deserved it). There was a component of the Patriot Act that required attendance to be taken at all graduate school courses, and a missed class by any foreign graduate student (including Canadians) to be documented and justified.

    It's a testament to the strength of American science that foreign applications to US grad schools have decreased by only 25% in spite of the ridiculous situation placed on us by the current government. Funding issues and stem cells aside, things have to change in November.
  • by rpg25 (470383) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:04AM (#9039411)
    The dominance of military research is nothing new in the U.S. The U.S., with its very strong belief in free market economics, has always had a hard time with federally-sponsored R&D. In the past, however, we've always done it, yet called the vast majority of it military, even though it often wasn't. Military research floated all boats, the way that space research does. [Similarly, we don't directly subsidize Boeing's production of airliners, the way the EU subsidizes Airbus, but we do give Boeing big contracts to build military aircraft.]

    IMHO what has changed recently is that military research sponsors (notably DARPA) now call for very short-term turnaround in research results. Typically they like to see substantial results from a project in six months now. This means that there are new difficulties for using DARPA funding for basic research.

    At the same time that military funding has been emphasizing short-term versus long term research, industrial research labs, and general industrial support for research, have collapsed. Essentially, corporate funders have been deterred by examples like Xerox PARC, Bell Labs, and IBM labs. They don't believe that corporate research generates results for the funding enterprise. This suggests that research must be funded as a social good, like highways, etc.

    Unfortunately, military and enterprise funding for research has gone away at precisely a time when ideological sympathy for funding social goods through taxation is at an all-time low. And, of course, the federal budget is squeezed between tax cuts, recession, and the war effort. On the up-side, we don't have to balance the budget any more... :-)
  • Lost Legacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChaoticCoyote (195677) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:09AM (#9039454) Homepage

    American culture does not value intellect. In a country dominated by dogmatic religion and banal entertainment, anyone with half a brain is looked down upon for wasting tax dollars or being too "nerdy." Image is what matters, not content.

    U.S. schools focus on passing limited tests that show nothing about creativity; teaching real problem solving skills is much less important than shoveling students through an impersonal and over-wrought system.

    When was the last time you saw the President lauding a group of scientists at the White House? Unless your research is focused on new and creative ways of killing people, you're pretty much ignored; religious ideology replaces the scientific method, and society devolves into polarized camps that react rather than think.

    Perhaps I'm too blunt, but I'm tired of watching my once-great nation devolve into an international bully, abandoning its legacy of achievement.

  • by CousinLarry (640750) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:09AM (#9039459)
    I have no doubt that our primary education is at fault for the lack of strong math, science and analytical thinking skills in the US, and the institutions are colluding to dumb-down our students in math and science every day.

    Case-in-point: Our single most important indicator of student ability, the S.A.T., is administered by a unabashedly profit-driven agency, the College Board. The Board has proposed a major revision to the test beginning in 2005 [] which will raise the total points possible to 2400 by tacking on an essay and a grammar section, while eliminating analogies (the closest thing to a real 'logic' quiz on the verbal section) and quantitative comparisons. The claim is that this shift is designed to (*cough* increase fees *cough*) better address learned knowledge of students, rather than raw ability (the test was initially intended to be sort of a IQ test you could prepare for).

    So what are we saying to kids? 2/3 of the MOST important indicator of student ability tests language (and just white america's OWN language!)? 2/3 of your time as a student should be devoted to learning how to read and write in english? Is it really that hard, or important, to test students on the ENGLISH language as a primary indicator of their potential? The fact is this: schools are increasingly prone to test what they know students are good at, and what better way to soften up scores than add an entire section which, by nature, must be graded on complete subjectivity? Schools *know* they cannot teach math/science well, perhaps due to students' reluctance to embrace the subject, perhaps due to the pathetically low salaries and disrespect the average american pays to primary school they just test what students are good at, and do it in a way that is so fluid that they can literally raise the scores of a nation with this "essay dial" whenever they need to answer to the neo-conservatives and the bitching liberals.
  • by big_a (112626) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:10AM (#9039464) Homepage
    Universities have seen all forms of gov't grants diminish. It's hard for universities to get funding for research. Why is funding shrinking? G. W. Bush thinks that private companies should be picking up the tab...

