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Education United States Science

Saving U.S. Science 667

Posted by samzenpus
from the quick-someone-call-bill-nye dept.
beebo famulus writes "Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science as it was during the last century. The hand wringing has generated a couple of new ideas to deal with the dilemma. Specifically, one expert says that the federal government should create contests and prize awards for successful science ideas, while another advises that the National Science Foundation fund more graduate students and increase the amount of the fellowships."
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Saving U.S. Science

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  • by Reverend99 (1009807) * on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:43AM (#17144296)
    ... of experts who have not learned from history.

    I was told the same thing back in the 80s. About how my generation was falling behind compared to the 60s and their great space race. How kids in Ethiopia were doing better in quantum physics than the average US Sophomore.

    Well let me tell you something. While those nerds from the 60s went to the moon and got nothing out of it, my generation of nerds built the Web and Wireless and Palm-based computing so that we can download any type of porn to satisfy any type of fetish at any time, any where. BEAT THAT.

    So I say to these experts to stop thinking about prizes and stupid contests. What they need to worry about is how to throw porn into any problem we may have and I'll damn well assure you that us good old U.S. of Fucking-A nerds will be able to solve it.

    Can I get a witness?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by trellick (67244)
      so that we can download any type of porn to satisfy any type of fetish at any time, any where. BEAT THAT


      Sorry chum, I think the only type of 'beating' will be with yourself!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaMattster (977781)
      I am not so sure. Why not look at the white papers that were written. Many have Asian last names and were foriegn born.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fred_A (10934)
        Easy fix. What is needed is the same thing as in the 20th century: a new war so that all the scientists flock to the US. Except this time it should be in Asia except of Europe.
        It's not by "magic" that the US moved to the forefront. It's because pretty much all of the best people of the world had moved there. After that the rest of the research institutes of the world pretty much had to start again (or just start in the case of so called "emerging countries") from scratch.

        Of course that the US squandered the
      • by SnowZero (92219) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:54AM (#17145728)
        No kidding. What happened to good old American scientists like we used to have... You know, the ones with names like Einstein, Von Braun, and Tesla.

        Oh wait...
      • by Jason Earl (1894) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:23PM (#17148114) Homepage Journal

        The secret to America's success in maintaining the science gap with the rest of the world is that we have historically poached the best and the brightest from everywhere on the planet. That's the truly scary thing about the current outsourcing trends. It isn't surprising that there are piles of intelligent and motivated Chinese and Indians that are making real breakthroughs in all sorts of fields. It *is* surprising, however, that for the first time in a generation many of these folks are not moving to the West to take advantage of their skills. The U.S. economy holds all sorts of bonuses for educated folks with drive and ambition. People in the U.S. have access to funding that is unmatched in the rest of the world. As long as it is relatively easy for smart people to emmigrate to the U.S., and as long as the U.S. is seen as *the* place to go to turn your ideas into fat piles of money, then the U.S. will maintain its technology lead.

        Despite what educators believe (especially primary educators) the state of the American primary education system really has very little to do with America's technological lead. Who cares how much smarter Ethiopian high school students are than American high school students if the Ethiopian students have to come to the U.S. to do advanced research? America is more than happy to let other countries pay to have their young educated and then poach the best and brightest when they start to be income earners.

        Like most everything else America's technological lead really is more a question of economics than education. Only idiots think that our success has something to do with race. Of course our leading technologist, scientists, and thinkers used used to be foreigners. Now, however, they are Americans. When some other country learns that particular trick then the U.S. will have real problems.

        • by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:52PM (#17148570)
          People in the U.S. have access to funding that is unmatched in the rest of the world. As long as it is relatively easy for smart people to emmigrate to the U.S., and as long as the U.S. is seen as *the* place to go to turn your ideas into fat piles of money, then the U.S. will maintain its technology lead.

          It *is* surprising, however, that for the first time in a generation many of these folks are not moving to the West to take advantage of their skills.

          This is the problem right here. Back in the "old days", smart people from other countries moved to the US because they could more easily do their work here, and also because it was simply a better place to live; their own countries were war-torn, economically depressed, etc. But this is no longer true. Highly educated Indians no longer want to move to the USA because they like India just fine, and don't want to deal with culture shock and having to fly across the Pacific twice a year when they can enjoy a better standard of living in their own country with a smaller salary. Money doesn't go nearly as far in the US as it used to back in the 20th century.

          We still have tons of people trying to immigrate here, but they're all dirt-poor uneducated Mexicans who want to work as landscapers, and they're certainly not going to be the next generation of scientists. So if we want to continue to lead, we have to grow our own here. Unfortunately, that's not happening; our education system sucks, we have an anti-intellectual culture that favors football and NASCAR, and jobs in science don't pay squat.

          Personally, I think we should just throw the towel in. It'd be better to just let another culture concentrate on science, one which actually values science and people who work in it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by TheSync (5291) *
            Highly educated Indians no longer want to move to the USA because they like India just fine

            US Immigrants from India...
            1990: 448,6088
            2000: 1,018,393

            http://www.cis.org/articles/2003/back1203.html#tab le3 [cis.org]
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Jason Earl (1894)

            We still have tons of people trying to immigrate here, but they're all dirt-poor uneducated Mexicans who want to work as landscapers, and they're certainly not going to be the next generation of scientists.

            At one time the same thing was said about every wave of immigrant that has come to the United States. Yesterday it was the Irish, Italians, or Chinese (to name a few of the more controversial groups), and today it is the "Mexicans." A certain part of the American population has always been prejudiced

    • by Idbar (1034346) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:25AM (#17144628)
      Agree with Damattser. I think the amount of foreign students in the US is constantly growing, and if another country provides education and high level research, people will also tend to go there.

      Mainly, Americans have to be convinced that they can go do research also. The average undergrad student (if they get there) gets a job and runs away from the academy. Many high school students ran because they started making money.

      US should motivate students to go for their graduate studies. It amazing the amount of asian (chinese and indian) people currently on technology programs.

      So don't be so sure, after all, US had to "import" science to make important advances (Let's name just one... Albert Einstein?).

      A think US has been in the lead, but all this budget they have been using for war, might cause a reduction of graduate students and slow down the pace of US Science. US have to start motivating people to stay in graduate programs with good incentives. And US Universities should be involved in that process.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Tell the truth- graduate studies should NOT be the responsibility of the individual or the government, but the corporation. If having a PHD actually paid enough to pay back the student loans needed to get one, you'd see tons more Americans going for graduate degrees.
    • by eric76 (679787) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:28AM (#17144666)
      As we export more and more jobs, especially manufacturing, it is only natural that we are going to lose our place in science.

      If you have little or no manufacturing, you won't need much engineering to support the manufacturing. The less engineering we have, the less need for science to drive that engineering.

      In other words, by exporting our manufacturing, we are exporting everything that depends on it as well.

      The net result is that it will be nearly impossible for us to regain over the next few hundred years what we lose over the next twenty years.

      We've made short term monetary gain our ultimate god. Many generations of future Americans will pay for that.
      • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:57AM (#17144970)

        As we export more and more jobs, especially manufacturing, it is only natural that we are going to lose our place in science.

        Quite the opposite. It is our high tech labor force that has priced itself out of low-level, non-innovative markets like manufacturing. A study of history would easily prove that - this nation has continuously become more high-tech while constantly shedding physical-labor intensive work elsewhere. An attempt to maintain a dying labor model in manufacturing spawned the original Luddites. Your suggestion is no different - smashing looms has never been the answer; creating the next better product is. That's where science comes in.

