[Paleopsych] CHE Letters: The Future of U.S. Science

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Mon Aug 30 14:48:59 UTC 2004

The Future of U.S. Science
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4.9.3


   The Future of U.S. Science

    To the Editor:
    If you are chronologically enhanced, you have heard this all before
    -- predictions of shortages of scientists and engineers in the 1960s
    that became a glut by 1970, and so on through the years ([1]"Is There
    a Science Crisis? Maybe Not," The Chronicle, July 9).
    I have seen my undergraduate enrollments (we have no graduate program)
    drop like a concrete brick with the bursting of the dot-com bubble and
    the rise of offshore outsourcing.
    My department is criticized for the drop in enrollment compared to
    what we had based on irrational demands during the 1990s. On the one
    hand, we need students in chairs, but on the other hand, we now see
    students who seem to be interested in the discipline instead of merely
    looking for big bucks. ...
    However, the job market has tanked, and my graduates have to scramble
    for jobs. Even the very competent students have to work hard to find a
    People who make these predictions don't have enough real work to do.
    Anthony J. Duben
    Professor of Computer Science
    Department of Computer Science
    Southeast Missouri State University
    Cape Girardeau, Mo.
    The last two or three predictions of not enough people going into
    science have been wrong, and so is the current one. The job market is
    slightly better because of the welcome addition of opportunities for
    biologists in biotechnology and at nongovernmental organizations, but
    the academic job market has not changed, and the glory days of the
    1960s are not going to return.
    The worry about foreign applicants seems odd. We have plenty of North
    American applicants and focus on them, selecting only a few of the
    best foreign applicants we can attract. North Americans have no
    cultural problems, their paper qualifications are easier to evaluate,
    and they are likely to stay in North America. ...
    All of us who train graduate students owe them the best career
    counseling we can provide. We should be responsible enough not to
    increase graduate enrollments.
    Rob Hausman
    Professor of Biology
    Boston University
    To the Editor:
    "Is There a Science Crisis? Maybe Not" is a narrow view of the
    situation of science and technology in the United States. By focusing
    on today's job market, the article obscures the most important science
    crisis we face: the ultimate loss of U.S. pre-eminence in science and
    technology. And we are indeed in jeopardy of losing the leadership
    edge that boosted this nation's economy, security, and standard of
    living during the last half of the 20th century. We seem to have
    forgotten that we did not have this edge in the first half of that
    The United States rose to prominence in innovation because we invested
    in basic science and technology to protect our national security. The
    threat to that security was the persistent driver that brought us into
    the nuclear age, then the space age, and then the information age. The
    persistent threat led to a continuing public-policy goal of achieving
    unchallengeable scientific and technological superiority. And we
    achieved that goal, with many benefits to society. It is these other
    benefits that the public seems to take for granted, possibly because
    they were never explicitly supported in the first place. They were
    just byproducts of our security efforts.
    The close of the cold war ended the perception that our national
    security was in imminent danger. As a consequence, the driver for
    unchallengeable technological superiority was gone, and the decline in
    our investment in technology began. ... Health care beckoned
    vigorously for our research attention, and got it. Our investment in
    biomedical research will no doubt enhance the quality of life around
    the globe. But can we afford to lose pre-eminence in the physical
    sciences and engineering? ...
    In 1957 renewal of commitment to basic science and engineering was
    inspired by Sputnik. We realized that we were behind in space; our
    national security was challenged; our confidence in the future was
    shaken. Our public-policy response was to invest heavily in science
    and technology, change our national course, restructure higher
    education, and retake the lead -- especially in space sciences -- and
    keep it. ...
    The threat to our nation is greater today than it was in 1957, though
    the decline of current indicators -- like patents filed and research
    publications -- is less dramatic than Sputnik's flight. We are not
    investing sufficiently to retain pre-eminence. Outside of the
    biosciences our scientific efforts in universities have been declining
    across the board because of insufficient federal and private support.
    This is the true science crisis: loss of global scientific and
    technological superiority.
    C.D. Mote Jr.
    University of Maryland
    College Park, Md.


    1. http://chronicle.com/weekly/v50/i44/44a01001.htm

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