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Pure Science Becoming Less Popular Than CS 245

An Anonymous Reader writes "An article (free login required) in yesterday's New York Times (Business Section) says that the number of college students in the physical and biological science is decreasing because of the "easy money" available in the field of computers. It also says that the computer industry's growth will slow and that the next big boom of technology jobs will be in biotechnology. Interesting stuff. " Of course the real reason is Turing machines. We really just dig drawing out turing machines on chalk boards and arguing about NP problems.
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Pure Science Becoming Less Popular Than CS

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  • worked for me oddly enough...perhaps someone recreated it?
  • Ah yes, it was when I was graduating HS 6 years ago and all my elders urged me to get into bio-tech. because it was the next big thing and CS was a dead end. Then came the web and the six digits... Who's laughing now? But seriously, the articles only mentions students that declare their majors, it doesn't mention the numbers of students that actually GRADUATE with a CS degree. If I am not mistaken, I read on slashdot a couple of months ago that the number of students that are graduating with ANY tech/sci degree has been on a steady decline for some years now. Which article do you believe? And this guy expressing that we don't need more HTML people in five years. Is HTML CS? While yes, HTML is the cornerstone of the web it has little to do with these two words Computer Science. I think the fundamental problem is not that these kids are chosing CS as a major, it is underlying philosophy of our educational system in our society. We educate our kids not to have them better themselves for the sake of education but, to fill a specific economic role. And whether it is CS or basket weaving, as long as our motives are money driven rather than the contiunued quest to gather more knowledge you will see this sort of major shifting time and time again.
  • Uh-oh, it looks like we've entered semantics hell. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

    How is it that man is separated from the natural world?

    Is linguistics an "engineering" study?
  • I agree with the biochemistry part. But I find that you need to specify what you want to do in biotech. Do you want to do structural genomics? If so a good background in computers is essential.

    But if you want to be a bench chemist then lab courses are going to help you out much more. However, courses can only teach you so much so it's important to do reserach as an undergraduate to help you learn what you didn't learn in class.

    So to say biotech is somewhat vague, only when you specify what you want to do in biotech can you truely address the question you ask.
  • > To be completely honest, knowing how to reduce a Nondeterministic Automaton to a Deterministic
    > Automaton is not going to help most CS majors in the type of work they will be performing upon
    > graduation. True, there do exist positions in which such knowledge is applicable, but most
    > graduations are not doing programming of that caliber.

    Computer games is one such area. The breadth of knowledge needed to be a gaming guru is startling - AI, finite state machines, fuzzy logic, 3D math, integration, image processing, audio processing, multi-threading, I/O, language design, parsing, OOP, etcetera. The list is endless.

    My question is, if all these CS Majors are spewing forth from the halls of academia, why is it so damn difficult to find good games programmers?

    Beats me, and I've only been interviewing for the past four years.

    - RGreen, Bullfrog, UK.
  • Small request. Please remove Negroponte from your list and add him to the "Vapid Glory Hound" list.

    Thank you.
  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @09:51AM (#1705992) Homepage
    In other words, CS != MIS . My university offered degrees in both. You didn't learn about Novell in the CS curriculum, and you didn't study the principle of mathematical induction (in three separate courses!) in the MIS curriculum. But have you read the classifieds lately? To most managers (MBA DEFINITELY != CS), a CS degree is a computer degree. I've seen jobs for NT admins, VB programmers (I am one, so don't get your knickers is a knot), HTML writers, and even tape monkeys, where one of the REQUIREMENTS for an interview was a CS degree.

    I would also note that programming is not necessarily computer science, if you believe that CS is a scientific discipline. Most programming is more along the lines of engineering. You have to study physics to become a civil engineer, but building bridges does not make you a physicist. I don't think you're doing REAL computer science unless you're researching clever new algorithms in conjunction with others in the field who are studying the same kind of problem that the algorithm applies to. (I think the people who write 3-D engines for Quake etc. are doing computer science.) If you're writing a Visual Basic front end to an Access database, or even an HTML front-end for a Perl interface to a MySQL database, I don't care what your degree says; you're not dong computer science. At best, you're a computer scientist in the sense that all those waiters in LA are really actors.
  • I remember watching McGyver as a kid! Thinking back, the stuff he did was so improbable but it was soo cool how he fixed stuff just by knowing the chemical contents (now _how_ did he know chocolate would DO that??)

    But I digress and you are totally on the spot. I loved chemistry the moment I was forced to figure out electron orbitals. It's true professors weed students out. I am experiencing it. My first year chemistry class had a packed lecture room, one of the largest in the school. Now in my third year chemistry there are around 20 students!

    I guess professors don't purposely flunk kids out maliciously, but it's a sad fact that it just happens because many people lose interest.

    People totally do not understand science at all. It is NOT boring. In fact, I found programming to be boring. As much as CS majors get excited about the newest algorithms discovered, true scientists enjoy solving problems and discovering answers or even new conundrums. TRUE CS majors get insanely obsessed over their theories and scientists love doing what they do and despite our poor rep and poor pay, we are what we are because science is da bomb.

    I say, despite the hype, do what you want to do!
    Because if you don't, you'll most likely end up miserable. Which is one reason why I dislike articles like this because it seems like society is telling kids to turn one way or another.

  • A lot of the top medical schools are more willing to accept chemistry/physics/CS/math/engineering majors than pre-med majors. They want to 1) be able to start from scratch, without having to "unlearn" the junk they got in pre-med, and 2) have well-rounded students who will later be able to do top-notch research. Who do you think invents the robots that help doctors do their surgeries? A pre-med major who became a doctor? Where did he learn the robotics? It is more likely that an engineering major who later became a doctor would be a pioneer in something like that.
  • by ijones ( 83977 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @06:08AM (#1705996)
    "Computer science courses teach skills and techniques, but they don't teach critical thinking the way physics does,"

    Now that's a great quote. It's probably true at some universities. At a certain university, there's lots of debate among undergrads about the "theoretical vs practical" teaching of computer science. Basically, there's complaining that, though the introductory classes teach component engineering, function specifications, algorithms &C, they should actually be teaching us how to use Visual Basic so that we can get internships the summer after our sophmore year.

    Fortunitally, some students prefer to learn real computer science.

    Also Ms. Corning comments later in the article point to something that was brought up 20(?) years ago in a book called Mindstorms (Pampert?) about the Logo programming language. This teacher(Ms. Corning) seems to think that computers are a fancy full-color chalk board. Mindstorms warned that we shouldn't try to use computers to program children (ie fit computers into the current education model, at least in the US) but when children learn to program computers, they'll learn geometry and other math at the same time.

    "Computers can teach information, but they don't teach a way to ask questions or conduct experiments where you don't know the correct answer ahead of time,"

    Again, what kind of computer use is this quote assuming? It's the same comment as above: Computers shouldn't program children. It takes a different kind of _teaching_ to integrate the really powerful uses of computers into the education of a child.

    I'd argue that a computer can be used to learn basic scientific principals, or the scientific method. If children were encouraged to be creative with the computers, and to solve problems (as in LOGO) they would discover the scientific method with only a little bit of direction.

    But as long as education is thought of as "the road to a career," students will go for easy money. That's what they had 12-16 years of school for, right?

    Then again, I speak only from personal experience with education. Perhaps some of you out there have been encouraged to be creative and think for yourselves.


  • so does his illegitimate daughter, Turm Garten []


  • Of hypothesis and experimentation.

    Luckily, things like randomized algorithms have only been shown as useful under real experiments, so CS qualifies.

    "Political Science" and "Library Science" do not. Neither does math.

    Most people seem to think any field is a science if they use numbers, equations, computers or funny symbols.

  • by psaltes ( 9811 )
    So far, I think that everyone I know who's gone to college planning on getting a cs degree because thats the way they can make lots of money on it has given up somewhat quickly, because these people also seem to have gotten the notion that they can make lots of money without doing any work or expending any mental effort. I'm sure some do make it through, but at least at my university the weedout courses are pretty decent at weeding out people. Of course at least one of them is pure sadism and weeds out even people who are there because they like computers. But thats life.
  • by richnut ( 15117 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @06:17AM (#1706001)
    I think there's a big distinction that needs to be made here. Right now there's alot of jobs in the computer industry but how many of them are really CS? Coding HTML is not CS. Getting your MCSE is not CS. Being a Unix sysadmin is not CS. Running an NT mailserver is not CS.

    True CS involves alot more of a high level understanding of what's going on. True CS involves people who are solving problems at a very high level, who are re-thinking the norm and who are applying their background in math and science to solve a problem, not people who are rebooting servers when the pager goes off.

    I know alot of people who work answering the pager and maintain unix/nt/cisco systems as their job. They're all really smart people, but what they're doing probably isnt CS. In fact most of them dont have a degree in CS if they have a degree at all. I'm not even sure if what I do really has all that much to do with pure computer science, but I'm pretty sure I have a solid background to fall back on if it were to come up, which is why I dont worry. What worries me is people coming out of assembly line CS programs who dont have any idea what real Computer Science is about, and just want to get paid.