        If you have little or no manufacturing, you won't need much engineering to support the manufacturing.

        Science doesn't "surrport" manufacturing. High-level science and engineering invent things that are high-tech for a while, and are manufactured in the US as long as those things require a high-tech work force. Later they become commoditized and are moved offshore. By then we've moved on to something else.

        The net result is that it will be nearly impossible for us to regain over the next few hundred years what we lose over the next twenty years.

        What, low-paying manufacturing jobs that we send overseas? Good, I don't want them. Wouldn't you rather get rid of crappy jobs, while using research to generate new good ones?

        We've made short term monetary gain our ultimate god. Many generations of future Americans will pay for that.

        Actually, we're talking about re-investment into science and engineering here, which is long-term monetary gain. Short-term gain would be trying to squeeze a little more blood from the stone of manufacturing jobs, which isn't a growth industry. And I don't want future generations of Americans to pay be slipping and losing our wage advantage. The only way to maintain that is through an environment of innovation.

        Put another way - we aren't smarter, nor do we work harder, than people in nations such as India and China. The only thing unique about us is our entrepeneurial environment which combines research at the highest levels with available capital to turn that research into products that generate thousands of jobs.

        Flint, MI should tell you all you need to know about the wisdom of tying your economy to manufacturing.

        • by ciggieposeur (715798) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:58AM (#17145778)
          Science doesn't "surrport" manufacturing. High-level science and engineering invent things that are high-tech for a while, and are manufactured in the US as long as those things require a high-tech work force. Later they become commoditized and are moved offshore. By then we've moved on to something else.

          That sounds well and good, but I don't think history supports it. Yes, VCRs started here and ended in Japan. Yes, computers started here and ended in Taiwan. But these days both manufacturing and research are rapidly moving. Taiwanese manufacturers are doing their own research and creating products with USA labels that have generated essentially no new USA expertise in the problem domain. Japanese cars are far ahead of USA cars in innovation and quality. In my major (chemical engineering), new plants are simply not being built anymore in the USA, so research in plant efficiency (which is an umbrella idea encompassing most of the traditional major) is beginning to stagnate; a number of experienced engineers have said that the future of the major lies in China now.

          My major is transitioning to new fields, particularly bioengineering and nanotechnology design and fabrication, which may be supporting your point, but OTOH the new stuff is very bleeding edge and will not be ready for productizing for a decade or four. I don't see a good skills transition in the interim, because all the other nations are starting at about the same place we are and unlike USA they have the manufacturing facilities to experiment with.

          I agree that we don't want Flint, MI, to be the entire USA. But we also shouldn't want USA to become uber-specialized Chiba City surrounded by a vast wasteland of poor serfs.
          • by computational super (740265) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:21AM (#17146088)
            But we also shouldn't want USA to become uber-specialized Chiba City surrounded by a vast wasteland of poor serfs.

            Well, speak for yourself - personally I'm all for that, as long as I get to be a Chiba. At least until the uprising, anyway...

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by xoyoyo (949672)
            Perhaps the US would do better at R&D if it stopped passing off other people's inventions as its own:

            The US developed the first reel-to-reel video recorder but the VCR was a Philips invention (Dutch) building on a cassette recorder developed by Sony (Japan).

            As for the computer, the first stored program computer was German and the first commercial computer was British.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vtcodger (957785)
          ***Your suggestion is no different - smashing looms has never been the answer***

          Actually, smashing the looms probably WAS the right answer for the luddites since the textile factories were destroying their middle class life style and destroying the factories was their only realistic alternative. Their problem was, I think, that they weren't good enough at it.

          There actually is a historical example where 'smashing the looms' did work for quite a while. Japan's Tokugawa shoguns closed the country to outs

        • by HighOrbit (631451) * on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:11PM (#17147910)

          What, low-paying manufacturing jobs that we send overseas? Good, I don't want them. Wouldn't you rather get rid of crappy jobs, while using research to generate new good ones?

          Apologists for exporting our standard-of-living have been repeating this mantra for years. I'm sorry to burst your education-is-the-answer bubble, but not everybody is going to get a PhD (or even Bachelor) in engineering. We will always have a large section of our society who, for whatever reason (aptitude or personal perference, poor choice, etc) will NOT go to college and will NOT become engineers. We still have to provide meaningful jobs that pay a living wage to these people. And retraining these folks into programers or network support (or whatever) means nothing if we are going to also export that job to India or import an H-1b to take it away in a few years.

          Manufacturing jobs are typically not rock-bottom low-paying. They are often moderately-paying union jobs with health insurance, pensions, and fringe benefits. They are the kind of jobs that allowed the development of a broad-based lower-middle class that formed the backbone of American society in the 1900s. They are the kind of jobs that allow a guy to own a small house with a yard on an affordable mortgage with enough left over to have a decent standard of living.

          I agree with Cluckshot's post that we are waging a trade war against our own citizens. We are exporting manufacturing blue collar jobs while importing cheap immigant labor to take the remaining blue collar jobs. And please don't repeat the racist lie that these are "jobs American's won't do". That is a lie. They will do them for decent pay, but not for peanuts. I have relatives who work in landscaping (cutting grass) in rural Missouri, which has almost no immigant labor. They make a modest but decent living. They wouldn't be able to make a living in Virginia (where I live), because it is teeming with cheap illegal immigrant labor that has pushed out the native workforce in those types of jobs. I have no doubt that native born americans would do that work in Virginia, if they weren't undercut by an illegal workforce that does not get paid benefits, often gets paid "under the table", and is not subject to labor law. We have placed our blue-collar citizens in an unregulated and unfettered global labor market that really is a "race to the bottom".

          I am normally a free-trade libertarian, but I've come to realize that something is wrong. There is a famous quote attributed to Yogi Bera - it goes something like "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is". In theory, and all other things being equal, trade will benefit both parties and increase the wealth of both. But in practice, all other things are not equal. This is where the ivory-tower economics of free-trade break down. There are just too many uncontrolled variables that their theories do not take into account. The largest uncontrolled varible is the dissimilar reglatory environoments between the US and the east asian economies. In China, free labor unions are outlawed, so workers can not bargin for higher wages or benefits as they could in a regulated true market economy (yes, true markets are also minimally regulated to preserve competition and bargining). Environmental and work safety regulations are unenforced, if they exist at all. This means that all the economic theories about efficiency and trade are blown out of the water. The classic theory is that if another country can make a good more efficiently, then it is good to close down the old inefficient factory and apply the resources to more efficient endevours. But China does not make goods more cheaply because they are more efficient. They make goods more cheaply because they have artificially low costs - no labor rights, can pollute to high-heaven without enforcement, and have a rigged exchange rate. That's not free trade, that's rigged trade.

          I've digressed, so going back to the orig

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Apologists for exporting our standard-of-living have been repeating this mantra for years. I'm sorry to burst your education-is-the-answer bubble, but not everybody is going to get a PhD (or even Bachelor) in engineering. We will always have a large section of our society who, for whatever reason (aptitude or personal perference, poor choice, etc) will NOT go to college and will NOT become engineers.

            That's what is so great about a tech economy: you don't have to! The salaries of all jobs are dragged up vi

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mkcmkc (197982)
        We've made short term monetary gain our ultimate god. Many generations of future Americans will pay for that.

        I predict they will profit from it, but only briefly. :-)

    • The real problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:40AM (#17144806)
      The real problem is all the whackjobs who claim science doesn't exist, and we need to believe in magic and bad spirits which can be dispelled with a spraybottle filled with cooking oil and prayer.