    So, unless you're researching something that Monsanto (or any other large corporation) is interested in, you're going to have a hard time finding grants. This is the sad truth.
  • by RhettLivingston (544140) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:10AM (#9039465)
    I'd absolutely agree with the K-12 issue. And though much of the country recognizes it, it seems as if we're powerless to do much about it. The theories the educational establishment have switched to are all wrong, but they provide their on press and can't afford to admit it. And with no form of quick discipline available, the bad boys who used to be molded into stars are now either allowed to get worse and worse and finally kicked out or drugged into submission to the status quo.

    But, I think a shot at government funded research is missing the target. And, the military research budget as a portion of GDP, is nowhere near a high. It is more visible because they've made the bid process less secretive, but overall, still relatively low in comparison to other time periods in the last 50 years. But, the government has never even been the majority player in research. Private industry has been behind the majority of the research efforts in the US.

    Don't forget that we're about 15 years into the aftereffects after the transition away from pure research by many of the large private firms. With the exception of a few stragglers, most corporations now have firm policies that all research must be aiming at a clear corporate payoff. So, true blue sky research has been heavily cut by private industry. This was the shortsightedness of the '90s. We heavily shifted research towards the short term. So we essentially pulled researchers off the task of making fuel for the future, and put them on burning the fuel of the past. This gave us a blazing decade, but has left us with ruins.

  • by SEE (7681) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:41AM (#9039665) Homepage
    Back in 1950, one might note that the U.S. was responsible for half the world's GWP. In 1965, it was down to 25%? Was this a collapse in the American economy? No -- it was Europe and Japan having sucessfully rebuilt from bombed-out postwar husks into a restored industrialized powers. Sure, the U.S. "lost its industrial dominance" in that it was no longer so far ahead of everyone else, but the only way to keep it would have been to militarily force the Europeans and Japanese to stay backwards.

    Similarly, in the last 20 years we've seen South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore emerge as modern economies, and India and China reduce the stultifying power of socialism on their economies. The resulting development has been met with an increase in the amount of science and engineering they produce. Sure, the U.S. "lost its scientific dominance" in that it is no longer so far ahead of everyone else, but the only way to keep it would have been to militarily force the Asians to stay backwards.

    How can I claim we've stayed even? Well, when we compare ourselves scientifically to those who were fully developed countries in 1983, we're still ahead, as pointed out in Time Europe [].

    The U.S. science establishment is still healthy. It's just that the science establisments in Asia are no longer invalids.
  • by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Monday May 03, 2004 @09:44AM (#9039690) Journal
    50 years of moovies and teevee depicting anyone with an interest in science as a total and complete loser will do that to a society.

    A half century of elevating athletic stars to godhood and excusing them any and every crime imaginable. Or pandering to anyone who happened to win the genetic lottery and be born beautiful.

    Decades of worrying whether a schoolchild has his chi focused instead of making sure he or she can add two single digit numbers in their head.

    And letting the clique situation in schools to progress to the level of the Lord Of The Flies hasn't helped, either. When I was in high school, I saw teacher actively engaging in making some students outcasts (usually because they were smarter). I can't imagine what it's like now with the "let's all be mediocre" mindset.

    One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions - what are you going to land on - one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's dialectic physics.

  • Capitalism 101 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aussersterne (212916) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:19AM (#9040025) Homepage
    In America, smart kids are not cool. In fact, they are liable to get beat up. In many cases, the smart kids who continue to study hard do so only because they're too small to play football or basketball or don't have musical talent enough to play in a rock band. How does this kind of mentality arise?

