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Saving U.S. Science

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the quick-someone-call-bill-nye dept.

Education 667

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

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We have a bigger problem... (5, Funny)

Reverend99 (1009807) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144296)

... of experts who have not learned from history.

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

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

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

Can I get a witness?

Re:We have a bigger problem... (3, Funny)

trellick (67244) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144462)

so that we can download any type of porn to satisfy any type of fetish at any time, any where. BEAT THAT

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

Re:We have a bigger problem... (3, Insightful)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144484)

I am not so sure. Why not look at the white papers that were written. Many have Asian last names and were foriegn born.

Re:We have a bigger problem... (5, Insightful)

Idbar (1034346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144628)

Agree with Damattser. I think the amount of foreign students in the US is constantly growing, and if another country provides education and high level research, people will also tend to go there.

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

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

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

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

Re:We have a bigger problem... (4, Insightful)

eric76 (679787) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144666)

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

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

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

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

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

Re:We have a bigger problem... (1)

Frumious Wombat (845680) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144766)

Actually, Americans have to be convinced to go *do* research. I have a horde of juniors in what should be a course designed for majors only, who believe they're all going to be doctors. Their argument is that if they're going to work the hours of a research professor/industrial researcher, they want to be paid for it and have a stable job. If they want my salary, they're going to be a pharmacist from 9 to 5. (and they'll actually probably still be better paid). Most of them, either native born or immigrants, have a story about a close relative (parent, often) who worked at somewhere like Bell Labs, Exxon R&D, Honeywell, etc, who was axed during some cost-cutting binge during a slack period. I have stories like this from my time in the Real World, which is why I'm hiding in academia. We need jobs for these people on the other end, as creating more just drives the price down (which is probably really the point).

So, you can try to improve the quality going in, but the real issue is that they've noticed their chances of being stabily employed coming out. America's "next quarter's numbers or bust" mentality is what needs to be fixed first.

Re: Task Accomplished... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144782)

" ... so that we can download any type of porn to satisfy any type of fetish at any time, any where. BEAT THAT. "

According to web usage statistics, they are.

Re:We have a bigger problem... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144794)


But of course (4, Insightful)

agent dero (680753) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144302)

"one expert says that the federal government should create contests and prize awards for successful science ideas, while another advises that the National Science Foundation fund more graduate students and increase the amount of the fellowships."

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

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

It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment, not conform.

Sound the nafertee! (2, Funny)

fernandoh26 (963204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144340)

Oh. My. Science.

Re:But of course (5, Funny)

Dante Shamest (813622) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144378)

It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment, not conform.

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

Re:But of course (2, Insightful)

spiritraveller (641174) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144518)

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

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

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

It's a question of how you got where you are. You could have mainstream opinions and dress like everyone else but still be a nonconformist.

Bad Culture (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144660)

Plus it would help if our culture placed more emphasis on the news and 'goings-on' of scientific research and less on celebrities and which nipple Paris Hilton exposed that week.

Re:But of course (4, Funny)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144522)

Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, you don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for yourselves! You're ALL individuals!
The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in Crowd: I'm not...
The Crowd: Shhh!

Re:But of course (5, Insightful)

JWW (79176) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144404)

Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society, actively encourage exploration (you know, the heart of science) throughout the development of today's youth, and within one generation we'll be sorted.

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

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

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

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

Re:But of course (1)

trellick (67244) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144644)

Mod this up!

Although I cannot agree with your statement on 'social programs',(try saving some spending with your military) you are absolutely, correct in suggesting that the only way to get an entire generation interested in sciences is a banner leading national program such as NASA's long-delayed return to the moon.

Re:But of course (4, Insightful)

tbjw (760188) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144414)

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

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

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


Re:But of course (1)

Compholio (770966) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144622)

The problem is that the US immigration & visa policy is pretty forbidding.
The National Academies recommends reducing this problem (among a host of others) in the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future" (purchase link: [] ). Yes, it's 512 pages - there's an executive summary that is a much more manageable 13 pages.

Re:But of course (4, Insightful)

Ezubaric (464724) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144428)

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

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

Maybe it's good that universities are transforming themselves into more practical places, but it's at the expense of basic science.

It's NOT the money (5, Insightful)

mungtor (306258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144768)

This has nothing to do with slashing budgets. It has to do with the overall dumbing down of American school children.