      When you have religious whackos trying to claim "intelligent design" is more valid than evolution, and that evolution is "just a theory"... and making sure they indoctrinate children into their stupidity... it's pretty hard to compete with countries who do not have religious whackjobs.

      It's always saddened me that of all the freedoms granted to American citizens, most of us choose to practice the right to be stupid and ignorant.
      • by Shaper_pmp (825142) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:19AM (#17145222)
        A-fucking-MEN!

        I would kill for mod-points. How is the parent still languishing at 0, a full half-hour after it was posted?

        People want respect and money, but they'll compromise on the money for respect and self-worth.
        Culture and the media dictates how much respect people get for their job.
        Our culture and media is getting pretty vehemently "anti-expert"[1].
        Scientists are basically paid experts.
        Remove respect from a profession, and watch people desert it.
        Remove people from a profession, and watch the country fall behind in that field.

        Cheapen science in the media, encourage the perception that experts have no more to offer than anyone else and your country falls behind because nobody wants to waste time learning to become something so disrespected. QED.

        Footnotes:

        [1] Are there really always two sides to every story? Does everyone's opinion really have equal weight? Should everyone always have equal input on every decision?

        If you answered yes to all three, congratulations - you're a fully-paid-up brainwashed member of our generation.

        You're also wrong, and likely dangerously stupid.

        What about flying a plane - should we leave it to the couple of guys who've trained for years to do it, or should we consult everyone on the plane and have a vote about which way to turn to avoid the other oncoming 747?

        Say it with me: Equality is an abstract goal, not an existing achievement.
      • Re:The real problem (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jamesmrankinjr (536093) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:54PM (#17147674) Homepage

        I think it's trendy to believe that religion is what is holding the U.S. back today.

        But I think it's more complicated than that. Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. was at least as religious as it is now. But it also led the world in scientific discovery and application.

        For the most part, Americans are both religious and lovers of scientific progress. Certainly technical progress with tangible results.

        India I would say is very religious, but also much in love with scientific learning. China is only irreligious because of intense religious persecution, and I don't think we want to go there. Japan is very secular, and very good at science, but maybe not so good at the creative and innovative aspects of discovery as Americans, culturally speaking (although they may be making progress in those areas). South Korea has a lot of born again Christians, and still is full heartedly embracing technology and science.

        Europe is extremely secular, but I don't think they have the cultural values to innovate and compete over time with the countries I just listed.

        The Muslim world, of course, is ultra religious and vehemently anti-modernity, which carries over into a disdain for science.

        So I think if you want to be objective and scientific in your view, the correlation between religious fervor and scientific progress is far from fixed. In my opinion, it is the U.S. system of separating church and state that has enabled both religion and science to thrive here. Yes, there have been attempts to throw that balance out of whack recently, but let's dispose of our bathwater and keep our baby, shall we.

        Peace be with you,
        -jimbo

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh (216268)
          India I would say is very religious, but also much in love with scientific learning. China is only irreligious because of intense religious persecution, and I don't think we want to go there. Japan is very secular, and very good at science, but maybe not so good at the creative and innovative aspects of discovery as Americans, culturally speaking (although they may be making progress in those areas). South Korea has a lot of born again Christians, and still is full heartedly embracing technology and science
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by argStyopa (232550)
        1) please let me know which country doesn't have religious nutjobs of one type or another. I'd love to know. We're a democracy - we get what we vote for. If relativism has handcuffed policymakers from saying "sorry, on an absolutely objective basis, that's STUPID", is it any shock that simpler, less intellectually-challenging dogmas are taking hold? The 60's and 70's were spent saying EVERYTHING needed to be challenged....whups, there goes the baby with the bathwater.

        2) When you've had an educational sy
  • But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by agent dero (680753) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:45AM (#17144302) Homepage
    "one expert says that the federal government should create contests and prize awards for successful science ideas, while another advises that the National Science Foundation fund more graduate students and increase the amount of the fellowships."

    How did we not think of that! Throw more money at the problem, that always works

    It doesn't take a damned expert to figure out what's wrong, ask any geek that's in high school or recently graduated. Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society, actively encourage exploration (you know, the heart of science) throughout the development of today's youth, and within one generation we'll be sorted.

    It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment, not conform.
    • by Dante Shamest (813622) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:54AM (#17144378)
      It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment, not conform.

      Yeah! Everybody should conform to non-conformism. Everyone would be unique, just like everybody else. XD

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah! Everybody should conform to non-conformism. Everyone would be unique, just like everybody else.

        You misunderstand the meaning of nonconformity. It has nothing to do with being unique.

        It's about reaching your own conclusions, making your own decisions. If they happen to be the same as everyone else's, it doesn't make you a conformist.

        It's a question of how you got where you are. You could have mainstream opinions and dress like everyone else but still be a nonconformist.
      • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:11AM (#17144522)
        Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, you don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for yourselves! You're ALL individuals!
        The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We're all individuals!
        Brian: You're all different!
        The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we ARE all different!
        Man in Crowd: I'm not...
        The Crowd: Shhh!
    • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JWW (79176) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:56AM (#17144404)
      Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society, actively encourage exploration (you know, the heart of science) throughout the development of today's youth, and within one generation we'll be sorted.

      Amen to that. Now contrast what you just said and what the article said with this:

      Earlier in the week /. had a story about NASA's new mission to the moon. A lot of conjecture in the comments was about if it would get enough funding. Now this story talks about funding contests and other shit like that. Bzzzt wrong answer. What the government should fund to get kids interested in science again (and as per your point exploration) is the Moon mission. We have to see exploration in scientific frontiers as the way to the future and I believe the kids will follow suit and learn this stuff.

      Now contrast this with the worry (belief) in the Moon mission story that the project will be cut in order to spend the money on social programs. Well if the government does that why the hell should they complain about lack of kids going into the sciences? They themselves will be saying that science isn't a big interest for the country. So kids, why not go to school to be a social worker, we'll need lots of those in the future.

      This isn't to say that industry won't need scientific types in the future, they will. But when your talking about influencing the next generation, something big like going back to the Moon, and to Mars is the best way to do that. Its the true building block for that spirit of exploration and adventure, that the parent post so rightly assumes we need to get back.

    • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tbjw (760188) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:58AM (#17144414)
      The cultural anti-intellectual bias is, admittedly, pretty common where I'm from in Ireland. From what I've seen, though, it's worse in the US than in Europe & elsewhere. There are a large number of very bright people in the world who would like to come to the US and work as Scientists (doing the jobs Americans are unwilling to do). The problem is that the US immigration & visa policy is pretty forbidding. For instance, a graduate student on an F1 or J1 visa in the US can work only 20 hours per week and is not eligible for various forms of NSF money for conferences etc. Postdocs employed at American universities are often on visas that do not allow them to become citizens. Once these people find tenured jobs in their countries or continents of origin, since the US has not given them much of a stake in American society, they will often return home.

      This all makes sense if one views the US as a Beacon of Science, a place where people are lucky to study for a few years. According to conventional wisdom, though, this will stop being the case, even if it is still true, and the US ought to adopt a much more inviting position towards young scientists who wish to study there than it has heretofore.

      Given how fast the government moves, and given the general xenophobia in the US today, where immigration is viewed more as a threat than a boon, I doubt they'll figure this out quite in time.