    The powers that shape our culture (media, advertising, big business) have a vested interest in making sure that the citizenry are a bunch of uncritical consumers -- people who will ultimately buy the goods that the market pushes. Since non-artisan, commodity goods are the easiest to produce in volume (and thus the best engines of capital), it is these, along with a general consumer lifestyle, that are marketed heavily (glorified, if you will) in portrayals, analyses of and references to our culture that bombard us every day: movies, music, television news, magazines, etc., both content and explcit "advertisement" formats.

    It is in not the interest of capital and its engines to produce scientists, thinkers, or other critical consumers who will only do "research" that is not profitable in the short term.

    It is in the interest of capital and its engines to produce uncritical drones who will work in the same product mills that they also support with their earnings, never noticing that a continuous percentage of their time and labor (cleverly disguised as "profit margins" by these product mills) are skimmed off the top by the ultra-wealthy.
  • by edibleplastic (98111) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:23AM (#9040058)
    Time magazine had an article in January claiming the exact opposite situation, that US laboratories and departments were the destination for thousands of European scientists. Here are two quotes:

    "Some 400,000 European science and technology graduates now live in the U.S. and thousands more leave each year. A survey released in November by the European Commission found that only 13% of European science professionals working abroad currently intend to return home."

    ""In soccer, if you're great, another team can buy you." Science is the same, and the big buyer is the U.S.: in 2000, the U.S. spent 287 billion [euro] on research and development, 121 billion [euro] more than the E.U."

    The full article is here []
  • by ericbrow (715710) on Monday May 03, 2004 @10:24AM (#9040067) Journal
    I see a lot of ideas being tossed about, however, I don't see many from people who are working in the schools right now.

    To begin with, yes, there are some teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. However, I would say that this number is at worst, the exact same percentage as people in any field. Where I teach, I'd say there are about 3 teachers who should have found a different job a while back, out of a staff of about 75.

    Those who want to abolish teachers unions have a point. They do tend to keep those who should go. But without the unions, teachers would be expected to be at every single school event without any extra pay. I've been at schools with bad contract negoations, and teachers were expected to supervise football and basketball games, work ticket booths, work consession stands, and clean up afterwards just to keep their jobs. All this while they're expected to get their master's degrees, keep educated on current trends in education, and in their subject area. What other profession are you expected to get up to your master's degree, but clean tables as well? If it weren't for the unions, it would be worse.

    Next comes the pay. Again, with all the education, yet so little compensation. What other profession would tolerate it? People demand qualified teachers, teachers who have degrees in their subject areas, yet get upset at paying for someone who has that level of knowledge.

    I'd also like to mention the students. In case any of you aren't around teen-agers on a regular basis, let me share with you. They are not always easy to deal with. I'm not saying all kids are bad. It is a difficult and confusing time in their lives, and this often leads to frustration, and they share this with whoever they come in contact with. It is also a fact of human development that teens concentrate more on themselves than anything else. They expect adults to both understand everything about every aspect of their lives as they see it, while at the same time, they don't wany adults to have anything to do with their lives. Find any human development book that discusses Freud, Piaget, and Erickson and you'll get a better picture.

    Finally, there is a general trend in the US to spoil our kids. I think it comes from the depression. People were kids then decided they didn't want their kids to grow up like that, so the baby boomers were treated better than any generation before them. This has mutated into parents blindly backing their children, sometimes in ways that are not int the child's best interest. The most irritating example I run into is the old standby "I don't understand.". I've seen kids successfully pull this with their parents on the simpelest tasks. One student in my algebra class refuses to do any problem that will require him to write down more than one step. The same kids who will play "Prince of Persia" for 5 weeks straight to figure out how to get past a difficult section refuse to take 60 seconds to read a word problem, and possibly another 30 seconds to think about it.

    The fault lies everywhere, not with just one group, or one person. Until everyone starts doing their jobs like they should (politicians, teachers, administrators, students, and parents), things are going to continue to go downhill.