  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @06:21AM (#1706002) Homepage
    I doubt that this is truly the intention. But...

    The professors teaching these courses (both faculty and grad students) would rather be doing research, or working on papers, or something else entirely.

    Instead they are forced by the administration into nursing snivelling freshmen who are required to take the course, but the mojority of whom couldn't care less about the actual material.

    After about a semester or two of this, they (teaching staff) give up and go through the grind, all the while taking their frustration out on the students. The few students who have potential and interest, suffer, and many turn away. The ones who didn't care to begin with, care even less.

    Very few people make it through the meat grinder of introductory science courses with their spirits and interests intact. These go on to become graduate students, all the while remembering how the majority of their peers in the 100 level courses, didn't give a crap.

    It's an unfortunate vicious cycle.

    Interestingly, everyone is also required to take Literature, History, and the like, where classes are much smaller due to the very interactive style of teaching that must be used. You'd think that the administration would have figured out the correlation between class size and student interest by now.
  • Hehe, sounds like somebody had an Automata theory class this summer! :-) While you might think CS is a lot of theory and abstract thought disassociated with actual coding, the fact still remains that CS is still an easier route than most other sciences. I have some friends who are math/comp sci. double majors. They find the advanced comp. sci. classes comical, since we comp sci's try to impress ourselves with attempting complex math (for automata theory, algorithm analysis, etc.), but the stuff we cs majors are tackling in our senior years, these math majors had nailed in their sophomore years. :)
  • On the other end, it also means we end up with lusers as fellow programmers. A Visual Basic developper once asked me what a DLL was. Eek!

    I was in a class my last year of college with seniors in CS who didn't know what a hash table was. YOW! Fortunately for those of us with a real understanding of CS, these fools will always be stuck answering pagers and writing HTML while the rest of us move on.

  • If you don't see how writing code or producing theory is equivalent to engineering functional paradigmns then please step away from the compiler before you hurt anyone dependent on your output...

    I'm sorry but I don't see how examining something like algorithms in finite groups(a course in the cs department at my university) is equivalent to "engineering functional paradigms."

    If what you're saying is true then mathematics also fits into "engineering functional paradigms." I'm sure its news to joe-schmoe the algebraic topologist.

  • Agreed, we are now in semantics hell.

    "They" will define science to include themselfs. "They" always do. (yes "they" in quotes means something. It means those conventionally outside of the definition).

    No matter how hard you argue it to me, I won't budge. Computers were man made. They will never be a science. And the recent invention of "natural science" vs. "science" is a nice way of saying "we screwed up the term, now we have to make 'natural science' mean what 'science' alone use to mean." Let me tell you, there isn't much "natural" about some of the best cutting edge chemistry or physics, yet, it's based in extending natural laws. Computers are manmade.

    Define it how you want, but the study of computers (or the human THOUGHT process of the human mind for that matter) has always been seen as "outside of the field of science." (granted that linguistics is based in studying mans thought process, but, some will argue that mental processes of man are soo borderline, they are not science).

    I frankly give up on these SlashDot types that want to prove to me Computer Science is a science, because someone in the computer field once postulated a theory that is difficult for all of them to grasp. I will once again state, "I can apply the scientific method to drinking beer. Theory, experiment, new therory, and on and on. That does NOT make drinking beer a science."

    Frankly, linguistics is an art. And, of that, they should be proud. It's one of the most highly evolved, technical, elaborate, insightfull, and exciting of all forms of art. But none the less, it's an art, because it's primarly about _language_ which is NOT a science, it's something manmade.

    And furthermore, to avoid potential "slippery slope" arguments, because there is something in the study that is "natural" no more makes it a science than the fact that I can build a chemical structure to form a work of art. Science is applying the scientific method to gain insight into the natural world.

    Now, it's not like there is anything wrong with one field or another. It's just that someone has to make a distinct "line in the sand" and say study this and that's art, study that and it's engineering, study this other thing and it's science, study this next thing and it's medicine. So, why fight so hard to say your field is on over the line you want it to be?

    I'll tell you why, It's because "science" has been portrayed by way to many people as the "elite" field of study. And frankly, it's NOT. I know many an artist I would rather work with in a chemitry lab than some so called "scientists." Someone has to take a step back and realize, without the ballance, there is no way for society as a whole to evolve. It took the artists, engineers, and all to evolve "science" to where it is today. And likewise for the other fields. Where would a great painter be without some "scientist" developing a better, longer lasting, more bright paint? Where would the scientist be without the tools the engineers have provided? Where would the engineers be without the principles that scientists layed out and the creativity that artists came to the table with? They would all still be back far beyond the uglyness of the Dark Ages.

    Linguistics is about the structure of Languages, which turns out to depend on the structure of the human brain. That's a natural physical structure. Read Chomsky for details ..... Excuse me, but the human brain? Well, yea, it's natural, but would you say that everything that the human brain can come up with is "natural?" Well, if that is the case, then EVERYTHING is a science.

    CS is about number theory at root, Godel's theorem being the prime example. That's a relation between numbers which was unknown before Godel's proof, and in many ways Godels method was an experiment on the behaviour of numbers. ..... Well, first of all, no one has proved that "math" itself is a science. Albiet arguable, I would probably be much more likely to call mathamatics itself a science. But the "Application" of math to something is clearly an application, and therefore engineering. Tell me, if the application of science to the "man made world" isn't engineering, what is engineering?

    Why try so hard to make someone (me in this case) believe that Computers in any sence can be called a science? The only valid point you can make is that my "definition" of science is dated, and the word has evolved to mean anything that you can apply the scientific method to. If that is the case, then sure, Computer Science is a science, and so is just about everything else in that people study, including my study tonight on beer drinking. At least that argument you can win.

    Frankly, I believe that by dilluting the meaning of words, and redefining them to suit your needs is the "de-evolution" of mankind. Because something is "hip" or "in" doesn't mean that we should make everything that way. That's the problem with the USA today, everyone wants "what's best for the majority" and "what the people want" because it's a democracy. And, you completely erase the premise of freedom by replacing it with democracy. Democracy is just a pretty way to say "mob rule" and does not by construct ensure freedom. Yet, people want to call everything under the sun "science," they want to call everything a pretty word, no more "wasp, fag, gay, whatever." Once apon a time, the words all had meanings to be proud of, and then people used them in inapproprate ways. Rather than dealing with the fact that there was a definition to the words, we in America either redefine them, or invent new ones to take thier place that haven't been used negitively. "Black" at one time was a way to distinguish race, now it's a "insult" and they are to be called "African-American," and you black only is a color you can buy a car in. "Gay" at one time meant happy, then it was a slam on the "partying good timeing homos" and now they are something else (who knows a "PC" term to call homosexuals today that doesn't imply a negitive sterotype?).

    Call me a "Mick" and see if I care. Honestly. Call me a "Mick" to your hearts content. And I will only stand up and be proud. Call me a "scientist" and I will probably agree that I was educated as one in chemistry, but am much less likely to accept that label, because the work I do involves so much art (and flat out creativity), and management skills (which aren't a science), and I will say that label is misleading. I will say, "why yes, I am a Mick, if you think that makes me 'inferior' I can only hope to prove you wrong." Call me a "scientist" and I will say it's a broad label.

    But if you want me to stand up and say "your right, next time I meet someone who writes computer code that has one time studied a 'theory' I will call him a 'scientist' not a programmer." I just can't accept that.

    How many programmers or even computer engineers will stand up in public and say "Oh, I am a scientist?" That is not what scientists are, and they know that, and they understand that if they said they were scientists in public, the people they said that to would not expect them to be "programmers." The computer people who want to put the label "science" on their profession are doing themself a dis-service. They are saying to the world that "we are bound to natural principals in our work" rather than "we are creative and invent many things" like they could say if they called themselfs engineers or even if they said they are artists.

    The day I meet a hacker that calls himself an artist is the day I find a whole new respect for the person saying it. That would emply not only are they "applying something that is manmade to a real world application as engineers do" but they are saying "I am taking it to a new level, somewhere that has no bounds, that's creative beyond conventional thinking, and something that will revolutionize the world like the renasaissance."

    This reminds me of an old proverb. One which emplys that we all wish we could do something "greater" than we do at the present, but in the end, it's only a circle. It goes "Artists wish they were scientists. Scientists wish they were mathematicians. Mathematicatians wish they were artists.

  • Why don't you try surveying a bio class and a EE course and compare? Last year I took a 3000 course in each. The results? bio class:65% female, class size ~90 EE class:1 female out of 24 students... she has since changed majors. I know that this is only one isolated instance, but I've heard many, many similar one's and no contradictory ones. But if any of you have been in any EE clases with over 50% females, by all means let me know... I'm curious.
  • If you don't see how writing code or producing theory is equivalent to engineering functional paradigmns then please step away from the compiler before you hurt anyone dependent on your output...