      Ben
    • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ezubaric (464724) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:59AM (#17144428) Homepage

      How did we not think of that! Throw more money at the problem, that always works

      It doesn't take a damned expert to figure out what's wrong, ask any geek that's in high school or recently graduated.
      But the NSF is constantly slashing budgets, and there's far less money to go around, which means grad students have to whore themselves out to military contractors and pharma companies. Less basic research is being done, and corporations (which used to have big R&D wings) are getting their work done in universities.

      Maybe it's good that universities are transforming themselves into more practical places, but it's at the expense of basic science.
      • It's NOT the money (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mungtor (306258) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:35AM (#17144768)
        This has nothing to do with slashing budgets. It has to do with the overall dumbing down of American school children.

        The entire "No Child Left Behind" initiative would be more accurately called "Let's Weigh Down Our Brightest Kids With Some Fucking Morons".

        It started when I was in school (80s) when people got their asses all in a twist about "tracking" students. If you're not familiar with that term, it basically means separating out the idiots and the trouble makers from the kids who actually have a chance. Of course, the slightly brighter parents of these sub-par offspring raised a huge stink about how it was damaging to their idiots to be segregated from the other children. The solution, of course, was to integrate them into all the classes. So, instead of a class full of bright kids doing something like dissecting frogs or building circuits you have 29 kids bored out of their fucking minds while the teacher tries relentlessly to impart Ohm's Law into some mouth-breathing fucktard.

        My younger brother was in a "gifted and talented" class for all of 6 months (the entire length of the program) before somebody decided that he should be hobbled by other people's stupidity as well.

        Also related to this entire fucking mess is the "why don't women do as well in science" question. The correct answer is "who gives a fuck", not "lets screw up the educational system to the point that NOBODY does well in science". Equality is not a fact of life, period. Some women are brilliant and excellent scientists, but they seem to be the exception in scientific fields. Respect them for their abilities, but don't turn all your resources towards teaching Sally _instead_ of Billy.

        Things like that are why home schooled kids often seem so much brighter than public school ones these days. Not because of incapable public school teachers (although they exist), but more because of anti-educational policies that don't let them teach the ones who are willing and able to learn.

        Harrison Bergeron was prophesy, and we're paying for it now.
        • by Smidge204 (605297) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:17AM (#17145200) Journal
          The problem with your analysis is that the people effected by the dumbing-down were/are too young to have been effected by the layoffs when they became popular.

          The people who went to school in the 80's (myself included) have only been working at their career jobs for a few years by this point, assuming they have a college education. We won't feel the real effects of "No Child Left Behind" for at least another 20 years. In the meantime, the bulk of today's academic workforce was educated in the 1960's and 1970's.

          Your inappropriate rant is off by a few decades. (But you'll probably blame public education, right?)
          =Smidge=
        • No, it's NOT the money. It's the politics.

          See chapter vi [wikipedia.org].

      • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lukesl (555535) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:20AM (#17146070)
        But the NSF is constantly slashing budgets

        To clarify, it's not the NSF that is slashing budgets, it's the President and congress that have been slashing the NSF budget, forcing them to make tough decisions. I'm sure the NSF would like nothing more than to fund more research.
    • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by testadicazzo (567430) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:21AM (#17144600) Homepage
      It doesn't take a damned expert to figure out what's wrong, ask any geek that's in high school or recently graduated. Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society, actively encourage exploration (you know, the heart of science) throughout the development of today's youth, and within one generation we'll be sorted.

      You aren't wrong. But I think more can be said on the subject. As a physicist currently working at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (it's where Einstein went to school), I would like to offer my perspective.

      What the united states government should do, in order to preserve it's dominance in research and development is to STOP ACTIVELY HARMING RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. What are we actively doing to harm research and development? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here are some of the things that I see screwing the U.S. research community:

      1. The Patriot Act(s): The horrible progression towards a totalitarian police state. No I'm not exagerating, flamebaiting or fudding here. The fact that America no longer has habeus corpus, that America has now adopted the military strategies/justifications of imperial japan and nazi germany (pre-emptive war), the numerous videos of excessive violency by U.S. cops, the onerous security conditions international travelers into the U.S. are subject to... All of this stuff gets a lot attention in the civilized world, and has a harmful effect on research in the U.S. Of my colleagues about 5% categorically refuse to travel to the U.S. for conferences or employment. About 50% would never take a position in the U.S. regardless of the pay on moral or safety grounds, and virtually everyone, when looking around for conferences to attend, will, all other things being equal, pick the conference that is NOT in the scary police state. Just to give you an example, most of my colleagues would feel safer going to a conference in Singapore than anywhere in the states.
      2. Stop trying to introduce political and economic bias into research. If you think censoring NASA's JPL and the so-called 'intelligent design' movments don't screw up both our reputation (which is important in getting the best people to come and do research in the U.S.) and don't screw up the research climate in the states, well, you need to rethink the issue. What are some issues that can't be studied without undue pressure in the U.S.? It seems to me that biology, atmospheric physics, and medicine have all suffer here, but I'd like to hear from colleagues in those fields how strong that effect is. One area where one hasn't been able to do good research in the United States is drug use and abuse. See http://www.biopsychiatry.com/ [biopsychiatry.com] for an excellent, if not entirely accessible discussion. Alternative energy and environmental research seems to be another victim. We need a government for whom science and facts are more important than faith.
      3. The DMCA
      4. Software and applied mathematics patents

      I'm sure other points can be raised as well, but these are the ones I see most obviously damaging U.S. research. I would like to mention one more point which is less defensible. I believe the U.S. would benefit from more funding for basic research, outside of DARPA and war justifications. DARPA has been responsible for wonderful things, I just don't like how seemingly everything (in physics anyway) has to be linked somehow peripherally to war applications to get any funding in the states.

      Besides the significant, immediate, direct, and observable impact these things have on U.S. science, they further reinforce the anti-intellectual climate you have complained about. Don't forget that one reason the U.S. enjoyed such a period of scientific dominance post WWII is we got all the great scientists the nazi's chased out of europe to come here. Now we're chasing away our best scientists.

      Closing point, this line of thinking applies to many aspects of U.S. government. Before doing something to fix a problem, think a bit about what we are doing to create a problem, and see what we can do to address that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Yartrebo (690383)
        You left one out:

        5: Religion attacking science. It's hard to train scientists when a large chunk of the population believes that the world is under 10,000 years old.
      • Re:But of course (Score:5, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:58AM (#17146734)
        Of my colleagues about 5% categorically refuse to travel to the U.S. for conferences or employment.

        This conforms to my experience as well. I've worked in the U.S. in the past, as recently as last summer, but with the passing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which suspends habeas corpus for aliens, I will no longer enter the U.S. for any reason. YMMV, but I'd strongly recommend any non-American who can avoid it, to stay out of the U.S. until the current fight between the government and the consitution is over. There is no doubt that the constitution will win in the end, but who wants to be one of the tens of thousands being tortured in secret prisons while that happens?

        America has not been a safe place for foreign high-tech workers for some time [maherarar.ca], and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 makes it a considerably less safe place. You may look at this and think, "Well, I'm not a Syrian-born Muslim, so I'm in no danger." But I'm sure Arar, if the thought crossed his mind at all, thought, "I am a Canadian citizen, going peacefully about my business, in no way connected to terrorism of any kind, so I'm in no danger."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr_Barnowl (709838)
      I completely agree that it's a cultural problem.

      My 2 1/2 daughter had her state-mandated development assessment this week. The health visitor actually told us not to educate her too much on the grounds that if she was too far ahead of her school classmates she might not fit in. My comment was that that was the poorest excuse for mediocrity I've ever heard.