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

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

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

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

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

Harrison Bergeron was prophesy, and we're paying for it now.

Re:But of course (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144438)

Indeed. The US government of today dwarfs the US government of only 50, let alone 100 years ago, both in revenue and power over the people. Every year we are subject to thousands more laws than the year before. Government spends literally billons on conditioning us to run to government as the solution to any concievable problem.

Of course the answer is more government. What else could it possibly be?

Re:But of course (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144510)

It doesn't take a damned expert to figure out what's wrong, ask any geek that's in high school or recently graduated. Our problem is cultural, there's such an anti-intellectual problem in schools and the rest of society

But that is expressed in terms of money. If you pay football coaches 10 times what you pay the science teachers, then that's where anyone who wants to get ahead will focus.

So who IS going to be at the lead? (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144570)

Japan, China, Britain?

Can you name MORE conformist societies than those? And yet, it's NOT holding them back, is it?

No, instead we need to develop the proper conformity, instead. Conforming to a non-ideal is going to be less than perfect. Instead of encouraging them to all be just like all the non-thinking losers, encourage a paradigm change. (I always wanted to say that. -sigh-)

You don't want them to be loose cannons, you want them to be free-thinkers that still conform to society's ideals. Being respectful to your elders does not prevent you from inventing the next sliced-bread. Quite the opposite, actually. The teamwork encouraged by that respect will provide the right atmosphere for thinking.

You cannot do your best thinking when you are worried that every co-worker will stab you in the back the first chance they get.

Teamwork is essential. No, we shouldn't be stamping out conformism. We should be redirecting it.

In the past, single-person breakthroughs were possible because the issues were relatively simple. Today, we have much more lofty goals in mind. Curing cancer, antigravity, etc etc... Not going to be the work of a single individual. We aren't studying the universe anymore, we're trying to control it.

it isn't just anti=intellectual culture. (1)

typidemon (729497) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144584)

I know quite a few graduates who didn't seek a career in academia because it isn't a sound and healthy career option. Personally, I can't think of a better career than being an academic, if they didn't have to pull long hours for poor wages (at least in Australia).

Re:But of course (5, Insightful)

testadicazzo (567430) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144600)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re:But of course (2, Insightful)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144640)

I completely agree that it's a cultural problem.

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

My daughter is obviously taking after her parents, who were both precocious children. In a culture where every other conceivable "difference" is sacrosanct and treated with kid gloves, our most intelligent children are being given very short thrift. You don't see state-sponsored "special" schools coping with their needs. Intelligence should be lauded and cultivated, instead, the culture is to exclude and mock these people.

Re:But of course (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144674)

the federal government should create contests and prize awards for successful science ideas, while another advises that the National Science Foundation fund more graduate students and increase the amount of the fellowships
It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment
"Encourage" is pretty general, and I don't think a few "attaboy" contests and prizes will do it.

Yes, money is a huge compontent of prestige and influence. But government re-distribution of trivial amounts is the wrong idea; it will always be seen as a handout. Instead of re-distribution, think distribution. If employment law gave scientists non-reassignable rights to a significant portion of ip rights from their discoveries, being a scientist would be a valid alternative to, say, being a hedge fund manager. As it is, the only way to profit from science is not to be one, but to buy up a bunch of them and capitalize off their inventions. The fact is, science and technology are the critical components of economic growth, yet the rewards do not follow.

Some may argue the market will sort this out - if it's a good idea, some company will try it and they'll dominate. The problem is, intellectual property is at least as much about law as it is business policy. I still think the market will find a solution to re-emphasize innovators, but it will probably not be here in the US. Once lost, the lead will be very, very difficult to regain.

Re:But of course (1)

borroff (267566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144740)

Just to expand on this idea, take a look at the science fiction section at your local bookstore (formerly the starting point for many a science geek), and you'll notice two things:

1) The size of the section has shrunk dramatically.

2) The fantasy section has grown, taking over much of the ceded territory. Most of the time fantasy is lumped together with the science fiction - do booksellers think they're the same thing?

What this says to me is that more kids are growing up thinking magic or extrasensory powers are a great way of resolving conflicts. Nobody wants to build rockets anymore, they want to levitate. Sorcerous battles have replaced space battles.

To have innovation, you must have imagination. Reading science fiction was the way I, and many other technologists, began to imagine the possibilities in our future.

