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The Real Science Gap 618

walterbyrd writes "This article attempts to explain why the US is struggling in its competition with other countries in the realm of scientific advancement. 'It's not insufficient schooling or a shortage of scientists. It's a lack of job opportunities. Americans need the reasonable hope that spending their youth preparing to do science will provide a satisfactory career.' I can hardly believe that somebody actually understands the present situation. It continues, 'The current approach — trying to improve the students or schools — will not produce the desired result, the experts predict, because the forces driving bright young Americans away from technical careers arise elsewhere, in the very structure of the US research establishment. For generations, that establishment served as the world’s nimblest and most productive source of great science and outstanding young scientists. Because of long-ignored internal contradictions, however, the American research enterprise has become so severely dysfunctional that it actively prevents the great majority of the young Americans aspiring to do research from realizing their dreams.'"
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The Real Science Gap

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:06PM (#32568896)

    I am a scientist and manned exploration is basically a useless waste of money for us (and yes my research is deeply rooted into space exploration). Robots bring more data for a fraction of the cost. I have yet to hear any of my colleague complain about the government new plans for space. On the contrary.

  • by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:06PM (#32568900) Homepage

    Most people in the sciences don't pay their way through grad school. It's generally covered by grants already.

  • by blackraven14250 ( 902843 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:12PM (#32568998)

    Faith works much better

    That attitude is part of the problem not the solution. Some people in this country feel that science and faith can not coexist. That kind of thinking will drag us back into the middle ages where science was no different than witchcraft unless use to create a weapon to defeat the enemy.

    You speak like the modern age has had a fundamentally different attitude towards science.

  • Re:Wage Gap (Score:5, Informative)

    by StrategicIrony ( 1183007 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:14PM (#32569032)

    It's not specifically structured finance, but the whole system of money-making.

    In my company, there are a number of world class engineers who do consulting work.

    There are also sales drones... err people... who sell said work.

    We bill about $300/hr for consulting and our better engineers make $200k. Not bad. Even the average guy makes $125k or so.

    But our top sales guy made almost $1m last year and there are a dozen of them making over $500k. That's more than the CEO.

    The sales guys can sell so much because we have world class engineers and a world class management team.

    Why did he make 8x what some of these world class engineers make? Is it because sales is more important?

    I don't think he's a world class person in any regard. He's a lush. He gets kicked out of strip clubs on friday nights for getting sloshed and being a dick.

    At the same time, his engineer is at home working to finish up the project he was working on to pay for that strip club outing.

    Ahh the justice.

  • by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:17PM (#32569094) Homepage


    How did the grand-parent post get modded up? If you leave PhD program in the sciences with any debt, it's either left over from your undergrad years or it's lifestyle debt (car, eating out, clothes, etc.)

    Between teaching, research grants, and cleaning test tubes, grad school in the sciences will cost you $0 out of pocket for tuition, fees, rent, and food.

  • by Bowling Moses ( 591924 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:29PM (#32569278) Journal
    I have a Ph.D. and while I wouldn't consider the pursuit of one to be insane, it is definitely not in your economic best interest. The sweet spot in science has long been to get the master's degree. The average Ph.D. won't catch up to the average M.S. in lifetime earnings, though eventually the average Ph.D. will get paid more. It's just that a M.S. takes 2-3 years, while the Ph.D. takes 6-7 years. Frequently, especially in the life sciences, the Ph.D. is then followed by one or two (or, horrors, more) 2-5 year long postdoctoral positions. A Ph.D. student in the sciences gets paid these days in the high teens to mid 20's (You're paid. Not well, but you're paid--no loans). A postdoc gets paid anything from the upper 20's to the low 50's, depending on experience and much more importantly luck. So it's pretty easy to see why a Ph.D. won't catch up to the M.S., even though many Ph.D.'s end up being the boss of the M.S., and very rarely the other way around.

    One way to look at the long years of crap pay a Ph.D. scientist endures is simple supply and demand: we have too many science Ph.D.'s and too few M.S. That and whenever you hear about a "shortage" of Ph.D.'s in this country, remember that news of the shortage comes from the exact same people demanding an increase in H1B's because of the critical shortage of qualified computer programmers.
  • Re:Wage Gap (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:35PM (#32569390)

    We bill about $300/hr for consulting and our better engineers make $200k. Not bad. Even the average guy makes $125k or so.

    Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    An Average Guy Engineer

  • by Marc Desrochers ( 606563 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:49PM (#32569602)
    Science asks the questions and seeks to find the answer through observation and experimentation.

    Religion makes up the answers to all the questions and admonishes people who question them.

  • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @03:59PM (#32569764)

    The PhD really ought to be thought of as training for an academic career; no more, and no less. Many pursue it either as a path to social prestige or as a way to postpone uncomfortable post-academic life choices, and those motivations are the most likely to end in despair.

    At least in the sciences, if you have the curiosity, inclination, and ability to push on the frontiers of knowledge, then the world out there - and the U.S. in particular - is a candy store. Society will provide you a reasonably comfortable living for doing what you love (and would do for nothing, if you could). But if you're doing it as a path to riches, or to impress your parents and/or prospective mates as Dr. So-and-So, then you may find yourself somewhere other than where you want to be.

  • Re:Mr. President! (Score:4, Informative)

    by somaTh ( 1154199 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:11PM (#32569932) Journal
    It's a quote from "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," a satiracle film about the state of the military at the time. Mine shafts were to be the future homes for humanity, and the country that had the most would "win" after the fictionalized nuclear holocaust.
  • Re:Don't we? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Monchanger ( 637670 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:26PM (#32570184) Journal

    We still have that kind of government: it provides a LOT of money, across many many fields [nsf.gov]. I feel the problem is we have too many politicians who don't understand science and the importance of political neutrality. Some seek to ban various kinds outright (see Stem Cell research and Climatology). Others just have an economic bias and don't want the government involved in anything other than national defense (which itself benefits from massive government science sponsorship). I feel both type do a disservice, the former for trampling on the rights of others, and the latter for the exact short-term thinking you mention.

    As for private business R&D, yes far too many are shortsighted and live quarter to quarter. That said generally speaking those companies who actually do invest in their future don't often fail, are fiscally healthy and respected in their fields as centers of innovation (e.g. IBM, GE, Google). Besides, I figure if anyone is responsible for how business acts, it's ultimately the shareholders who tacitly approve of the CEO/BoD because they just watch to see if their stock goes up every single quarter. When one's view is limited to P/E, research means nothing.

  • Re:Wage Gap (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:33PM (#32570310)

    I think if there were a bunch of scientific research jobs that paid $80-$100k but came with good job security and gave you research independence (i.e. unlike a post-doc or research scientist, who typically has relatively little independence from the P.I. they're working for), there would be a steady stream of people interested in them.

    Well, the pay isn't quite $80-100K/yr unless you count the [generous] benefits, but we do have such a system. It's called the government labs (Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, LLNL, LBL, the various NASA labs, and in medicine, NIH in Bethesda, et al). Unfortunately, they've been getting squeezed for the last decade or two to pay for that tax breaks we've given Goldman Sacks and friends [e.g., traders that pay half the taxes I do just because their money comes in as capital gains while I actually work for salary].

    Of course, this is slashdot, so obviously the private sector is doing better research and we're just too stupid to recognize this fact because the government couldn't possibly do anything right.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:47PM (#32570552)

    That's interesting, can you give me a list of useful scientific accomplishments that rely on the Theory of Evolution?

    Prevention protocols of the kind Finland uses to manage anti-biotic-resistant bacteria.

    Various high-yield crop breeding programmes.

    Vast swathes of research into variable genetic susceptibility to various diseases, and resistance to various diseases. Research and treatment of genetic diseases, particularly with regard to the way animal models differ from humans.

    Tissue regeneration research, which is deeply involved in the differences between gene pathways that result in scarring and those that result in regrowth--it turns out that many similar pathways are used, and understanding the evolutionary process that converted them from one purpose to the other is an excellent way of understanding how to turn our latent regeneration capability back on.

    But of course, anyone who bothered to inform themselves of anything about evolution would know all that already, as all of that is easily available to anyone who bothers to follow anything about science and technology news, so I really have to wonder why anyone would ask such a question on /.

    Engaging in medical research without guidance provided by the Theory of Evolution would be like doing so without guidance from the Germ Theory of Disease.