      My daughter is obviously taking after her parents, who were both precocious children. In a culture where every other conceivable "difference" is sacrosanc
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sam_handelman (519767)
      Firstly, you overstate the cultural problem. It is true that American students are somewhat less likely to pursue careers in science and engineering than our east asian counterparts - but that's driven by economics. Lawyers and MBAs have better employment prospects (all else being equal) than scientists and engineers. The same is not true in east asia, where it is much more difficult to make a go of it as, for example, an attorney. First thing we do, we kill all the lawyers.

      Secondly, more money wou
    • Re:But of course (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bastian (66383) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:55AM (#17145746)
      It doesn't take a damned expert to figure out what's wrong, ask any geek that's in high school or recently graduated. Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society, actively encourage exploration (you know, the heart of science) throughout the development of today's youth, and within one generation we'll be sorted.

      The point at which I really realized that school's only purpose in everybody's life, not just mine, is to get in the way of education was my freshman year of high school. We spent a month in my biology class rote memorizing the characteristics all the phyla and classes in the kingdom animalia, all the steps of the Krebs cycle, crap like that. Meanwhile, we barely spent a damn minute learning anything useful, and spent zero time whatsoever learning how scientists figured things out or following the reasoning behind any of these discoveries. It went on like that for another four years - a total of five science classes, and never once did anybody teach me any actual science. Just random facts pulled out of a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards.

      It's no wonder science is having such a hard time competing with claptrap like creationism. With the way that it's presented to people in our educational system ("Here, take it on faith that these random facts are true."), it's epistemologically no different to most people from any creation myth.
  • Here's an idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat (796938) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:45AM (#17144308) Homepage Journal
    How about instead of using fairy tales and pseudoscience to explain to folks how the universe operates, we actually teach them the science.

    I know, I know, giving people science instead of religious precepts is a wild and crazy idea but someone has to suggest it.
    • Re:Here's an idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:40AM (#17144816)
      This is pure drivel. No one ever said, "Gee, I'd really like to understand better how the wave equation breaks down when our assumptions of a linear system aren't valid. But my belief that the universe shows signs of fine tuning just gets in the way."

      Being a theist isn't a barrier to accepting most of the scientific community's conclusions, nor to participating in advanced research. Not being able to solve a system of linear equations, or having the good sense when to employ them, is. Not being curious about why the world works the way it does (perhaps because it was burned out of you by a bad education) is a barrier. Being more concerned about playing your PS3 and scoring weed, rather than helping to develop genetic treatments for certain forms of cancer, is a barrier. These are not barriers that can reasonably be attributed to specifically theists.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by smooth wombat (796938)
        Being a theist isn't a barrier to accepting most of the scientific community's conclusions,

        Absolutely correct. Being of a religious mind in no way prevents someone from working in an participating in the scientifice community. The key word, however, is most. People are willing to accept most scientific conclusions so long as they do not interfere with their religious beliefs.

        The problem comes in when ones religious beliefs influence/guide/determine/whatever ones scientific views. To use the be

      • Re:Here's an idea (Score:4, Interesting)

        by localman (111171) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:16AM (#17146016) Homepage
        Strongly disagree. I have a Christian theist family on my mother's side and an atheist family on my father's side. My mother's side distinctly dislikes science. Whenever I talk curiousity about anything in the way the world works, their interest quickly bottoms out with something like "God made it that way and we can't understand with our little human brains". They are completely satisfied with knowing nothing. They also directly fear science because they think science is responsible for the decline in Christianity. What decline? The US is more Christian now than ever. Of course that's a factual point so even bringing that up is too scientific, they want to go by their guestimation.

        I'm not saying all theistic people are like that. I understand that a large part of early science was motivated by the desire to understand the mind of God. I understand that most scientists are theists (because most humans are theist). But I have witnessed theism hamper people's interest in science as well, something I've never seen atheism do.

        Cheers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Ender (156273)

        Being a theist isn't a barrier to accepting most of the scientific community's conclusions, nor to participating in advanced research

        This is pure drivel. There is a reason that almost NONE of the most eminent scientists in the world are religious. Why study the natural universe if anything could change at any time due to magic? Why try to cure a disease through science when you could just pray? Why should you learn science if it is OBVIOUSLY a flawed process (since it contradicts the abrahamic legends)?

        Try

  • Too late, assholes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:47AM (#17144324)
    It's taken decades to devolve the American science curriculum into little more than basic biology. That means that today's graduates who would be eligible for participation in these science fairs are already past the point of redemption. In fact, any high school student is already past that point as well since they don't have a strong enough background from elementary and middle school.

    So what does that mean? It means that it will take at least another 10 years of good science teaching to bring the next generation of kids up to speed with the rest of the world.

    We're in a mess so big and so deep and so tall, we can't clean it up, there's no way at all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Opportunist (166417)
      "No child left behind". Or, in other words, dumb and water it down 'til even the last half brain can grasp it.

      Sorry, but people aren't equal. There are smart people and dumb people. Which is ok, and IMO a "dumb" bricklayer is at the very least as important as a "smart" quantum physician. I mean, I deem a house more important than finding element 139 (yes, I know it's theoretically impossible, that's not the point now).

      The problem is that society views that physician more important than the bricklayer (and a
  • by jsiren (886858) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:48AM (#17144342) Homepage
    This really begins at the elementary school level: getting children into the habit of using their brain, promoting questioning and independent thought, would be a good start. It should continue throughout the education system.

    Contests and things like that are nice incentives, but everything rests on the fundamentals.

  • by Noryungi (70322) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:48AM (#17144344) Homepage Journal
    Well, US voters elected twice (not just once, but twice!) a man that does not care about science, and has been trying to undermine some of the most prestigious US research centers if they disagree with his policies or analysis.

    And this man is backed by (a) a group of people who want an end to big governement and (b) another group of people who believe an obscure semitic carpenter - turned - Savior - turned - deity is going to come back Real Soon Now, which will bring the end of the world as we know it and the judgement of the unbelievers.

    So is this so surprising?

    I know this sounds very trollish/flame-baitish, and it's also a caricature, but the fact is, Big Government is that what gave an edge to the USA since around 1940, and most people who go to a hall of worship on Sunday morning turn out to be not so great scientists (I know, I know, there are exceptions, blah, blah, blah). Actually, only 17% of them even know their sacred scriptures, according to a recent survey.

    So, let me ask you again: is that so surprising? I think not. Another brilliant civilization rejected science and went into a profound decline: it was the Middle-Ages Moslem civilization. Think about that for a minute.
    • by kahei (466208) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:35AM (#17144762) Homepage
      Another brilliant civilization rejected science and went into a profound decline: it was the Middle-Ages Moslem civilization.

      Oh, I don't think you can say they 'rejected science'. They were a group of cultures highly based on conquest -- first the Arab conquest of what is now 'the Arab world' and then the Muslim conquest of various other areas, such as Iberia, Indonesia, and Anatolia.

      Result? Warrior class took control of some societies (Egypt), others became bogged down trying to keep control of their conquests (Almohads), others bit off more than they could chew and found themselves ruled by one violent Turkic dynasty after another (Persians etc).

      Wait a minute. Warrior class takes control, energy is squandered trying to occupy strongly resisting regions, country is governed by feuding families that have nothing to do with the populace... ...hmm, it's not _exactly_ like America. But it ain't exactly different either, if'n you see what I mean :)
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:51AM (#17144360) Journal
    >The hang wringing has generated a couple of new ideas to deal with the dilemma.
    Don't wring your hang in public.
    They'll arrest you.
  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:52AM (#17144372) Homepage
    That america will retain the lead, and even improve it.