Re:But of course (1)

slughead (592713) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144756)

It's not as complicated as many make it out to be, encourage today's youth to think for themselves and experiment, not conform.

Everybody conforms, it just matters into what.

In my middle school, if you ditched class, the principle would personally bitch you out. It was a public school, but discipline was high on the list.

It was a public school, but it was full of the richest kids in the state of Arizona, and their parents knew how to make sure their kids got the best education possible (since private middle schools are a bit ostentatious, even for them).

There were under-performing kids like me were moved into 'special' classes where they *gasp* got more attention. It's not that those kids were stupid--I was getting in the 99th percentile on IOWA tests when I was thrown in there and routinely. However, I was a 'trouble maker' so I needed a smaller class size.

In other schools, kids like me would be repeatedly suspended or sent to 'the office'. In this school, they simply moved us into a more strict environment.

By 8th grade, all my friends were ditching class for weeks on end and we were all failing and probably should've been held back. In Arizona, the child's guardian must sign a form in order for the child to be held back. Our parents refused, and we all went on to high school.

My high school was typical for Phoenix: full of inner-city kids who dragged the discipline, class content, and test scores through the floor. It wasn't their fault, obviously. Me and my "didn't deserve to pass 8th grade" attitude got me A's on most of the tests even though I ditched 3-4 days a week and never did homework.

The middle schools these other kids went to were so devoid of efficacy, they all studied for tests and scribbled vast amounts of notes in class. This was a huge ego-boost for me, obviously. I went from an under-performing 8th grader to 'genius' in just 3 months!

My middle school, which I couldn't even pass, was so well-managed that even us losers cruised through high school. With a myriad of drug addictions and an attendance calendar so full of holes it's like we weren't even enrolled, we all got into college.

We thought we were going to be losers for life, but we conformed far more than we knew.

We were far above average in HS, which is a testament to both the poorly run nature of the Phoenix Union High School District and the discipline we got from the 'diamond in the rough' which was our middle school.

I'm simply pointing out what's possible if you have a real learning environment. With today's regulations, I hear the school I once went to has gone to hell. The new principle barely shows up and not even the discipline-cases know what she looks like. Show up, collect your pay check, and leave--it's the way of the American educational system. I'm glad I saw the best of it.

Here's an idea (4, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144308)

How about instead of using fairy tales and pseudoscience to explain to folks how the universe operates, we actually teach them the science.

I know, I know, giving people science instead of religious precepts is a wild and crazy idea but someone has to suggest it.

Re:Here's an idea (-1, Flamebait)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144330)

Exactly, you hit the nail on the head. Now you Americans are starting to see why we Europeans threw the fundies and religious wingnuts out of Europe all that time ago.

Re:Here's an idea (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144612)

Exactly, you hit the nail on the head. Now you Americans are starting to see why we Europeans threw the fundies and religious wingnuts out of Europe all that time ago.
Yes.. but when you threw them out, they landed here in America, which explains a lot really.

Hang wringing? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144314)

Handwringing, maybe?

Re:Hang wringing? (1)

bfischer (648685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144776)

Save that thought for the next article - Saving U.S. English.

Re:Hang wringing? (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144780)

Yes, perhaps some money could be well-spent on basic stuff -- grammar, spelling, ...

Too late, assholes (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144324)

It's taken decades to devolve the American science curriculum into little more than basic biology. That means that today's graduates who would be eligible for participation in these science fairs are already past the point of redemption. In fact, any high school student is already past that point as well since they don't have a strong enough background from elementary and middle school.

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

We're in a mess so big and so deep and so tall, we can't clean it up, there's no way at all.

A Comment... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144326)

Before we go and create all these new science/engineering trainees, should we not first determine whether we need more than we are currently producing? Given the trend to outsource anything possible, is there a shortage of these people? Or, like the IT field, is there merely a shortage of cheap, pliable labor?

The national chemistry society (ACS) has been showing a downward trend in the number of employed chemists. Given things like this, why the %@18&# make more of them?

Re:A Comment... (1)

gijoel (628142) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144582)

If I could I'd give you +5 insightful.

Start at the bottom (3, Insightful)

jsiren (886858) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144342)

This really begins at the elementary school level: getting children into the habit of using their brain, promoting questioning and independent thought, would be a good start. It should continue throughout the education system.