  • > Certainly, CS is not a mere way to learn to program well.

    As a CS grad, I would have to agree. If you're lucky, you'll find little about becoming a better programmer in the few software engineering courses. Of course, the students that really were interested in the topics of CS and wanted to learn how to be a better program usually took it upon themselves to read up and learn on their own.

    The nice thing about CS is that you don't really need a computer to do computer science (but it does help. ;-) since CS is, as you mentioned, about the study of algorithms.

    CS is really in a interesting position. Half-way between pure mathematics, and pure engineering.

    Maybe the colleges/universities need to create a program for people who just want to use computers in the real world, without understanding the underlying structure. Oh wait, that was business computing ;-)
  • Than craming Prologue, completing NP (All I know is that I'm not NP complete), while spreading sugar in my cLisp, and figuring out how to make a date with Perl.

    Besides, who ever got into pure research for the money?
    ^~~^~^^~~^~^~^~^^~^^~^~^~~^^^~^^~~^~~~^~~^ ~
  • i think we will see an integration and merging of traditionally seperate field in the next couple generations. right now we can see this happening in the field of biomechanics. hopefully once this happens more diversified training will ensue.

    another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.
  • If you went into biotech for the money- you were screwed from the beginning. JOBS are available, just many/most of them are at companies not at universities. Trying to find qualified post docs takes awhile.

    The computer field will always be bigger (#'s and salary wise)- as everybody needs computers- whereas only biotech companies/ universities need biotech people.
  • "[five years from now] we're going to need biotechnologists"

    Damn. Exactly the time I'll be graduating with my degree in Computer Engineering. I knew I was born ten years too late.


    p.s. I'm not stupid, just a double major.
  • by bharlan ( 49602 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @10:23AM (#1706026) Homepage
    Many former geophysics grad students have been tempted away into pure computer science. A Stanford professor wrote some career advice [] for his students: "There are many good opportunities [in comp sci] because the computer world is always changing, and that puts young people on an even footing with older people... Are you planning to stay young forever? Math, Engineering, and Geophysics have their eternal verities: Fourier analysis, Maxwell equations, elasticity, finite differences, operators, eigenvectors, adjoints, conjugate-gradient solvers, expectation and covariance, moveout corrections, acoustic imaging, the list goes on and on. Learn these things and learn them well, because they can serve you for a lifetime."
  • I think computers and especially the internet are bringing about a revolution, a rennaissance of art and thought with an electronic brush. It's high time people start to see through the artificial barriers between disciplines and pursue whatever interests them, because that dynamic mixture is what drives innovation. Remember chaos theory? That came about simultaneously in such then-diverse fields as math, physics, and signal processing. No doubt computers will soon be integrated into all aspects of learning and working, and accelerate our development past being just dumb piles of meat. It's just another evolutionary step, just like we've all read in science fiction books. You just need to maintain a long-term, unlimited perspective on it.

  • I think you have the right idea, do what you want to do, but depending on what school you attend, the CS degree might require a lot more esoteric applied math classes than you'd ever desire or need for teaching coding or applications. Go for the BCIS unless you want to brave the horrors of NP Complete.

  • Of course the real reason is Turing machines. We really just dig drawing out turing machines on chalk boards and arguing about NP problems.

    Some us like that.

  • Surely if they want to become doctors they would be better off studying medicine than the sciences...

    Why would anyone want to take a science degree and then start over again in medical school? Or is there something I'm not getting here?


  • I don't think anyone should tell people what not to study. Everyone should go into college and study what they love doing, not what they think will be easy money...
  • I've been working in the boring ol' IT world for five years now with degrees in Computer Science and English. In that time I've encountered many new CS students; most when asked about WHY they're in the field reply, "One of my friends did it and gets a lot of money." These same people have NO programming experience, and half don't know how to turn on a computer.

    Not to worry, though - there are enough "weed out" courses in CS as in most majors. Just because the public sees big bucks in a computer field doesn't mean Joe Schmoe is cut out for the job. Let 'em waste two years and a few thousand bucks before they realize they did, after all, want a degree in Business.

    (PS I'm slowly working on a Master's in Biology, so I don't feel threatened by any need for Biotech people anyway :)

  • Just out of curiosity, what classes are weedout classes at your school?
  • Different case in the US. Time from graduation to job- 2 days. Wife now switches jobs from biotech company to biotech company whenever bored/money required. This with "only" a bachelors. now I am a grad student, and we get job offers a lot, none of us are going to get rich though....
  • Not entirely true,

    Just about any enterprising teen can cook up a batch of crystal meth in their sink. And if you get reasonably ood at it, the field can be quite profitable.

    If a kid tries to learn about anatomy, he's likely to be put in protective custody, and told to "stop doing that". God forbid you try to dissect a dead animal out of curiosity: You're branded as morbid and taken to counseling - after all, Geoffrey Dahmer used to do just that as a kid.

    An insightful kid, with an interest in how people think, is more likely to be seen as a wise-ass, and punished to being to prying, rather that encouraged to read up on Freud, Jung, Skinner and the rest.

    An introspective, even brooding kid with the makings of a great writter or poet, is probably on drugs, or at least has emotional problems, and must be helped in 'dealing' with his 'issues'.

    If you show an interest in physics as a child, you're likely to become an auto mechanic. Figuring out how things work, and rebuilding carbs, just doesn't impress the Dean of Admissions. Pity.

    So all that's left is to dabble with computers, since while everyone thinks you're wasting time and playing games (like a normal kid), you're actually learning something useful, develop a love for it, and go to college to get the papers.
  • When the Cold War was on, and the military was funding a LOT of defense related development, including much University research, was there not more demand for scientists ? I think it is all a matter of PHD's and MS's finding rewarding jobs after graduation, in their field of specialization. Are there not too many PHD's these days working as sysadmins and making more money than on basic physics research ? I think
    it is a shame, there are still several unresolved problems that might lead to surprising breakthroughs, as in cold fusion, gravity-antigravity, advanced interstellar propulsion systems. Unfortunately, in peacetime politicians have a hard time justifying funding for such very long term projects.

  • My neck is sore. I kept nodding my head saying "yes" while I read your post. :)
  • by datacide ( 49123 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @06:36AM (#1706041)

    That is, until he realized that his hobby, fixing computers, could be a better career bet.

    Bingo. I find this article, and others like it, interesting, because many people seem to act surprised that students may want to consider career opportunities in selecting a career. This shouldn't be surprising at all, because that's what American society is heavily slanted toward: money == happiness. Well, I don't think that's the case, and I'm glad that I stayed in school for a bit longer to earn a dual English/CS degree rather than just English...or just CS for that matter. But I'd be a liar if I said that the CS half of my degree was more important in the job market than the English half...or if I said that enough salary to live comfortably was never a consideration along the way.

    So, ultimately, the paradox of post-secondary education, apparently (judging by the clamor in the article), is that that level of education is twofold in purpose: to widen and deepen oneself intellectually, and to greatly increase one's future earnings potential. Not many fields of study offer both of these, at least IMNSHO. I attended a large public university, where the two largest schools were the Liberal Arts College (which included the 'traditional' sciences) and the Engineering College (where Computer Engineering and Computer Science were taught, although CS degrees were awarded only by the Liberal Arts school). The vibe I got from a lot of the engineering students I attended classes with was that they were viewing university as a pricey trade school. (To be fair, I didn't get a vibe of intellectual expansion from all of the liberal arts students I ran into.) But the way the curricula were set up did little to counter this attitude. Get your degree, get your job, and get out. Where fault for that attitude lies, I cannot say.

    But I can say that it disgusted me to be in a classroom where most people were seemingly interested in the piece of paper from the registrar's office than what it (ostensibly) represented.

    Having said that, however, I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life. To expect otherwise is ridiculous. That's what hobbies are for.

  • I didn't think there was a big difference between American and European colleges, but there seems to be.
    Here we don't have 'majors' and 'minors', and don't cherrypick courses from around the college to put together enough points to get a degree. If you pick CS, all you do is CS. Generally, you don't do much science, certainly no chemistry or biology. Also, you almost never share classes with anyone outside your degree, at least in the non-arts degrees.

    We also have the problem of jobs 'requiring' CS degrees. Even simple tech-support positions seem to require an in-depth discrete maths background, apparently. Naturally, they claim there aren't enough personnel... what do they expect? CS degrees are hard to get, and generally after getting one, you want an interesting job.
  • Similar revolution the TV had on our society, too. Unfortunately, there are always good and bad points that come about because of it. Education? Only if you know what you are doing...I think its ironic how businesses now have to spend lots of time and money to train their employees how to use the software, and schools go waste money on computers that are worthless to the curriculum, while cutting back on programs like sports, art, music, and science.

    However, the positive free flow of information is great-take this site for instance. It even has the "real" media (eg, TV stations) a little nervous. heh.