    I realize America's science is not progressing at the rate academics would like. However, this is happening everywhere, and it's a LOT worse over here. Trust me, a LOT.

    Lots of material is being dropped from the curriculum. Phd positions are not getting filled. And everything is made easier in name of "everybody being equal", everybody "needs" equal access to university (and somehow access does not mean "a chance to try" but actual graduation), and the only way to do that is dropping the level of education by a lot.

    Math is being dropped like a stone in every subject. Numerical analysis ... algebra ... computational theory ... everything is disappearing from exact science curricula. This cannot be a good thing.
  • by idlake (850372) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:55AM (#17144382)
    "Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science [CC] as it was during the last century.

    Maybe a good place to start would be with better writing. The sentence above incorrectly suggests that experts will, in 20 years, make such a prediction.

    In any case, the US has never been able to produce the number of highly skilled graduates necessary to maintain its dominance in science. America's dominance in science is largely due easy immigration, an open society, and a high living standard in the US relative to other nations. It seems pretty clear that all of those factors are changing for the worse.

    I don't see anything that can be done about it. If Americans aren't willing to maintain a high standard of living, a rational and secular society, and a meritocracy for the direct benefits that those policies bring, they aren't going to do it in order to attract foreign scientists either.
  • by alexhs (877055) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:55AM (#17144384) Homepage Journal
    When I see what british professors accomplishments are [slashdot.org], I wouldn't fear too much about the future of U.S. science :)
  • by MECC (8478) * on Thursday December 07, 2006 @08:56AM (#17144396)
    One problem is that a pernicious idea has gripped academia which is that somehow the way corporations operate is categorically better for everything - including how to run a university. So, research, publishing, and even teaching are oriented towards a bottom line, giving them at best third-quarter foresight. The strength of an idea on its own merits independent of its profitability is seen as archaic and dysfunctional. Universities all want to be 'corporate', thinking this will somehow improve education. Paying attention to what professors say will help things seems to be falling from favor.
  • Two factors (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kahei (466208) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:00AM (#17144436) Homepage

    Two factors contributed to the US's good position in scientific research during the last century:

    1 -- The economic decline of Britain, especially the vast amount of intellectual property that Britain had to give to the US in exchange for resources to resist Hitler.
    2 -- The rapid maturing and solidifying of the US commercial world, which created intense competition as the number of companies collapsed -- the result was a period during which very large entities had a very strong need to gain a competitive advantage.

    Neither of these factors is with us any more. Britain (as a center of technological research that could then be passed on to the US cheaply) is long gone. The US commercial landscape has settled down and now has a much better supply of cheap labor (cheap labor competes with technological innovation to fulfil the same need). So, yes, I'd say we can expect a flattening-off of the rate of technological progress in the US. It doesn't mean there's a big educational disaster or anything.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rucs_hack (784150)
      As an outside observer I'd say your main problem is that an increasing number of your younger people are turning to religious explanations for the universe. This excludes by definition any ability to create new science, or expand existing science.

      Much the same was happening when sputnik appeared. Post that event science was made a priority, evolution was reinstated, and america started to recover. The momentum from that event has kept you going for a fair while, but it looks like the scientists created from
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheLink (130905)
      You left out all those top German or Jewish scientists that moved to USA during WW2.

      Aerospace, rockets, nukes etc.

      You guys got the cream... Got to love immigration when you get the best ;).
  • by tehanu (682528) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:08AM (#17144494)
    As usual, these sort of articles keep on suggesting increasing the number of graduate students.

    How about another suggestion? How about increasing the number of permanent positions instead of low-paying temporary positions? How about job security? How about flexibility e.g. allowing women to have a couple of years off to have a kid and then reenter academia? How about improving work conditions so that working yourself to exhaustion is not considered the norm? Work conditions for scientists are basically crap. Job security is crap. Pay is crap. The only good thing about being a scientist is well the ability to do science, which is nice. But people have got to eat, kids have to be fed and clothed you know, and sometimes we might want to actually spend time with said kids and not constantly worry about begging for money or finding a new position. Basically, with the job conditions for science, you have to really really really really love science otherwise it's just an exercise in masochism. With this why would many kids choose science for a career? In the past, how many kids chose being a monk and devoting themselves to a life of sacrifice, piety, poverty, starvation and interrupted sleep as you get up in the middle of night for prayers for the sake of God? In science today there is almost a monastic attitude in which this sort of thing is *expected* as part of the norm.

    Basically with the work conditions and lack of job security for young scientists today, science is not a career, it is a *calling*. Something which you have to love so much you're willing to put up with very bad work conditions and a good chance of never finding a good permanent position.

    Adding more graduate students will just make things worse. More competition for jobs -> even worse work conditions and job security.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:09AM (#17144502) Homepage
    Prizes help spur research towards specific, known, targeted goals. That's not a bad thing (ethical research is almost never a bad thing) but it's only a small part of the problem, and probably not the most important part.

    So called "pie in the sky" research with no application in sight seems to be increasingly difficult to justify to those with the purse strings. If someone isn't solving a problem, defending it as worthwhile is difficult. From the article:

    "Dangling prizes in front of innovators has benefits not found in the typical funding process. By offering a prize, government pays for success instead of rewarding a research proposal, as occurs with grants."

    Research is not just success - in fact, it's not even mostly success. You can't budget just to pay for the successes, or no one will be able to afford to go after the prizes. Plus, failures can often teach as much or more than successes.

    Fortunately, Kalil acknowledges that prizes are not all that's needed. Personally I am wary of ANY prizes being introduced since there is a temptation to be "budget minded" in the future by paring down to just the prizes, which sound good while being less effective in reality. Also, institutions might pressure researchers to head for goals that have a prize rather than pursuing something more interesting to the researcher.

    Perhaps a good summary of recent problems can be found at the end of this ( http://www.ncseonline.org/Updates/cms.cfm?id=985 [ncseonline.org] ) article:

    "Optimism about the current proposal to double the NSF budget in ten years is tempered by the failure of recent legislation to double the NSF budget in five years. The National Science Authorization Act of 2002, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, called for a doubling of the NSF budget from FY 2002 to FY 2007. The annual appropriations bills have fallen far short of the doubling path specified in the NSF Authorization Act. The FY 2007 budget request for NSF is nearly $4 billion below the level authorized in the last doubling initiative."

    There has been some movement in the House: http://www.ncseonline.org/Updates/cms.cfm?id=1182 [ncseonline.org] but now we will see what happens in reality. Apparently it is possible to sound good without actually putting the money into it, we'll hope that doesn't happen again. The recent shift in power in the House and Senate might be helpful - we will see.

    I don't know if the US as a population is supportive of research though. I would be very interested in a survey which attempts to gauge the public's interest and support for general research funding - does anybody know of a good one?
  • CULTURE! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Infamous TommyD (21616) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:12AM (#17144532)
    I am a computer scientist and faculty member at a Research 1 university.

    As a few have said, IT IS THE CULTURE! I blame it on Anti-intellectual sentiment, pitiful teaching of math and science, and the fact that we don't have a big exploration goal.

    I am not going to delve into anti-intellectual issue right now, but I would ask: What is the ratio of good scientists to evil scientists in movies?