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

Re:Start at the bottom (2)

Rufty (37223) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144416)

And there's the problem, too often kids aren't encouraged to be independant and questioning but to STFU and OBEY.

Re:Start at the bottom (2)

freemywrld (821105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144548)

The major problem is that kids today aren't being taught to think critically and explore, they are being taught to take standardized tests.

Is that so surprising? (5, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144344)

Well, US voters elected twice (not just once, but twice!) a man that does not care about science, and has been trying to undermine some of the most prestigious US research centers if they disagree with his policies or analysis.

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

So is this so surprising?

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

So, let me ask you again: is that so surprising? I think not. Another brilliant civilization rejected science and went into a profound decline: it was the Middle-Ages Moslem civilization. Think about that for a minute.

Technical correction (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144424)

Well, US voters elected twice (not just once, but twice!) a man that does not care about science

Uh, no they didn't. In both elections, more people voted against him than for him, or at least thought they did. And many of those that voted for him wouldn't have if the media had been more honest with them and not repeatedly worked to cover up his lies.

Blaming the voters for Bush's election is like blaming them for "lacking the will" to win in Iraq.

But the two are not unrelated. If the people were more science/math/tech savvy it would be harder to pull the wool over their eyes. Which means that, at least in some circles, as you suggest, the decline in science is seen as a good thing.


Re:Technical correction (1)

Atzanteol (99067) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144568)

Uh, no they didn't. In both elections, more people voted against him than for him, or at least thought they did. And many of those that voted for him wouldn't have if the media had been more honest with them and not repeatedly worked to cover up his lies.

Wow. Can you also convince yourself that the sky is green and that the Sun rises in the west (or at least it *would* if the media stopped lying about the east)?

BTW, with all the close elections in the mid-terms where is all the nuts claiming the Democrats *stole* the elections? Or does that only happen when it's Republicans winning?

Re:Technical correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144698)

BTW, with all the close elections in the mid-terms where is all the nuts claiming the Democrats *stole* the elections?

Google Florida-13. Oh wait, that's a democrat who lost by under 500 votes, with over 10,000 votes missing.

Of course, it's Florida. First there was negative votes for Gore in a highly contested state, then the same district turned in faked election tapes and forgot to forge the names of the election observers on their results in 2004. The real results were retrieved from their trashcans.

I'm willing to bet that if it had been a Republican getting -5000 votes in a close, important race or losing by 500 votes with 20 times that number lost, you'd be screaming OMGHAX too.

Re:Is that so surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144508)

In 2000, many people didn't care about the election.

In 2004 his opponent's (John Kerry) ONLY positive aspect was that he was NOT W. Many people voted for Kerry even though they really didn't want to.

Re:Is that so surprising? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144638)

Yeah, his name was Clinton.... remember the SSC? I personally saw several physics departments gutted after the funding was pulled. The money just didn't go to texas, it went all over the country where students worked on things like new detectors and software. I don't necessarily agree with 'Big Science', but the funding certainly wasn't diverted to smaller projects.

Re:Is that so surprising? (1)

pudro (983817) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144750)

Well, US voters elected twice (not just once, but twice!) a man that does not care about science

In 2000, the people voted for Gore, but the Supreme Court stepped in (never mind that it should have been the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the state of Florida) before the votes were counted and declared Bush the winner. The votes were counted later anyways, and all final recount tallies showed that Gore recieved more votes than Bush in Florida, and therefore should have won the election.

In 2004, despite what MarkusQ said in his reply, more votes were registered for Bush than Kerry overall. However, in the closest state, Ohio, there was evidence of so much election fraud it was ridiculous. Never mind the fact that the person responsible for overseeing the vote was the head of Bush's campaign for the state (Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell). Everything from not delivering all of the voting machines in highly Democratic urban areas of Columbus to all of the absentee votes being opened and resealed (not in Columbus). It isn't put together very well, but here [] is a site with a bunch of examples.

Re:Is that so surprising? (3, Insightful)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144762)

Another brilliant civilization rejected science and went into a profound decline: it was the Middle-Ages Moslem civilization.