  • Frankly, linguistics is an art. And, of that, they should be proud. It's one of the most highly evolved, technical, elaborate, insightfull, and exciting of all forms of art. But none the less, it's an art, because it's primarly about _language_ which is NOT a science, it's something manmade.

    Human languages are no more manmade than human bladders are. Unless you can provide us with a credible account of how was it that people "made" language, you're on slippery ground here.

    The syntactic structure of natural languages is quite simply completely independent from conscious choices by people made by people anytime, anywhere (in contrast to say, culture, which is shaped in a significant degree by such choices).


  • The natural virtual machine (NVM) may be signed 128 bit word length -- and I'm not entirely joking:

    The physically most interesting primes correspond to primes near prime powers of two: at this stage not possible to explain why electron corresponds to Mersenne prime M_127 or intermediate gauge bosons correspond to M_89. []

    What does this mean? Well, aside from the fact that 89 is a bit more awkward for my NVM theory than I might like, I would suggest it means that there is less of a conflict between "computer science" and the study of nature than people might otherwise believe.

    The core laws of von Neumann's quantum logic (e.g.: S' = T**-1 S T ) are presented by von Neumann as being based on a great deal of "physics". However, they have been shown by Tom Etter of the Alternative Natural Philosophy Association [] as being theorems of the relational calculus that have important engineering ramifications for quantum computing!

    I don't know about you, but this is the sort of result that makes me glad I work with computers -- well -- at least glad that I've been investigating relational semantics as the proper foundation for programming environments since the early 80's rather than committing Occam's Chainsaw Massacre [].

  • Science has historically been attempting to understand _nature_ or something that is already there by applying a "scientific method" of theory, test the theory, new theory.

    I understand your point fully; however, I think we still have to appreciate that many of the usages of the word "science" that you are attacking follow a consistent pattern. That of developing a set of concepts that allow people to intervene in their environment, in order to achieve some desired effect.

    BTW, many social scientists I know mean something like above when they call what they do "science".

    My point is not to challenge the distinction you rightly make, but rather to point out that the term "science" I don't think is being used in an arbitrary manner in all cases, like your post may lead some to believe.

    Which, anyway, reminds me that there is not that much tradition for the word "science". Up until some point in the 19th century, people would say "Natural Philosophy" or "Natural History".

    I think I'm going to look up a bit on the history of the word "science" in the 19th century, I can't remember exactly what happened (although I suspect the positivist philosophers had a lot to do with the change).

    Political Science is NOT a science...

    In the sense I mention above, it is, as also Economics, and in fact most of the Social Sciences.

    Linguistics are not sciences, and it doesn't mean communication isn't important.

    Ah, now you're stepping on my turf :-). Linguistics is an interdisciplinary research field; and there are definitely many people on it who are doing work I'm sure you should classify under your concept of science. After all, isn't the attempt to make precise, testable theories about the structure of human languages science?

    That being said, I don't mean to put any less value on the studies of Computer Science majors. I have a great deal of respect for (most) of them. But I don't think it fits the mold of what most people think of when they think about the word "science."

    The last sentence I find a bit shocking. I don't really think you are somehow insulated from the popular understanding of the word "science". (I'm taking that when you say "most people", you are thinking of people in general.) Most people think Medicine and Pharmacology to be sciences, for instance. Which, BTW, fit in with the alternate definition of science I mentioned above.

    By the way, I do agree with your point on several posts that many people in different professions are somewhat desperate to get the prestige born by the bearers of the word "science" in our society (hell, my former university had a "secretarial sciences" department!!!). But I don't think the short history of the modern usage of the word "science" is going to turn out to be favorable to you, in that it might possibly turn out to historically validate other senses of the word, like the one I mention above (it might turn out that the same group of people "invented" both natural and social science, for example). But, I _do_ have to look up some books, cause I can still be wrong on this.


  • Oh, I didn't realise that medicine was a graduate degree in the US. In the UK you go straight to medical school from high school and do 5 years straight through. You don't have seperate majors, you just study medicine from age 18 and come out qualified 5 years later.


  • How manyof that packed room were bio students who aren't taking third year chem because it's not necessary? How many were cs, business, etc... who took it because they needed some science credits?

  • I graduated a year and a half ago with a degree in Physics. When I started off college I was really planning the whole PhD track thing, and went very hardcore into my major. Somewhere arround junior year I learned perl to build some automated tools for the campus' helpdesk that I was then running.

    I realized after a couple of months that I was writing code, and reading programming books, to RELAX. Soon after that I realized that if I was going to do this stuff to relax anyway, I ought to maybe figure out a way to get paid for it. In this labor market, that is a pretty easy thing to do.

    What I found back at school, as well as in the working world, is that the set of Hackers and the set of CS majors really have a very limitted intersection. (apologies to exceptions to my experience) The people back at school that would really could be classified as Hackers, were from majors like Bio, Physics, Earth Science, and Russian. Very few from CS.

    What I have found at work is that the people that are really knowledgable, and adaptable, tend not to be CS majors at all. The two people that I respect the most at work are a high school graduate, and a dropped out phyics/engineering major.

    Now I know that the huge burden of student loans taht I had to carry to get through school probably did nudge me towards a job where I could pay off those loans in a reasonable ammount of time. But I really do think that the love of writing good code and learning more about how the world works, is what brought me to my current job. Anyone coming to the computer industry just cause there is money in it, is not someone I want on my team.

    All I think the modern need for computer skills is doing is bringing the hackers that used to be in physics/engineering and letting them apply their skills in the computer software industry, vs. just hardware hacks that they used to do. There will always be people that pick a career based on income, but those people will not really be happy after a few years, and really should be weeded out .

    Now exuse me while I go back to my robotics book. :)

  • When a young clueless freshman comes and says, "I want a job with computers" I can ask them if they want it the hard way with more math and physics than they thought existed, or if they want it the easy way that will prep them for industry and make them just as much if not more money. When they say the easy way I kick them out the door. I would like to be the first to thank the people who founded Management Information Sciences, Computer Information Sciences, and trade schools. You have been a blessing to Computer Science Departments. You keep the idiots from coming back.
  • The problem in the pure sciences and humanities isn't a financial entrance barrier. Rather, the problem is folks wind up starving their way out of their chosen field; or wind up having to spend all of their free time doing someone else's teaching or research. Some of the brightest folks I've met in Ecology & Environmental Biology just weren't able to finish their degrees because (despite trying and suffering and hanging on in there). Ditto for pure physics and the humanities for that matter.
  • The scientific method requires that physical phenomena be repeatable - political and economic behaviour are not purely repeatable.

    There may be cycles, but that is vastly different than an electron acting the exact same way every time certain conditions are present.

    Well, I made explicit in my post I was using a quite different sense of the word "science" at that point, one which I know many social scientists mean when they call what they do a "science". So I don't see what's the point of this response.

    And, anyway, what about the following disciplines:

    • Evolutionary Biology
    • Geology
    • Cosmology

    Is the evolution of a particular species a repeatable event? Is the forming of some layer of rock on the Earth's crust repeatable? Is the Big Bang repeatable?


  • Yes, but is this likely to do much within the next few years, or the next twenty? Most of the golden and silver aged computing pioneers didn't (monetarily) benefit from the boom.

  • No, no, no, no, no!

    That's not what he's saying (badly). What he means is that, in the BCIS, (MIS at my school) department, you won't learn how to think up cool answers to neat problems, which is the reason I got into computer science. Instead, the BCIS degree will show that you can do VB programming, maybe a little C++, but not that you can program.

    What's the difference? Well, a real programmer, one who has been trained to think, can take any language, or even no language at all, and churn out exactly what he wants.

    A BCIS major will be able to write front ends to databases, and maybe a few really simple, boring, apps.

  • r u talkin' about Cal by any chance ? :)
  • Did any of the readings ever shout "FIRST POST"?
  • Here's what you need to know about being a computer scientist in a biotech company:

    1. It takes an army of chemists and biologists to do the wet work necessary to discover anything real. This leads to a very different culture from CS -- where the productivity difference between good hackers and average hackers can be orders of magnitude. The productivity difference between great chemists and bad ones is more like a constant factor. You need lots of them, and it's hard to see the effect of any one god-like chemist on the company's bottom line.

    What this means for you: you will never have a significant equity stake in a biotech company. There are just too many other mouths with whom you have to share the pie,

    2. Biotech companies are run by chemists and biologists.

    What this means for you: There is a "pyrex ceiling" that will make it unnatural for the company to put you in charge of anything not purely CPU-bound. With a few exceptions, upper-level management isn't a realistic goal for you in biotech.

    Compensation policies within biotech are also heavily influenced by the industry's tradition as an escape from the science post-doc treadmill. That means it's great for chemists and biologists, compared to what they see in academia -- but its a joke when compared with what you can do in a pure CS venture. You can certainly negotiate a competitive salary coming into one of these places, but your raises and bonuses will track the biotech sector rather than the CS sector, and you'll begin falling behind your peers immediately.