    In general, I have to say that we do a poor job in teaching math and science at all levels. There are many scapegoats here, but it's hard to imagine getting many good science teachers into schools without more pay and better environment. In the Universities, we have been importing scientists in many areas. As a culture, this is short sighted as it is unlikely to motivate US students into science. How are we to expect students in the University to be lured into science and math when they cannot relate to their professors and vice versa. Difficulties in communication and subtle racial/ethnic biases make it difficult for US students to see themselves as future professors. Students need role models.

    The moon landings paid for themselves many times over in young scientists and engineers. We need some national goals that gives students a sense of purpose and appreciation. Why should I bust my hump for science when better paying, easier jobs exist? I could probably double my income in the private sector and work less, but I would lose my opportunity to work with fresh young students and help them see the beauties of learning new things.

    More NSF grants will not solve the problem. Maybe if they are tied to developing domestic students into faculty--that could have a long term effect. The new Mars and moon efforts are good ideas, but the current administration doesn't have the credibility/vision of Kennedy to inspire America.

    As you can tell, this is near and dear to my heart. I hope that we can do something with real effects. I do little things everyday, but I want to do more!
    • Re:CULTURE! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by o'reor (581921) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:59AM (#17144990) Journal
      and the fact that we don't have a big exploration goal.
      Can't agree more. What about a national (or even better, international) research & industrialization program focused on renewable energy ? That is also a worthwhile exploration goal (think of hydrogen fusion, if we put the same effort on it as the US govt put on the lunar space program in the 60s...).

      Not only would it help industrialized countries wean off of fossil fuels, but such an effort would also boost the economic activity in these countries, most of which have been severely affected by the massive outsourcing wave of the late 90s/early 2000s.

      It would certainly be more beneficial to science and industry as a whole than trying to invade yet another oil-producing country.

  • Logical Empiricism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maximthemagnificent (847709) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:18AM (#17144572)
    How about this: teach the bloody scientific method in all schools?

    I was never formally presented with it during my public school education, which I find shocking. The US system
    is filled with mediocre teachers because of the low pay. I spent my school days bored out of my mind, until I went to
    college, where even then I found the professors more interested in research than in teaching (and they certainly weren't
    very good at it). All this was in an ivy league school, no less. We take children who love to learn (a child will almost drive you crazy
    asking "why, why, why?" and bore the love of learning right the hell out of them. One college I toured had monitors halfway
    back in the lecture halls so the students could see the teacher clearly at the blackboard. Totally pathetic. I think a system of
    hypermedia and peer tutoring could reduce the number of teachers allowing for far fewer, much more talented, much better paid
    teachers to oversee it all. I have a professor friend (much older) at a state school who earns a very good salary working about
    10 hours a week. He's totally honest about being paid far too much for far too little; and he's got tenure.

    We keep learning too abstract in the US. How about having young students work on real engineering projects where they
    actually need trigonometry and statics & dynamics? Maybe have a dozen different projects they can participate on (a go-kart design
    class, for example), where they can learn to work in groups and where the rubber will meet the road math-wise. I know
    I would've taken to that approach like a fish to water. Of course, I'm an engineer, so I may be biased, but I believe everyone
    should be trained as an engineer, since it really just boils down to solving problems with the available methods, which I
    think is a useful skill for everyone to have, regardless of how good they are at it. I believe science will dominate humanity's future,
    and that everyone who possibly can should go into it. Who knows which one of use will have that moment of revelation that
    changes history forever? Even if it's in another country, innovation crosses borders soon enough.

    The US had about a century's worth of head start, and we squandered it. Out-sourcing isn't about other country's stealing our
    jobs, it's about why nations with much smaller degrees of wealth can produce graduates who can rival our best and brightest.
    It's all on us: quit your whining, turn off the TV, and pick up a freakin' book. Given how our nation's been acting lately, our
    losing our sole-superpower status is a good thing in my estimation.

    Oh yeah, and get rid of the summer vacation thing. The agrarian society is over, so the number of kids working in the fields
    is too small to penalize all the rest. We have too many farmers anyway, but that's the subject of another post...

    Maxim

    • by nido (102070) <nido56NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:20PM (#17147108) Homepage
      The US systemis filled with mediocre teachers because of the low pay. I spent my school days bored out of my mind...

      Teachers are very well paid for what they do, which is to prevent most their students from ever discovering personal power. Every single one of your classmates was "bored out of [their] mind" too - you just managed to find a way to make something of yourself, in spite of the government's attempt to dumb you down too. Most of our peers aren't quite so fortunate, for whatever reason.

      Read Gatto's [johntaylorgatto.com] essay The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher [aol.com], or his book The Underground History of American Education (available for free online at his website).

      Or one of Holt's [holtgws.com] books - How Children Fail or How Children Learn, for example (incidentally, is that your picture on the schoolbus? :).

      The government school experiment is a good example of a cascading system failure. The first teachers came from classical american education, where learning was the learner's responsibility. The first school reform was to transfer responsibility for educational institutions from "the public" to "the government", and it's been all downhill from there.

      The government school is corrupt because it places all responsibility for learning on the teacher. The first generation of government school students did well because their teachers had been "properly educated" in the traditional American manner. But every generation of teachers has been a little bit worse than the one before, because the system Doesn't teach children that it's their responsibility to teach themselves whatever they want to learn.

      Now, 150 years later, many new teachers are frickin idiots. I had a date some years back with a girl who'd just gotten her teaching certificate, and felt sorry for whoever ended up in her class.

      All part of a grand scheme to depower 'the masses' (that is, 'us').
  • by pkiesel (245289) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:32AM (#17144718) Journal
    Sure, our society de-values intellectual achievement vis-a-vis instant gratification and entertainment. However, as one who mentors secondary school students in engineering, I have seen first hand that those students who have even a slight inclination towards technology or science only take a little push to get them to pursue those interests.

    My own daughter is a case in point. She has always been an artist and excelled in all her subjects, but until 8th grade had little interest in the physical world. That changed when she took a technology course with a very good instructor. He gives his classes challenges - mousetrap powered cars, egg drops, etc. and they go through what amounts to a full design cycle of problem definition, concept development, design, test and repeat, culmonating in a intra-class competition. He's pretty good at promoting these competitions and making it interesting for most students. Long story short, my daughter really got into her challenge: a CO2 powered crash sled with an egg cargo, and did pretty well in the competition. That, I think, was all it took to get her hooked.

    When she got to high school, my daughter signed up for a robotics "club", kind of on a whim (but I'd bet her technology class experience helped her make the choice). Coincidentally (or maybe not), the club was led by the brother of the middle school teacher. The robotics club turned out to be a FIRST high school robotics team (Cybersonics, team 103, for those in the know), and consummed her life throughout her four years of high school.

    She's now a sophomore in college, studying electrical and biomedical engineering. The biomedical part was another case of earlier inspiration - she took anatomy in high school and really liked it, too. She still paints for pleasure and gets A's in English, but knows her future is in biosensors, etc.

    As I said, I mentor kids in engineering (through FIRST and team 103), and know that kids are not dumber now than when I was a kid - they just don't have things like the space race, displayed constantly and large in the media, to inspire them.

    All it takes is a little push, and some of us are pushing instead of blaming foreigners and politicians.
  • Blowing shit up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tttonyyy (726776) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:32AM (#17144728) Homepage Journal
    ...is the problem.

    Back In The Old Days (as they say in Cliché Magazine), you could make your own gunpowder and experiment with making your own model rocket engines and things like that. Doing these fun things as a kid leads to interest in later life for chemistry, electronics etc.

