Dang! This Was a Great Column…

“As late as 1975, the United States graduated more engineering and scientific PhDs than Europe and more than three times as many as all of Asia”, humminah, humminah, humminah, “In 2001 China graduated 220,000 engineers, against about 60,000 for the United States..”, humminah, humminah, humminah. Now Ebola ~ like the majority of his cousins ~ got screwed by his dumb ass, minimum wage college advisors (They all seem to be on the six year plan) or the world might have had one more computer scientist. (I did say might, mind you. A little effort on his part would have helped, tortured geniuses being so yesterday.) What struck me was the total collapse of mathematics and science as career choices. I can’t imagine it’s ‘too hard’ for talented, creative kids. I mean, Apollo 13 got home with slide rulers. (Hell, the back-to-school calculater Wal-Mart sells for $14.95 could fix the Space Shuttle foam flaking if anyone knew how to use the functions in the proper sequence.) But it was the very last paragraph, and one sentence in particular, that made the eyebrows rise…

What’s crucial is sustaining our technological vitality. Despite the pay, America seems to have ample scientists and engineers. But half or more of new scientific and engineering PhDs are immigrants; we need to remain open to foreign-born talent. We need to maintain spectacular rewards for companies that succeed in commercializing new products and technologies. The prospect of a big payoff compensates for mediocre pay and fuels ambition. Finally, we must scour the world for good ideas. No country ever had a monopoly on new knowledge, and none ever will.

That is as sad as anything I’ve ever read. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’ve always had faith in the American ability to make the better mousetrap.
Or get the guys home.

3 Responses to “Dang! This Was a Great Column…”

  1. Nightfly says:

    Encouraging excellence and accurately judging achievement means that some kids wind up with their feelings hurt because they’re not on the honor roll. We have the right to high self-opinion! The trade-off is the right to mediocrity, but at least we feel good about our it.
    Now, if everyone decided to stop making such a fetish out of the sheepskin and the collar-and-tie workworld, I think that the blow to self-esteem would be much softened – a B would be fine if we thought that construction and manufacture (for example) were equally-honorable. We’d get better blue-collar workers who weren’t ashamed of using their talents for those jobs, and we’d also be able to judge academics more rigorously, leading to a boost to the collar-and-tie set as well.
    This marks the 3,212th appearance of this subject in my rantings, written and audio. I just type up a macro.

  2. John says:

    Dang you, Sis, I was planning to write about this topic in my own good time. This has a very significant impact on my own career development, which I can not / will not speak of on the Web, but I have a lot of thoughts that I will share in my post, and I’ll link back to you.
    Short answer – I think you are making some incorrect assumptions. Americans have always imported a significant amount of technical talent. A lot of those inventors who built better moustraps weren’t born in America (although I’d argue that they were born Americans).
    The powers that be in America (the Old New England Money that still controls a lot of US politics) have always looked down on people – even intellectuals – that deign to work with their hands. Why do the older Ivys have small to non-existant Engineering programs, while science, especially theoretical science, is represented there? Cornell is the only Ivy I can think of with any Engineering presence at all.
    So, what is our advantage? It is that we give the talented inventor a chance to start a business relatively unfettered by the government, and we give him his due in fame and fortune. Open competition and a thirst for novel ideas. So the best of the world come here, and we gradually drain the Old World of its ability to compete. Why do you think the EU is such a sorry mess? Two World Wars and a huge US brain drain have robbed them of their best and brightest.

  3. nobrainer says:

    I lay a lot of the blame at the feet of the primary and secondary school systems. From my experience at least, science was always treated as a secondary subject. Sure kids need to know how to read and write, but it’s a damn shame that the kids who are interested in science don’t get very much of it. Plus most people in the schools don’t know jack about professions in science or engineering. Tons of kids who start in engineering have no idea what it actually involves and they eventually move into business or something.
    Apparently in a recent class here, the professor found that a sizable minority of students did not know that the threads on a screw wrapped around in a helical way. They thought they were were a bunch of parallel rings… unbelievable.

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