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

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

Wait a minute. Warrior class takes control, energy is squandered trying to occupy strongly resisting regions, country is governed by feuding families that have nothing to do with the populace... ...hmm, it's not _exactly_ like America. But it ain't exactly different either, if'n you see what I mean :)

Re:Is that so surprising? (1)

Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144796)

Big Government is that what gave an edge to the USA since around 1940,...
  And what research was "Big Govt." funding? That's right kids, it was weapons research. Now what's "Big Govt." funding? Bread and circuses. After all, "Big Govt." isn't some abstract entity no, it is tied to the voters, and grandmas (the only group who votes often) don't care about shiny new rocket ships, she just wants her check to turn into chips to pull the one armed bandit. And no one could honestly say that George W. Bush tried to end "Big Govt."

Don't wring your hang in public (4, Funny)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144360)

>The hang wringing has generated a couple of new ideas to deal with the dilemma.
Don't wring your hang in public.
They'll arrest you.

It's the State, stupid (2, Interesting)

Toby The Economist (811138) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144368)

So, the state-run education system is failing and we're falling behind in science.

Recommended solutions?

*Even more* state-run education - more funding, prizes, competitions.

I'm waiting for the day someone will come along and say: wait a minute, maybe this SHOULDN'T be provided by central government. Maybe we should give people back the money we'd tax to pay for it and let them do it for themselves.

Of course, the reason you don't see this much is because if you say to the State: you don't need to provide this service now, the service stops for sure, but the tax reduction? *that doesn't happen*. So people cling on to whatever they can get out of the State, because they know if it's taken away, they only lose.

Re:It's the State, stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144562)

But why shouldn't a centralized government provide education, instead of an open competitive market with diversity?

After all, it worked for the Soviets! *ducks*

Re:It's the State, stupid (1)

mtraskos35826 (880419) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144576)

If you want to see improvements in research, stop having the state try to fund it.

Want to see the tripe crap that the State tries to push off as research? Just go to their Small Business Innovative Research pages. r071/index.htm [] (current DOD funded program).

Now some of the stuff that they want research on is cool stuff, but completely useless in 99 out of 100 applications.

Real progress/research comes from individuals who have an objective in mind (other than the government bureaucrat just wanting to spend his department's money before the end of the fiscal year). I'd be willing to bet that anyone here would be able to do more effective research individually if they were allowed to keep more than 60% of their earnings.

Plus, does anyone actually trust the government to know what they 'should' fund when members of Congress think that the internet is just a bunch of 'tubes'?

Re:It's the State, stupid (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144614)

Pure research without obvious practical application seldom happens in the commercial sector - there are too many incentives to put the money elsewhere.

This is the rational behind government funded research, and I think it is very logical. Businesses simply do not think long term as a group. Individual ones might but there are powerful financial incentives to go for the immediate rewards.

"State-run" education is not failing because it is state run - the state is essentially an enabler of the research. It is the lack of $$ in the system that is the biggest problem - there are many interesting problems competing for a very small resource pool, and as a result a lot of very good work goes undone.

Re:It's the State, stupid (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144662)

Because we are not trying to let people become an inbred elite while other people suffer. Because we should try and level the playing field as much as possible. I would suggest much of American success is based on the opportunity for vertical mobility. As the wealth gap increases and we develop aristocrats of our very own, I think we will see this decline into nothing.

Letting people do it themselves is moronic for more reasons than I can count, but here are a few:

1. no "common" curriculum- there won't be socialization into what it means to be an American. People will then identify more locally with their state or town. Immigrants will never be integrated and will remain apart and separated.

2. poor people will be even more screwed by private schools which they can't afford when we drop even the minimal baseline education that we offer now.

3. extremists will become even more extremist as their ideas are reinforced in school.

Sure there are failures in the current educational system. We spend too much money too late in the process. The teacher's unions are more concerned with seniority and job protection to actually compete on merit. We don't actually scientifically study teaching methods against one another to be more efficient. Textbooks are expensive, generally crappy, and afraid of the truth because they might offend someone.

I am absolutely convinced (5, Interesting)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144372)

That america will retain the lead, and even improve it.

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

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

Math is being dropped like a stone in every subject. Numerical analysis ... algebra ... computational theory ... everything is disappearing from exact science curricula. This cannot be a good thing.

lol grammer (0, Troll)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144376)

"Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science as it was during the last century."

We're already behind if this "beebo" person (presumably not American) can see twenty years into the future to know what experts will be saying. That's just fucking amazing.

Re:lol grammer (4, Funny)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144506)

"lol grammer"

lol spelling

what can you do about it? (5, Insightful)

idlake (850372) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144382)

"Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science [CC] as it was during the last century.

