[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
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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 ("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.
Professor of Biology
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
C.D. Mote Jr.
University of Maryland
College Park, Md.
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