    Summary: biotech badly needs good computer scientists, but doesn't yet deserve them.

  • another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.

    Hm. I think CS has the potential to be equally as time consuming as well, but for different reasons. CS is both theoretical and applied and the applied portion changes VERY rapidly. Not to mention that the field is very young and many discoveries await us. For these reason to be up on CS you have to continue to learn way after you get your degree.

  • Don't know how widely this is true, but where I went, pre-med was a third year commitment, up until which time, you studied general sciences.

    So, in effect, pre-meds were in the same science classes as everyone else, through their second year, all the while getting their other electives (hist, engl, math) requirements out of the way, so they could hit the ground running in the pre-med classes junior year.
  • I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life.

    I must disagree with this statement, or at least amend it to read this way:

    I think that one crucial angle that the article missed was that it's not always necessary to work at a job that deals directly with one's favorite intellectual pursuits in order to have a satisfying life.

    That may be fine for some people, but given the choice, I'd ALWAYS search out a job that appealed to my intellectual pursuits. Otherwise, it's not worh doin', IMHO. (And living in the USA, I count myself as very lucky to be able to make this choice.)
  • Because alot of schools don't have a medicine major for undergraduates, so you get hoards of obnoxious premeds (note: not all people that go to medical school are obnoxious but all premeds are) flooding the natural science majors.
  • What would happen if fewer and fewer people took the hardcore sciences route, and the demand for CS jobs just continued to grow? Barring a change in our economy or technology, I don't see how this can be a positive thing. Isn't our whole society based upon the fruits of science (technology)? If the majority of people in our society do not understand science, I can only see the downfall of America. And with our financial institutions becoming world-wide organizations and stock markets moving towards existing completely online, we would lose the monopoly on finance. Japan already produces much more electronic devices than we do, India many more programmers. Europe, with their superior public educational system, possibly can surpass us in the technology department...and if that happens...I'm moving to Finland! Zilfondel
  • Double not true. There are a few good books out there with *really decent* experiments you (at any age that's likely to be able to read) can cook up and learn stuff about chemistry and physics.

    As for bio, I grew up with a copy of grey's anatomy in the house (though my mom is a nurse, so this might be a little weird) and my sister actually got the coloring book version (lucky!) when she was sixish...

    The only things you need to do to learn anything is 1. learn to read (this is really important, though I have heard of a well documented case where a person who was born deaf and never taught any language, signed or otherwise, taught himself math out of a textbook) 2. be resourceful

    optionally 3. have supportive parents, but if your parents are as evile as that, you probably learned to keep the eleventh commandment young anyway (I did, the friends with whom I built explosives in high school did)

    so the only valid point you have is about the animals...dissection, until you get fairly high up, is pretty unnecessary anyway...but if you *really* feel the need to dissect something, I imagine a trip to the local high school bio teacher might be helpful...

  • Lets see... CS majors, I'd guess around 100/year from my university. Students in CS 142 who plan on being CS majors, I'd estimate about 700. No "weed out." No "You weren't accepted for the major." Just people say, "oh, this isn't the easy money I thought it would be."

    EASY MONEY????
  • First we hear that there are not enough students going into CS and so we need to increase the number of visas for foreign tech workers, and now we hear that everyone is going into CS. So which is it? I guess it depends on your special interest.
  • No.

    Theorems and hypothesis are different.

    In math, a theorem is one proposition that you can prove. If you have not proved it, it is not a theorem. It only becomes a theorem once you have proved it using other theorems or axioms.

    In science in general, an hypothesis is something you think might be true. You are not sure if it is or if it is not.

    In math, a proof is a series of steps where you apply inference rules to an already proved theorem or to an axiom and arrive at the theorem you are proving.

    In science in general, an experiment is the act of watching the world to see if it behaves the way the hypothesis say it does.

    There are big differences between a theorem and an hypothesis. The first is proved and there is no way it can be refuted. The second is uncertain and is just an statement of what the scientist thinks might be.

    There are big differences between a proff and an experiment. The proof is just the sequence of steps. The experiment is an act of observation.

  • There are a lot of different options available. I'd recommend taking some basic chemistry and biology courses at least. And I agree that whatever you do in life should be becuase at least you enjoy somewhere. Whatever your job is, and it may drive you nuts somedays, but if you enjoy your work overall, it's not going to be quite as much of a pain to get up and go to work.
    Specifically, biotechnology isn't the only way to go. Biomedical Engr is a degree that has been slowly catching on at some major Universities. Generally, these things cross disciplines. As a graduate degree (some are offered as a B.S. though) biomed engr can cover things from computational biomechanics, bio signal processing and control, tissue research, imaging, and work on the cellular level. A lot of it depends on what you want to do in biotechnology.
    Do you want to work on things at the cellular level, or would you rather be designing imaging tools? (things like a cat-scan machine, for example) Biomedical or even Biotechnology often cover these things.
    I'd really suggest if you REALLY enjoy the work, that you go after it, though. These are basically research jobs, and that means right now they don't generally pay that well. (Yes, you'd probably be able to make more money in CS). Having something else to fall back on is a good idea as well.
    Any chem engr, elec engr, mech engr, or probably any kind of engr, could go after this degree. And yes, they are also looking for CS majors. Math and physics would probably be able to do this as well.
    And for those wondering, I'm a computer engineering major. I almost went into biology for years, and put it down for a some time, until I realized how much I missed it. I did enjoy what I was doing, but the silly college I ended up with (that's a long story) has no biology major. So, I went back to computers for now. I've looked into biomed engr quite a bit in the last year or so. I may end up going the graduate degree route, I don't know yet :)
  • *ahhh* A non-condescending post, and thus one that's good to reply to. Life is good.

    Anyways, you're actually right. I should have attempted to equate conjectures to hypothesis and not theorems:>

    The reason I think this works is because a conjecture is *not* proven. (see the Four Color Theorem for example of this).

    With a conjecture the mathematician then needs to prove it. Which is generally done by using several proven steps of proving stuff. This does, indeed, draw off of past theorems and axioms, but I contend that all scientific experiments do similiar things by drawing off of the results of past experiments.

    This, of course, also further requires that the manipulation of mathematics is a natural process. I contend that that the theorems that have been proven are a natural result of things. ITs just the representation of those theorems that changes(read: various different ways to represent numbers).

  • I really like Computer Science. But after 20 years in the world of actual software practice I have to admit that CS has very little to do with the actual world of programming. Mostly I won't even dignify it by calling it "software engineering". We need another term. Maybe "slash and burn hacking"? Seriously. Most companies I've been in want sellable applications yesterday and could care less about building the necessary software infrastructure to improve future products. Put it out first, dazzle the consumers, scare your competitors and hope you can squeeze out the next release before too many customers yell too loudly.

    Ever wonder why we manage to automate everyone else's work but our own? Many of our basic tools are antique technology that hasn't fundamentally changed much in a decade or two. Where are the good reverse engineering tools or libraries of software components or software analysis tools and repositories or excellent development environments? Answer: no startup can make money of these things fast enough to appease venture capital. So it doesn't happen.

    Do I sound a bit jaded?
  • People think computer science and they immediantly think "easy money!" So now we have thousands of people who might normally make good doctors, chemists, etc becoming CS majors.
    Here's an example - I'm a CSE (comp sci engineering) major at the University of Texas @ Arlington. All CSE majors are required to take an "intro to CSE" this class they're asked to prove basic computer proficiencies (using MS word, MS excel, etc...which I find rather funny, since all the CSE labs use *NIX systems and we never touch word, etc). Because of all these people coming from other sciences, there are now CS majors who can't even use a word processor!
    I guess the point is a lot of people are saying "who cares" about this or "the more the merrier", but all these morons (who would actually do quite well in other sciences I'm sure) are diluting CS...
  • The article claims we'll need many more biotech people in five or ten years and so people should be training now? Meanwhile, I am one of hundreds of young hard science PhD's I know who have abandoned science because we were not provided anywhere near the career opportunities that could be had with our intelligence, skills and experience in other fields, from software development to investment banking and management consulting. The solution is simple - raise the salaries and make many more hard science jobs available - but of course nobody griping about this actually has the money to do that. New PhD's should be making $70-80,000 to be competitive, not $25-30,000 (or sometimes less).

    And obviously the reason the money isn't there is that either the supply is too large (and so the decline in science students is a good thing) or there just isn't the demand they claim there should be. If demand does pick up in the biosciences, we still have a huge backlog of ex-scientists like myself who would be happy to jump back in if the price was right. Plus of course there are hundreds of thousands of qualified people outside this country - I really don't see what's wrong with having former Russians or Indians or Chinese people filling science jobs in this country - isn't it all to the good if we have more bright people helping things along here?

    Of course I'm most familiar with the situation for PhD's; that's where the supply/demand equation has the longest time lag and so the largest imbalances are likely. If demand for Bachelor's level science graduates grows rapidly it would only take a couple of years for undergraduates to start filling those pipes again. But either way, none of these articles shows evidence of much serious analysis, it's just gloom and doom, ignoring the perfectly rational economic decisions each of us has to make in our lives.
  • It is true...