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

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

I don't see anything that can be done about it. If Americans aren't willing to maintain a high standard of living, a rational and secular society, and a meritocracy for the direct benefits that those policies bring, they aren't going to do it in order to attract foreign scientists either.

Re:what can you do about it? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144708)

Bullshit. I gave up my career as a chemist when I had to share my work area with a India PHD making 35K per year. In NJ. That won't buy you a sandwich. Treat scientists like professionals and the rest of society will fall in to line.

No problem ! (3, Funny)

alexhs (877055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144384)

When I see what british professors accomplishments are [] , I wouldn't fear too much about the future of U.S. science :)

What you've set up your laws to do (0, Offtopic)

quiberon2 (986274) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144388)

You've set up your laws to favour commercial progress, rather than to favour scientific progress.

If I want to make scientific progress, then I have to do things the Linux way; build on other people's work, publish my own freely for all to share.

If I want to make commercial progress, then I have to do things the Windows way; sell everyone a copy and make a pile of $$$.

But you've got this Digital Millennium Copyright Act thing, which kind-of devalues scientific progress, in order that the commercial crew can make more $$$.

Perhaps if you rebalance it; encourage Bill Gates to put his money into Malaria research; you'll get somewhere.

Re:What you've set up your laws to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144634)

Quite the simplistic view I must say.

Offshoring and H1B (2, Insightful)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144392)

I think the reason for less students pursuing science and engineering fields is largely due to offshoring and the importation of labor through H1B visa. Many students have the perception, which is not inaccurate, that their jobs will be given to H1B visas or just shipped overseas. Look at students pursing computer science and information technology degress: they come out of school and they don't get hired. I knew it would be a sad day when I saw a job fair in New York City for technology jobs in Ireland. I never thought I would have to leave my country to find work. My brother studied mechanical engineering and he did well academically yet no one would hire him except for 6.50 per hour machinist job. His anger and frustration was justifiable. The offering of prizes is nothing but shortsighted and completely fails to address the roots of the problem. Unless the prizes are ubiquitous enough to give every science graduate whom does well employment, than it is a poorly spent effort. It will take a fundamental attitude shift beginning with our president whom supports offshoring and H1B programs. Our president, our government, and our corporations are contributing to our decline in science and manufacturing. Gee, with all of this in the forefront, why would I want to go into science? Perhaps I am wrong, but the article's solution seems more typical of a politician. I think they know the real reason but would ultimately get burned if they should make the suggestion that it is government. After all, it is our senators and congressman that voted for tax incentives for labor importation and H1B visas.

Re:Offshoring and H1B (2, Interesting)

gravos (912628) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144608)

I agree that it is not a smart idea to give companies tax incentives to hire workers on H1B, but why are you so anti-foreigner that you don't want them to come at all? Are you afraid that you are inferior to these people and unable to compete with them in a free marketplace? As long as they contribute to the enrollment numbers at universities and thereby subsidize American student educations, I am happy to see them come. In my college engineering program there were all sorts of students from foreign countries (the majority from India) that spoke barely a lick of English, cheated off each other constantly, and generally degraded the quality of the work environment. I saw them as the sort only desperate people would hire for inconsequential jobs because it was clear that they had no self-direction and you would have to hold their hand every step of the way in any major task. I haven't been out of college for a long time, but I did get a decent job at a fun company and, unsurprisingly, I haven't seen any of my foreign compatriots working here. Go figure. I can't imagine for a second that I wouldn't be able to best any of these folks in any reasonable test an interviewer could throw out, and I have no fear of competing with them.

'Corporate' Universities (4, Insightful)

MECC (8478) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144396)

One problem is that a pernicious idea has gripped academia which is that somehow the way corporations operate is categorically better for everything - including how to run a university. So, research, publishing, and even teaching are oriented towards a bottom line, giving them at best third-quarter foresight. The strength of an idea on its own merits independent of its profitability is seen as archaic and dysfunctional. Universities all want to be 'corporate', thinking this will somehow improve education. Paying attention to what professors say will help things seems to be falling from favor.