  • by Eric_Cartman_South_P (594330) on Monday May 03, 2004 @11:03AM (#9040461)
    I am American and was born here my whole life. education is perfect in this grate country and I am so proud of it. You Yuropeans are always snooty and jealous becuase we are so strong and smart and our army is strong two. i could wrap java code around your head because I am so smart. Amerika is great and we are the best at science becuase we are number won.

  • It's even worse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Monday May 03, 2004 @12:45PM (#9041695) Homepage
    If it was just bad education or less money for science we could fix it with a bill or two in congress. Unfortunatly this reflects a deep anti-intellectualism in america. If we want americans to be good scientists and engineers we need to make it desierable to be a scientist or engieneer.

    This means more than paying them more. It means making them *respected* and not mearly perpetuating the mad scientist or nerd sterotype. Unless the United States starts electing intellectual figures (like tony blair rather than george bush) and stops making fun of nerds it will keep falling in it's scientific prowess.
  • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Monday May 03, 2004 @03:07PM (#9043421)

    I got my physics Ph.D. five years ago, and the trends mentioned in the article are both readily apparent and not unexpected.

    It's important to understand that the USA has been a relatively minor player in basic science for nearly all of its history. Since World War 2 there has been a temporary reversal of this situation, because:

    • Every other country was destroyed by the war and had better things to do
    • The USA began funding basic research very aggressively as a military insurance policy vs. the Russians

    Because of these factors as well as a relatively liberal immigration policy, good scientists flocked to the USA beginning in the late 1930's. Others have pointed out the critical role these folks played in the early US space program, the Manhattan project, etc. Now, with the rest of the world catching up in living standards and the Cold War ending, the USA is returning to its position as a relatively minor player in basic research.

    The root cause of this secondary position is cultural. The USA tends to see everything through a very pragmatic lens, where applications are valued much more than the underlying knowledge. The people who can turn basic research into successful applications are held in highest regard, people like Thomas Edison and Jonas Salk. As a Ph.D. student by far the most common question people would ask is, "But what is your research good for?" -- the implication being that if there isn't another breakthrough product or hot IPO coming out the other end, it's just not valuable.

    Europe and Asia, by contrast, have long traditions of valuing scholarship/knowledge for its own sake. The role models are Einstein, Darwin, Maxwell, Confucius -- discoverers rather than inventors. They have a greater cultural willingness to fund basic research, and a more highly-educated general population to understand the results. A large fraction of CEOs in Germany have Ph.D. degrees, more evidence of a greater cultural emphasis on academics and research.

    Experimental high energy physics is a good example of the differing cultural attitudes. In the USA, this research was always justified on the basis of military advantage, or at least avoiding military disadvantage. Consequently, the end of the Cold War has meant the end of this research in the USA; in another 3-4 years the USA will be effectively out of the accelerator game, with no next-generation facility to compete with CERN's LHC. If you are an experimental high-energy physicist, better start learning French.

  • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday May 03, 2004 @03:38PM (#9043790) Homepage
    David Goodstein, Vice Provost of CalTech on the collapse of the PhD pyramid scheme which drives science education in the USA and started to fail in the 1970s and, in his words: [] " In the course of a career, a professor in a research university turns out, on the average, about 15 Ph.D.'s. Many of these would like, themselves, to become in turn professors in research universities and turn out 15 more Ph.D.'s. After all, these were the gems that were selected at each stage of the mining and sorting operation. Becoming a professor seems to many of them the natural culmination of their successful educations. That is obviously one of the principal engines of the exponential growth that lasted for a hundred years in America. Those students are bitterly disappointed when they find out the jobs they want aren't there, and their disappointment seeps down through the ranks, turning younger students away from science. ... The problem, to reiterate, is that science education in America is designed to select a small group of elite scientists. An unintended but inevitable side effect is that everyone else is left out. As a consequence of that, 20,000 American high schools lack a single qualified physics teacher, half the math classes in American schools are taught by people who lack the qualifications to teach them, and companies will increasingly find themselves without the technical competence they need at all levels from the shop floor to the executive suite."

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"