    Thinking back to my CS courses, we started as freshmen with about a half-dozen women, had maybe 3 sophomore year, and only one finished the degree work.
  • Everything that you said tracks exactly with my recollection of my undergraduate days. However, most of the idiots at the university I attended could get away with taking "calculus for business majors" and "baby bio" to fulfill their math and science distribution requirements. The premed weed out courses were chemistry and physics, and the number of cut-throat premed students that you describe was astounding. My reaction was to flee to engineering, where the students were less grade-driven (by necessity -- the course work was so incredibly hard), the classes smaller, and the atmosphere more collegial. I was able to concentrate on learning the material, and enjoying the utter coolness of figuring out not only how the physical world really works, but how to use that knowledge to make it do what I wanted. Even though I don't do engineering now, I wouldn't trade this background for any (god forbid) liberal arts degree in the world.
  • Computational Science is a viable option if u like both pure science and computing. The best part is, you get to apply both in tandem. And
    you get to use the coolest hardware. Due to the nature of the problems you have to solve you get to use something like 10 21164s concurrently to compute. The drawback is, you would not be studying CS subjects as detailed as a CS major, since the enphasis is on computation, ie, numerical methods and algorithms.
  • They [...] just can't do some of the very very basic math. [...] we already know 1/3 of them are (pardon the expression) idiots, what about the other 1/2rds?

    Umm, you were saying?... :-)
  • Another point that may well be behind the mysterious supply/demand market forces: a lot of the way science is currently performed involves incredible drudgery. Mixing chemicals, tracking hundreds of small animals, putting together large pieces of equipment, going through tedious and complex mathematical calculations, etc. IF we had some of the things CS has been promising for years (reasonably useful robots, for example) science could be considerably more productive. Of course computers have been heavily used by scientists for years for various kinds of data analysis and computations, but I believe a lot more could be done. So maybe it makes sense that society is investing now in computer infrastructure development (including Open Source) to reap great rewards later in improved productivity both in science and other areas. But that only makes the computer infrastructure MORE important to everything in the future, and we'll continue to need more computer scientists and software engineers, and maybe still not that many scientists.
  • I have to share one more bio story, and I swear it's true. One of my friends finished his first year as a biology undergraduate at a state school. Got a reasonably interesting summer job as a lab assistant making about $8 an hour. One of his partners, a POSTDOCTORATE biologist, made THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY! Absolutely the truth. Maybe he was an idiot, I don't know. But there's a difference between being "money grubbing" and simply wanting a reasonably comfortable lifestyle (after one year of undergrad CS, I was making more than double what the postdoc made, hmm....). Supply and demand, baby. --JRZ
  • right after I hit "submit" I saw that. Typo, should have been 1/3rd. Happerns wherein yoy try to tpye too fast. ;-)
  • Well, here at the University of Saskatchewan, computer science is found in the College of Arts and Science, not the College of Engineering.
  • Kinda like the Internet was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in the late 90's?

  • I'm sure this is also because the hard sciences are seen as just that - hard, and the people involved in the discipline have a certain vested interest in maintaining that image. If just anyone could major in physics, math, biology(at my school, one of the most highly dropped and difficult majors) etc., then the (insert hard science here) people wouldn't be able to sneer at all the Human Ecology majors. Perhaps not a conscious motivation - but, as Barbie says 'Math is Hard!!'

  • by jabber ( 13196 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @07:03AM (#1706099) Homepage
    In fact, people who do true CS could still do their job without writing a line of code.

    True CS:_________Not True CS:

    Still not sure where the likes of Kernighan and Ritchie come in, but I'd give all of the Ancient Gods the benefit of the doubt, and say that they're as close to True CS as Programming can get.
  • by Zilfondel ( 70989 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @07:42AM (#1706106)
    Also mentioned in the article was how many public high schools are dropping sciences curriculum.
    This is bad, as young students that go to these schools will have no opportunity to pursue their interests in the sciences. They are being channeled into "popular" money-making fields (CS).

    If you do not have any background in the sciences, it sure makes it a heck of a lot harder to get started in a career in it. College, IMO, is a little late. Same goes for learning foreign languages-the earlier, the better.
    Our country is filled with tons of inadequately funded public schools, many do not even have enough money for technology, art, or music departments (mine had none of those).

    Our country is based entirely upon technology, which is a byproduct of science. We need huge numbers of skilled, intelligent people with background in the sciences to run our infrastructure. Such as: oil drilling, mining, engineering (structural, civil, etc), geology (to name a very few). I don't know anyone who is any of those, bar engineering.
    We may not notice the immediate effects of fewer people pursuing the sciences, because there are older people in these positions, but what about 20 years down the road? Will we have reestablished the necessary numbers of people in these positions to run our country smoothly? Or will we have to hire people from outside-Europe, Japan, etc, to do it for us?

    One last point: I don't know about you, but it seems that fewer and fewer of the mainstream populace can even understand basic scientific ideas/principles. I bring up the Galileo mission, and they look at me funny. Benjamin Franklin wrote how science and democracy go hand in hand (got this out of Science as a Candle in the Dark: by Carl Sagan). Large populations cannot possibly make logical decisions about their world in a democratic nation if they don't even grasp the fundamentals of what makes everything tick! If someone doesn't understand the harmful effects of pollution, are they going to vote for environmental legislation, or are they going to listen to the lobbying/advertising efforts of corporations such as DOW Chemical?

    Food for Thought.

  • Speaking as a white male, that smacks of genderism. It's about as descriminatory as saying that only girls take home-ec, and only boys take shop, which is untrue. Besides, the trophy-wives can always major in Philosophy. That way they can be assured of sitting on a couch and eating bon-bons for the rest of their life. [duck, run and hide... just joking folks]

    Programming, in this day and age, certainly makes it possible to stay home while still bringing home the bacon. Best of both worlds. :)
  • This is very interesting to read about, but I am of the opinion that you can't make people into scientists by giving them classes. It's just not going to happen.
    I've always had an amazing shock of recognition when reading stories about scientists like Conway (inventor of the cellular automata Life) and the value systems of these people. It amazes me that there are so many people who _don't_ want to sit around thinking about interesting things- that there are so many people more interested in answers than questions.
    I'm designing a game- been working on aspects of it for years now. It'll have to happen at its own pace, there's too much of it to rush and I cannot simply opensource it and expect anything useful to happen- most people want quick fixes, not real answers. I _do_ intend to release the result under the GPL, I just don't think open source is going to magically be _creative_ for me.
    In designing this game, I have often had to soak up lots of information from various places. A form of player-codable AI in it (halfcompleted) derives from assembly language, but in a bizarre way tailored (CS) to allow as many AIs running simultaneously as possible, and to face people with realworld consequences behind buzzwords- for instance, you could get the AIs to preemptively multitask, but as they are for embedded (imaginary) systems, there are arguments for doing a cooperative arrangement and handling timeslicing on a routine-by-routine basis. Genetic algorithms could (and will) be used to devise different sorts of AIs- which imposes its own constraints on the design of the AI. I've even downloaded and printed (in 4-up tinyprint) a massive online textbook on astronomy and cosmology just to get my game-universe convincingly plausible- and at the same time, CS fights with this to strike a balance between that which would satisfy scientific accuracy (for instance, spiral galaxies) and that which would execute fast enough to make all this reasonable to attempt (simple spherical galaxies, power-of-two divides) in the particular way it's being attempted.
    A lot of people wouldn't even bother, and a lot of commercial developers would never have the opportunity to fart around playing with galaxy distribution. To some extent, science is about truth over convenience- and it's very easy to cheat and shortchange truth. There's even a level where it's like artistic truth- subjective, but recognizable.
    I only know that I've always devoured scientific information just for fun, out of curiosity- and that it has affected the way I implement things. It's sort of like buzzword compliance versus really pulling things together- my secret weapon in this (besides having the time to do it, and being willing to _take_ the time to do it right) is that implementing well is just plain better- it's like well-crafted art- having a scientific backing (or learning enough of one to cover for your lack) can make a project like my game a hit rather than a failure. It's a lot of work, but when enough goes right, untutored users begin getting a sense of rightness even when they don't understand what they are seeing.
    Science is worth it, but it's like being a (benevolent) hacker: it's not something you take classes in, a lot of people wouldn't even want to. Those who want that have a _hunger_ that can't be deflected even by lack of schooling- give them information and stand back.
  • I was mostly being facetious, but point well taken.

    However, being a knowledgable kid, with an interest in science, still carries with it the stigma of GEEK!, while computers are actually the COOL thing to be into these days...

    Before my girlfriend got to know me, and what I do, she would (without knowing any better at the time) ask "can you hack?"... You really could see the italics, too.. It was like some secret thing that I could do, that was ooooh-so-scary and impressive.