Make undergraduate aid (parially) based on (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144406)

one's choice of major. I had a hell of a time paying for college and taking on an engineering cirriculum, and to a certain extent I'm glad I did it, but it's not for everyone and the $24k(now down to about $22k a year and half after graduation) in loans sucks and is having a significant impact on when I go to graduate school. Furthermore, money(and an asshole for a father, but that is a different debate) prevented me from attending my top choice school. It was so frustrating to know that you were good enough to attend a certain, rather famous, institution but because you were born into a poor family you cannot go. Meanwhile, some random business student who fails half his classes gets the same amount of aid that I, an engineering student, received. Who is more important to the future of the United States? Ultimately, because of the shitty way I was treated I plan on leaving the US after I get my PhD out of them. The education is a priveledge for the rich mentality really pisses me off.

Which is why I am flying to San Diego today... (1)

AnswerIs42 (622520) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144418)

The Rendezvous Center in San Diego, CA is flying me out to give several presentations on using virtual globes (NOT Google Earth though) in the classroom. They are an organization working towards improving the sciences in primary schools in San Diego and Southern California.

Reduce the fear of being curious (2, Insightful)

cryfordawnsend (959494) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144420)

Seems like a better way to encourage innovation is to reduce the fear of being curious. The copyright and patent laws coupled with the sue happy legal system we have makes folks afraid to experiment, or at least to share the results of those experiments. If we can't completely remove the copyright and patent laws, at least reduce them down to something resonable in today's society, to maybe 5 years or so after initial release of a product. If they haven't made money in that time, then give someone else a try... my .02 --cfd

Re:Reduce the fear of being curious (1)

Reverend99 (1009807) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144470)

OH forget that noise... that assumes anyone currently in our education system (pre-collegiate) gives a rats ass about patents and copyrights. Encourage curiosity and make science 'cool'. Our corporations celebrate the stupid like Paris and Britney. They should be scorned and our children taught to find them disgusting. Instead, our celebrities should be those who bring real true progress to our planet.

I am mostly dreaming of course.

Re:Reduce the fear of being curious (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144656)

Imagine if the atomic bomb was tested in this day and age...all the lawsuits regarding radiation poisoning and whatnot...that one test in...Nevada/Arizona I believe...spread radiation as far as New Jersey...

Two factors (4, Interesting)

kahei (466208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144436)

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

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

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

Re:Two factors (2, Insightful)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144716)

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

Much the same was happening when sputnik appeared. Post that event science was made a priority, evolution was reinstated, and america started to recover. The momentum from that event has kept you going for a fair while, but it looks like the scientists created from that era are diminishing in number, and creationists/religious leaders are gaining ground once more.

The essence of what I'm saying is that unless America manages to refocus itself soon, it's going to be in big trouble.

w00t (0, Offtopic)

hyperbotfly (934309) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144440)

first post -GNAA!!!!!!

...We have it too good (2, Insightful)

m93 (684512) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144450)

It has less to do with the amount of prizes and awards available, and more to do with how we live. The curriculum in public schools is devolving into a watered-down, bland concoction designed to make people feel good about themselves, while as a nation, we are no longer wowed by anything in the hard-scientific realm. Rampant consumerism is the final frontier now....We are in danger of being slaves to our own success.
We need a breakthrough that will capture the imagination of the public at large. (Evidence of life on other planets would be great) Either that, or a new great war effort to spur on innovation and discovery. I would prefer the former.

How about improving work conditions instead? (4, Interesting)

tehanu (682528) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144494)

As usual, these sort of articles keep on suggesting increasing the number of graduate students.

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

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

Adding more graduate students will just make things worse. More competition for jobs -> even worse work conditions and job security.

This is a problem in engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144646)

It is easier to get into business school than engineering. When they graduate many of the business students make way more than the engineers*. Engineering school is way harder than business school. Why would anyone in their right mind go into engineering?

The local industries complain bitterly that we don't graduate enough of the people they need and then they pay the grads, that they do get, crap wages. No bloody wonder we can't recruit students. The other problem is that the engineers are attracted to jobs in sales or management and don't end up doing engineering.

*The wages of business school grads are all over the map. Some of them do way better than the engineers and some of them do much worse. The engineers look at the best business school wages and wonder why they went into engineering.

Prizes are not the answer - fund the NSF! (2, Insightful)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144502)

Prizes help spur research towards specific, known, targeted goals. That's not a bad thing (ethical research is almost never a bad thing) but it's only a small part of the problem, and probably not the most important part.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps a good summary of recent problems can be found at the end of this ( [] ) article:

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

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

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

US's domination was temporary (2, Insightful)

hkultala (69204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144512)

USA was not dominant on the first half of the century.