    Now if you try and have some harmless fun you'd get into a whole bunch of trouble, because the powers that be can't distinguish between harmless experimenting and terrorism. Hell, in some parts of the states, you're not even allowed certain kinds of glassware, lest it be used for making drugs! How about nails? Should they be taken away lest I use them to nail people's heads?

    And I suspect many people would be surprised by how many prominent figures in science have lead "interesting" childhoods. :)

    The best scientists are the ones that did it as a child in their own time, and are inherently driven by their interest to find out more, make new discoveries, learn things. Not the people that did it as school because they couldn't think of anything else to do.

    Westernised society has gone nanny/protectionist crazy, and you know what, it *will* suppress new talent.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anon-Admin (443764)
      They passed a law where I live that makes it illegal to own a filter that filters any liquid into a pyrex beaker. All to stop the "Meth epidemic!"

      I personally called the law enforcement at the state capitol and reported all the representatives for violating the law.

      No more Coffee pots!

      They laughed at me but hay, it is a stupid law!

      I look at it this way, asking congress to fix this problem is a bad idea. They only have two choices, Make it illegal or through money at it. Nether will fix the problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lord Ender (156273)
      This is an inevitable consequence of natural human empathy, democracy, mass-media. If you let kids experiment with explosives, a very small number of them will kill themselves. And perhaps (as you clearly think) that is a justifiable price for the inspiration it produces.

      But once it does happen, the media will tell the story, and voting parents of the world will empathize with the poor mother of the dead boy. They will react emotionally, fearing for their own children, and decide that no amount of inspirati
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:32AM (#17144734)
    I've studied graduate-level computer science at several American universities, and the one theme that I find most depressing is the lack of reality in the research. I'm afraid that this decoupling from reality keeps many computer scientists from actually being responsible for accurate research. For example:
    • Many CS papers make motivational statements like, "The typical sensor network has...". That's complete BS. The authors have no accurate way of knowing what a "typical" sensor network is like. Because they've never seen a study that's sampled the world's sensor networks. They write papers that quietly confuse what's *really* typical with what the authors imagine would be typical. So there are two problems: (a) academic dishonesty in their writing, and (b) not facing up to the fact that they're guessing about the relevance of their paper, rather than actually having a well-grounded sense of relevance.

    • A nearly complete lack of statistical sensibility for simulations and performance characterizations. Hey computer science researchers: how do you know how many repetitions of a simulation to run before you draw your conclusions? Why don't you draw error bars around any numbers in your graphs that represent averaging over multiple repetitions? If you don't have good answers to these questions, then I think it's quite likely that your conclusions are neither reproducible nor sound.

    • Leaps of logic regarding models. I can't count (maybe because I'm rather dull ;- ) the number of ad hoc routing papers I've read that assume a circular-coverage radio model, and yet the papers make no mention of the fact that such a model is known to generally have have no connection to reality http://www.cs.virginia.edu/papers/p125-zhou.pdf [virginia.edu]. And yet the NSF keeps on funding this crap and not holding the researchers' feet to the fire. If there's peer review before these papers get into journals, it's an indication that even the reviewers don't care about or realize that the research described in such papers has no demonstrated connection to the real world. It's almost as though (gasp) computer science researchers have so much fun dreaming up protocols and programming simulations that they can't be bothered with the pesky work of checking their assumptions or validating their results.
    Until we computer science systems researchers stop doing crap, wasted research, it doesn't matter how many papers we produce. Because what matters it the amount of good research we do.
  • Moo (Score:3, Funny)

    by Chacham (981) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:39AM (#17144800) Homepage Journal
    Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science as it was during the last century.

    /me cries. Do they actually enforce bad writing now?

    That sentence tells me that in a score of years henceforth, beebo famulus's appointed "experts" will doubt if America will remain a dominant force within 100 years of the Earth's destruction.

    Does anyone know who to write anymore?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:50AM (#17144900)
    This is not obvious? The educational system has failed many an American, and it is going to get worse if you yankees can't fix it. I'm regularly amazed at the number of Americans that don't know that China has a coherent written history that goes back more than two hundred years (the actual number is approximately a thousand depending on how you define it.), or that prior to the "Age of Enlightenment" in Europe that the Arabs were the engineering and research power-house. Eye surgeons in Dubai during the Dark Ages? Most Americans don't believe it was possible. If I had a drachma for every American who believes that the Wright Brothers were the first ones to fly I could probably buy every one of their government officials. I will not even consider the number of your university students who sincerely believe that most of your space program was an elaborate fake.

    If you want a decent educational system inside the boundaries of the United States of America, you need to do the following:
    - Vote for education, not for morons who think that science can be 'edited to fit policy'.
    - Teach your children a work ethic instead of a "give me" ethic.
    - Get involved in the education of your children. Pay attention to it.
    - Support the teaching of sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, electronics, etc) at all levels.
    - Stop expecting your school system to raise your children for you. Be a parent.
    - Encourage analysis and in-depth research instead of rote parroting of 'facts' in schools.
    - Stop litigating to force teaching to the "lowest common denominator" in your education system. It is a fact of life that intelligence is variable. Look at your politicians.

    Just an outside observer.

  • Brain Drain! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SouperMike (199023) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:56AM (#17144958)
    It happened to.... yes, that's right, Soviet Russia. And it may happen to us as well. We need to collect the world's geniuses and make it attractive to be an American scientist, not push them away by making it hard to get visas.
  • by davmoo (63521) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @09:58AM (#17144978)
    3. The United States and its citizens needs to place as much importance and admiration on the sciences, and those who persue knowledge in them, as they do on sports players, movie stars, and "socialites".
    • 3. The United States and its citizens needs to place as much importance and admiration on the sciences, and those who persue knowledge in them, as they do on sports players, movie stars, and "socialites"

      That was the case in the 1950s. Baseball players made $6,000 to $10,000 per year. [mlb.com] And they had to unionize to get that. The movie industry had the studio system [wikipedia.org], where actors were hired as employees under a deal which allowed them to be fired but not to quit and go to another studio. That lasted unt

  • In other words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thundersnatch (671481) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:30AM (#17145350) Journal

    ...give us free money, now! This is merely a budget-grab by an NGO. Happens all the time.

    An environmental group says: "The earth is warming! We need a crash program to figure this out, right now! Trust us, we're a bunch of Ph.D., so we're way smart!".

    Then an oil-industry consortium says: "We need more domestic oil and natural gas. We have to start drilling now, but we need to do it on land we don't own because we're all tapped out, and the economy is threatened. Trust us, all our expert geologists agree!"

    A few lunches with a congressman, plus a campaign donation or two, and billions from the public treasury flow directly and indirectly into their hands.

    This is called lobbying. Just because it's a group of "science educators" doing this doesn't mean they're not after personal gain (higher budgets, more grants, more status). They're just trying to get in on the gravy train that the U.S. Congress provides.

  • by Wansu (846) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:58AM (#17145780)


    while another advises that the National Science Foundation fund more graduate students and increase the amount of the fellowships.

    Here they go again.

    They're fixated on the supply while ignoring demand. The demand for technical people has dropped because we don't make things here any more. The R&D is done where things are made. A country that doesn't make stuff, doesn't need a bunch of scientists and engineers. Heck, we aren't using the ones we've already got. Why do they think graduating a bunch more will help? For the scientists and engineers, that'll make things worse.

    The problem isn't the supply of labor, it's the supply of jobs. But the only ideas we ever hear are to "fix the schools."

"If you want to eat hippopatomus, you've got to pay the freight." -- attributed to an IBM guy, about why IBM software uses so much memory

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