  • Re:Wage Gap (Score:3, Informative)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:48PM (#32570566)

    I've looked into that (I'm a PhD student just about finishing up), but they don't actually seem to offer that level of job security and research freedom. The ones I've looked into mainly are working on large pre-existing projects, and you're expected to work on one of those projects, not pursue your own independent research agenda. Often the funding and requirements come from outside the lab itself, e.g. a big DARPA or DoD project that the lab is getting $10m/yr to work on. Many of the research positions currently being advertised are "soft money" positions as well, meaning you're expected to bring in enough of those kinds of grants to fund your own salary.

  • Re:Don't we? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @04:58PM (#32570718)

    From what I'm told (I didn't live during that time, so I don't have firsthand knowledge), we used to have a government that strongly encouraged scientific research and development and considered it part of the greatness of our nation.

    The biggest increase in Federal science (non-defense) R&D in recent years happened during Bush's terms [aaas.org]. You know, the President who most openly avowed his faith ever since I've been old enough to vote? If you ask the scientist in me, that data seems crippling to any theory that science and religion are contradictory and can't mix.

    Bush had many faults, but he got painted as an anti-science President solely because he was religious and killed a couple high-profile science projects (supercollider and stem cell research). As scientists are fond of saying, the facts do not bear that out. He increased funding for the NIH, NSF, and DOE more than any recent President. If you've been assuming he was anti-science all this time, I'd say you need to step back and ask yourself if your anti-religious fervor has become your religion.

  • Re:Don't we? (Score:3, Informative)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @05:06PM (#32570830) Homepage

    Laser Foundations [wikipedia.org]

    In 1917, Albert Einstein established the theoretic foundations for the LASER and the MASER in the paper Zur Quantentheorie der Strahlung (On the Quantum Theory of Radiation); via a re-derivation of Max Planck's law of radiation, conceptually based upon probability coefficients (Einstein coefficients) for the absorption, spontaneous emission, and stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation; in 1928, Rudolf W. Ladenburg confirmed the existences of the phenomena of stimulated emission and negative absorption;[5] in 1939, Valentin A. Fabrikant predicted the use of stimulated emission to amplify "short" waves;[6] in 1947, Willis E. Lamb and R. C. Retherford found apparent stimulated emission in hydrogen spectra and effected the first demonstration of stimulated emission;[5] in 1950, Alfred Kastler (Nobel Prize for Physics 1966) proposed the method of optical pumping, experimentally confirmed, two years later, by Brossel, Kastler, and Winter.[7]

    In 1957, Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow, then at Bell Labs, began a serious study of the infrared laser.

    Perhaps it is a fine line but I still suspect that AT&T was only performing research with the object of profits based on the previous open hard scientific work that was shared with the world. AT&T would share its findings after filing for patents on the work they were performing so others could not use their findings.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 14, 2010 @06:45PM (#32572246)

    I have to object to your definition of religion. Having grown up in a very conservative religion (Church of Christ) that considers Baptists confused liberals, we were encouraged to question everything. I sat next to plenty of geologists and nuclear physicists. I can remember people calling BS during sermons. At one church, we had a doctor of archeology for a preacher who would even discuss the provenance of passages and phrasings (usually to the detriment of the English version).

    So what was it we took away from all this? How to be patient, forgiving individuals responsible for our actions and fate. The whole old testament? A fascinating, but non-binding, prelude to the new testament. To pass judgment on another was discouraged (literally a sin), but debate when we thought others were wrong was encouraged.

    Yes, there were matters of faith. But decades of growing up this way has made me more comfortable with science, not less. And able to kick the theological ass of evangelicals.

  • by ThePackager ( 562279 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @11:05PM (#32574292)
    Perhaps you should replace your "Religion" with "Christianity". Jews have always questioned - in fact, on translation of "Israel" is: "Those who talk back to God". We all have the ability to use our minds for both faith and science. One without the other echoes hollow through the ages.
  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @01:58PM (#32581208)

    Yes, but not all engineering is like that.

    Most civil engineers designing bridges aren't using cutting edge technology; bridges haven't changed that much in decades.

    For hardware engineering, check out the electronics in the latest dishwashers or ovens. There's no 1200 pad BGAs in there. My dishwasher still uses thru-hole technology, and it's one of the fancy touchpad models (granted, it's 5 years old). Sure, some military hardware or iPhones use the latest technology, but lots of other industries don't.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.