    Knowledge of computers is no longer a 'geek thing' in the derogatory sense, but playing with a chemistry set still is - unfortunatelly. We here know better, but we here are a minority.

    We're sort of like the first black sports stars. The first black running backs and batters. We're respected for our skills and talents, but we're still part of a discriminated against minority.
  • by Spasemunki ( 63473 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @05:35AM (#1706148) Homepage
    All I know is that my university seems to work pretty hard at lowering the number of people who end up in the hard sciences. Seems like a lot of first year science courses are geared to "weed out" undesirables, undesirables in this case often being people who would be perfectly capable of pursuing the degree, just not at the pace and depth at which the first class is taught, often in huge lectures with little access to useful assistance. A number of people that I have talked to have seen this to be the case, especially at large schools. People who, if attending a different college, could go on to become, if not nobel prize winners, at least useful members of industry, are shuttled into social sciences or the liberal arts. The impression that at least one person who I know got was that professors are interested in the top precentage of students, those who can assist them in their research and who will require the least attention. Sure, you produce more outstanding research assistants and super scientists that way, but odds are you're going to loose some very good people too. Combine this mentality with the fabled high pay and recent publicity of the computer field, and it's no wonder universities are hurting for geophysicists and mechanical engineers.
  • While I have few friends who are studying sciences in order to become a (research) "scientist"... I do have many friends studying the sciences in order to become a doctor.
    Money driven? A lot of them.

    I think computer science has replaced a lot of the traditional sciences for many people because here is a field where you do not need to get a master's or a Phd in order to enter the work force in their desired field. Plus (right now), the pay is a lot better.

    I know plenty of people who started out as chem or physics majors in college, and either switched to computer Science half-way through (it was more interesting and easy for them), *or* ended up working in a computer related field because they simply could not find a job as a traditional scientist.

    Eventually it will even out... but I definitely have not noticed a decline in those people wanted to become doctors.
  • dunno, didn't reread it. Lemme check. Yup, your right. 2/3rds not 1/3rd. Semi explains the typo a little more, one key off reaching up for the numbers, but in a grading sence, still would have lost a point for the wrong answer ;-) Feel free to grade with moderation points, I think my posts are probably still comming in above average on the curve ;-).

    Although, based on grammer and spelling, I would have failed "slashdot 101" about 100 times over. I guess I never have got the hang of "proof reading." Plus, I'll be the first to admit, I frequently hit "submit" and never hit "preview" because I to have been influanced by the "get a lower post number" thing. The spillover thing if there are more than 30 posts, I hate being on the "second page" because. K, yea, I am not that far away from a "first post" idiot. Seeing as how this time it caught up with me I will make this promise:

    After this post, I will TRY to remember to do a preview before I do a submit, and not worry about being "down on the second or third page."

    It would be cool if Malda hacked ispell into the preview feature, wouldn't it? ;-)

  • OK, well, as nice as it sounds to be called a "science" I don't think it really is IMHO. Yes, my _opinion_.

    Science has historically been attempting to understand _nature_ or something that is already there by applying a "scientific method" of theory, test the theory, new theory.

    If anything, Computer Science is more Engineering, it's just "data engineering" insted of manipulating something physical.

    I think that you might be "over valuing" the "science" label. Political Science is NOT a science... But it doens't mean that politics are not important in the world. Linguistics are not sciences, and it doesn't mean communication isn't important.

    Just because the "powers at be" choose to label it science, doesn't make it a science in the traditional sence. If anything, what it shows is that they are redefining the term science, not that the study of computers fits traditionally know methods of science.

    That being said, I don't mean to put any less value on the studies of Computer Science majors. I have a great deal of respect for (most) of them. But I don't think it fits the mold of what most people think of when they think about the word "science." Computers weren't "always there" and then at one point mankind decided to study them and try to understand how they work. They were engineered. And, as as much, I would agree that "Software Engineer" is probably a good term.

    The labels "Software Engineer" and "Computer Engineer" might be better to more accurately reflect people who develop software and develop hardware respectivly.

    Why fight it, engineers make more money in general anyway. Which, in fact, also seems to be something the CS community has more in common with Engineers than Scientists.

  • by Capt Dan ( 70955 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @07:15AM (#1706161) Homepage
    There are a couple of main issues here.

    First, some background. I just graduated from the (or one of the) top CS schools in the nation, with a dual degree in CS and ECE. (And I busted my ass to do so, so please forgive any cockiness that develops, it's a pride thing). Around a hundred graduated this year, with the CS department as their home department.

    How many double majors were there for CS/ECE? 1. CS and Mathmatics? 15. What about double majors in CS and Chem? 5. CS and Bio? 6. There was even one guy who in three years managed to pull a CS degree, a Pysch degree and a hard science degree.

    And how many of the rest of the graduating class had a hard science as a minor? I know quite a few CS people who have entered into biotech based upon the merits of their minor degree. You wouldn't believe the number of *art*majors* with a CS minor.

    My roomate was a physics major. Granted it was a small department, but he was the only one not to go on to grad school. Why? He realized that he was a better computer scientist than a physicist. More power to him.

    What does this mean? I think that it means that the really bright *scientists* realize that having a full knowledge of CS will greatly aid them in their research.

    I do not feel that biotech and other hard science research will be suffering by this movement. Why? Because the real scientists, the ones that are bright enough to make the breakthroughs in for things like nonotech livers and curing AIDS, WILL STILL BE IN THE FIELD. All they may have done is increased their knowledge, and by doing so are better suited to achieve their original goals.

    Does it really matter if Joe Schmoe got-an-A-in-high-school-bio picks CS over Bio or Chem? Would he really have made a difference in the field anyways?

    So there's a glut of CS majors. Fine. The people who enter CS for the purpose of learning CS will have better skills and understanding of what is going on. They will always be able to design and implement faster, smaller algorithms. They'll get the sexier work.
  • The distinction you make is important, and I think it applies to biotech just as well. People who do the science of biology make testable hypotheses about the world and then come up with experiments which can differnetiate between these competing hypotheses. Just like computer scientists who could never write a line of code, the people can make strides without ever picking up a pipette.

    Like the people how write HTML or sysadmin, biotech requires a lot of people who can culture cells, sequence DNA, make recombinant plasmids and purify proteins. Many of these people will be extrodanary technicians, just like people who can run a complicated network. But neither of them are asked to, (or have any facility in) making any kind of breakthoughs...
  • I did my undergrad degree in physics. 105 people enrolled in the 'top level' course that year, a significant fraction nominally intending to major in physics. 35 people ended up taking the final, and (I think) 23 of those passed. maybe 13 ended up getting the degree. Numbers for the front-line engineering disciplines (Engineering Physics and Applied Math) were similar though less dramatic. So, certanly the 'weed them out early' is a real effect, but I dispute the notion that there is an evil agenda attached. I really believe that it is usually an honest process of setting expectations - being a nice guy and trying hard is only so valuable, and preserving the illusion that you can be successful in advanced research (the point of pure science, after all) for a couple years until you finally bail out too late to switch disciplines doesn't help anyone. I cruised through first year with A's, but struggled somewhat to get my degree. Advanced 'hard' science is truly a very difficult pursuit, particularly considering that getting an undergrad degree in these fields is of questionable value in itself - you pretty much have to go for the PhD to get anywhere. Do you not think it's better to divert people who might struggle to a c+ degree in physics (or something), (at which point they're screwed because nobody wants a mediocre undergrad physicist) towards being an A student in CompSci? (happened to me and to many of my friends, who had no regrets) I'm sure we all run into people every day in the course of our lives (usurally our bosses) that are in way over their heads and are completely unsuited for their jobs. How do you react to it, particularly when you have to explain something to them for the zillionth time, or have to cover for their mistakes? Do you see how there might have been a benefit if they had been subject to a similar weeding out?
  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Friday September 03, 1999 @05:40AM (#1706180)
    The reason why kids are so interested in computers is because of the opportunities that have in learning about them while still young. You dont learn anything useful about physics or chemistry until college. I was already programming computer games that my friends and I would play when I was in sixth grade. But now im a sophmore in college and I still am not allowed to do anything on my own. You cant just dabble with chemistry in your room like you can with computers. If you could we would have alot of dead potential chemistry majors. (oops, i spilled sulfiric acid on my shirt. oh well, ill clean it up later)
  • How about just using:

    A) The first account you registered with.


    B) The well known Slashdot Generic Username/Password Combo.

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • Being a grad student in biotech, that's great to hear. But I'm not sure I follow the prediction that computer jobs are going to decline under biotechnology jobs. Biotech is a very specialized field, whereas computers are a tool, that can be applied to many fields..... (just my .02)
    -- Moondog
  • Experimentation does not make something a science.

    Engineers experiment all the time with new structures, but that doesn't make it science.

    Science is understand "what is" not developing something new and trying to test it, that's engineering.

    Read my post a couple steps above for a more complete explination. Basically, "the scientific method" can be applied to many things, but applying a "scientific method" doesn't make something a science. If it did, maybe one could be a "master of the science of beer drinking" as well. It's simply not the case.

    You need to study something not created by man to make it a science. You need to study things that were not "manmade" and test, experiment, and tweek them. That's science.

    Dictionary definition:
    Science: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and it's phenomena.

    Things studied that are man-made are considered "engineering" studies, not science.

    Slashdot Science defender

  • I'm an undergraduate starting my first year at the University of Saskatchewan. I declared comp sci with honours; let's look at why.

    When I was eight, my mom bought a Xerox 8086 to type up her English PhD thesis on. Besides learning WP5.1 (I still use it to this day, heh), I had fun playing games, and learning how to move around in DOS (3.1, I think). This is the machine that started me on computers.

    At the end of the eighth grade, I bought a 2400bps modem for the old 8086, and started dialing BBSs, as well as using my friend's brother's dialup shell account at the U of S. At 13, I was introduced to the glory of the online world and of Unix.

    Midway through the ninth grade, I noticed QBasic on my school's Netware network. After a friend taught me a few commands (PRINT and IF-THEN), I taught myself the remainder of the language over the rest of the school year. Having no previous programming experience, I found it thrilling to think that I could actually, in some way, tell the computer what to do.

    Because of this, I signed up for all the comp sci classes available over the rest of high school. I learned BASIC, Pascal and some C; the languages weren't important, it was the sense of wonderment behind programming that held me. I could create. And if I had lots of error, it was my fault, not the fact that we weren't at STP.

    Am I doing it for the money? Of course not. If I can make some money this way, it would be nice, but the reason I'm doing this is because I love programming, I love the feeling I get, and I love the sense of community and fellowship that can often be found in communities of programmers.

    And that, friends, is why I chose to major in computer science. I'm doing it because I enjoy it, not because of the opportunities.

  • They must have caught on. I first noticed this a week or so back (and you can't create a new account for cypherpunk either). You can log in as ciferpunk/ciferpunk, though (according to the info given at account creation, a 70+ year old woman from American Samoa who makes $150,000 a year).
  • Well, I have taught more than a few hundred first year college freshman in a University Chemistry Lab. I believe I can comment on this a bit.

    The "weed out" effect comes in two basic forms, from what I have observed, but it's definately there. Here's what I have seen.

    The first form is the "wakeup call" where students get in over thier heads. Quite frankly, there is a historical trend that only 2/3rds of the students pass, and 1/3rd don't. No matter who is teaching, no matter how "hard" or "easy" they try to make the class, 1/3rd end up not completeing the course (some drop, some flat out fail). I believe they just don't come in prepared. I spend about 75% of my time in Chemistry labs teaching students basic Algebra, not chemistry. They usually have the dexterity to do the experiments, but just can't do some of the very very basic math. In this case, I think the blame is clearly to be placed on the High School from which they graduated. And, when they are screwing up the math, in general, they don't have the basic "logic" skills to understand the science behind the math. I mean, how hard is it to add up the molecular weight of Methane? Carbon=12, you have one. Hydrogen=1, you have 4. What's the weight of the full molecule. Uh... (12x1)+(1X4)=___. When they can't handle that, how do they expect to get anywhere? If you make it apples and oranges, they can do fine. For some reason, it's so ingrained in thier minds that "Chemistry is Hard" that when you replace apples and oranges with elements, suddendly they can't do Algebra!

    There is no big "push" from the university to make us fail students. There is a push to make us "pass" students. In this vain, most Chemistry departments around the country have a "Chemistry Lite" class now, where they avoid math at all costs.

    The second reason that students fail, or the other second part of the "weed out effect" comes from the medical school. They don't want people making it 4 years as a pre-med student, and not being able to handle medical school. And, a very large portion of the students in the basic sciences are pre-medical students. So, here is a class full of 250 students, we already know 1/3 of them are (pardon the expression) idiots, what about the other 1/2rds? Well, they contain the most mercenary students on campus. The type of kids who will give others the wrong answers to "make themselfs sit higher on the curve." They resent having to be in the class completely, because they are still believing "I'll never have to use this stuff" so they just want a grade.

    It's not like we have a lot to work with there. One way or another, none of them want to be in the class to start with. Believe me when I say, the professors do thier best to "sell" how much fun the sciences can be. But when they clearly see that a BS in Biology won't get them a job, but a BS in computer science can get them $40,000 to start, how do you expect them to feel? Then, throw them into a group where 1/3 of the people they are with can't to basic math, and another large percentage are as arrogent as can be, and they get disgusted with the class after the first week.

    Solution? I don't know, bring McGyver back on TV ;-) The media never portrays science as "fun" anyway. Sure, you complain that "hackers" don't get a fair portral in the movies or on the news, but at least they get some media attention. Scientists usually get made out to be evil, completely over the top "maddness-genius" types, or just plain boring.

    If anyone out there is reading this and is looking at a carrer in science, I'll tell you flat out, "we need you." Qualifications are not the sterotypes. We need people with strong math skills, that's true, but more that that, we need people who are "artists" at heart, and can dream up the future, and make it happen. You have to be able to think "outside the box" and be very creative. To solve new problems, it really takes an artist that can apply logic to his work.

  • another point about hard science is the amount of time it takes to study up to the leading edge of fields like physics, chemistry and (most importantly, IMHO, astronomy). the study of science is a parabolic venture, the farther you get along the harder it is to discover new things.

    I don't think it is any harder now at the front lines of scientific research than it was before. The only difference is that now, there's more foundational knowledge to learn than there was, say, a hundred years ago. The methods and means of learning unknown facets of the Natural World, however, remain unchanged from whence they were when Galilleo turned his telescope to the stars.

    Perhaps it is but a parabolic adventure, but the rewards at the end of the parabola are more than worth the effort to climb the steep slope. I just finished a Masters in Quantum Chemistry. It was incredibly hard work, but to actually understand what makes the universe work is a thrilling experience. Moreover, some of the most fascinating people in the world are in Academia. While most of us can't hope to match them, just having known them and having worked with them is a pleasure worth the effort of the study.

    I knew a German at the University I attended who fits this mold. He was a great guy, and was also tremendously intelligent. He had a PhD in mathematics and was concluding his second post-doctorate. He was working on various projetcts with phycists, and doing some neat stuff with the EE department.

    I had the good fortune to spend time with this fellow in the capacity of a student. He was doing me the good favor of tutoring me with my Quantum Mechanics, as I was struggling. On his own initiative, he went out and bought the textbook we were studying, and in three weeks covered the same material which the classs had spent the last three months trying to slog through. Then with infinite patience, he explained each concept to me until I understood it. Not only was he tremendously intelligent, but he was a fabulous teacher.

    My expereiences with this fine mathematician, and the other people I knew at graduate school, showed me the marvelous way in which mathetmatics, physics, and chemistry entwine together. In no other environment could I have recieved such insight into the physical world, and how it works.

    The foundation laid by the five years I spent studying chemistry for my B.S. were equally enlightening in their own right. There is no other way for most people to truly understand the Scientific Method. One can look it up, and learn what people say it is, but until you have a problem to apply it to, which will take possibly years of hard work in research, you will never truly understand it.

    However, after all my experiences, I am now in an IT job. I am quite happy, but I would not trade my physical science background for the world. With my experience in Theoretical Chemistry (Quantum) I can now do theoretical research on Linux boxes. Thankfully enough, my switch from Academia to Coorporate has not ended my forays into the remarkable world of Chemsitry. As for the work I do now, it is challenging, and I've always had a passion for computers. But my true love has always been, and always will be, science. For it is in science that we may learn some of the most basic truths of the world which we have found ourselves. It is within science where we may find absolute truth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 1999 @06:01AM (#1706216)
    I think that a large part of the mass movement towards CS comes from a basic understanding of the subject matter. Many a college freshman shows up with the notion that he (and sometimes she) wishes to do something with computers or get training for a well paying job. The _computer_ part of CS refers only partially to the machines used. Perhaps Science of Computing is a more appropriate moniker. I wonder at times if college freshman would chose to enter a field whose core theories are those of Regular Grammars, Computatabily, Complexity Theory, etc..

    Certainly, CS is not a mere way to learn to program well. Nor is it intended as preparation for an easy-money job (though all too often it is). CS is centered around mathematical fields, and concerns itself more with algorithms than with coding.

    To be completely honest, knowing how to reduce a Nondeterministic Automaton to a Deterministic Automaton is not going to help most CS majors in the type of work they will be performing upon graduation. True, there do exist positions in which such knowledge is applicable, but most graduations are not doing programming of that caliber. Industry seems to be under the illusion that Computer Science trains people to work with computers. Will a CS education really help someone set up an NT service, or get Oracle running on Solaris? These are the jobs that await many CS majors. It is sad, but it is the truth. Is this a result of all the hype surrounding CS, that has made it appear to be the golden ticket to success that has attracted people who would otherwise have no interest in the field?

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"