Actually Adolf Hitler can be thanked for raising USA to "scientific domination"; Most jewish scientists fleed from central europe to USA because of nazis.

And some non-jewish german scientsts (like Werner von Braun) surrendered to USA when the war was ending.

Some european scientists why moved to USA between 1930 and 1945

Kurt gödel ( great mathematician )
Werner Von Braun ( main designed of V-2 ans Saturn V )
Albert Einstein( was visiting USA when hitler rose to power and because of that did not return to germany )
Paul Ärdös ( propably the most productive mathematician of all times, )
Stanislav Ulam, Polish, one of manhattan project scientists
Hans Bethe, nobel prize winner, manhattan project scientist
John Von Neumann, inventor the modern computer, manhattan project scientist .. actually the ONLY major american-born scientist I know from the last centyry are Robert Goddard and Richard Feynman.

CULTURE! (4, Interesting)

The Infamous TommyD (21616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144532)

I am a computer scientist and faculty member at a Research 1 university.

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

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

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

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

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

As you can tell, this is near and dear to my heart. I hope that we can do something with real effects. I do little things everyday, but I want to do more!

Logical Empiricism (5, Insightful)

maximthemagnificent (847709) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144572)

How about this: teach the bloody scientific method in all schools?

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

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

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

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


The real issue (2, Informative)

Targon (17348) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144578)

As others have said, the problem is with our elementary schools as well as high schools and colleges/universities. There is also the stupid idea that ANYTHING can be fixed by making some minor changes.

If you get into a big accident in your car, you KNOW the car will never be the same again, it just CAN'T be fixed properly. The American education system faces a similar situation.

Elementary schools are treated like a combination of one room schoolhouses where one teacher needs to instill a love of learning about every subject. It just doesn't work since no person loves Engish, History, Science, and Math to the point where they can really radiate an excitement for all of these subjects. The schools want/need to teach more subjects, but don't want to extend the school year and school day to the point where school is a full-time thing for students(with a bit more time off at different times of the year).

With dedicated math, science, english, and history teachers who love(or at least really enjoy) their subject, most students will tend to discover an interest in one or more of these subjects themselves. Without an interest in one or more subjects, schools are nothing more than a babysitting service while parents are out working.

It is unfortunate that most governments don't have leaders who understand that if something is seriously broken, doing a full replacement of the system as a whole is required. Here in the USA, what is needed is:

Shrink the summer vacation from 2-2.5 months down to 3 weeks, and to extend the school day to go from 8am to 4pm.

Get rid of elementary school and go to a system where different subjects have different teachers. To help younger students, the teachers can move from classroom to classroom instead of having the students go from room to room.

Focus on conceptual learning as well as memorization since understanding the why of things is generally more important in future problem solving than JUST being able to come up with the right answer.

Move school funding to being a part of income taxes, not just property taxes as well since those who rent instead of own tend not to pay into the school system.

If the above ideas are not enough, make it so you have 16 grades, not just 12. College should be where people go for EXTRA education, and should not be required to get most jobs. Now that the USA(and most of Europe for that matter) have shifted from blue collar/manufacturing jobs as the focus and have shifted to white collar educated jobs as the focus of the economy, that should be the focus for the minimum the standard public education system should have as a focus. If a public education system could be brought back to properly preparing students for most jobs, it would solve the problem.

*sigh* (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144590)

1.) say the word "science" in a newspost.
2.) get 100 people bashing old sciences (i.e. "religions") and foreign beliefs (i.e. "shamanic faiths")
3.) have someone like me post a classic "...profit" list like this.
4.) ...
5.) Profit!

Seriously though (and I believe myself a man of science), we don't have to put down everyone's personal beliefs every time someone says the word "science". We are starting to sound as thick-skulled as religious fundamentalists who put down scientists and foreign tribal/shamanic religions for "not believing in Jesus".
Can we ever accept that truth is really relative? The existence of the aether was as strongly believed by scientists 700 years ago as the existence of the atom is today. And all it takes is a few discoveries (followed by burnings and denials) to prove it entirely wrong.
A tribe in Africa might see a hawk fly overhead 2 hours before it rains every time it rains. Generations later, they still believe the "hawk brings rain", when scientists might argue that the hawk is indeed just fleeing from the rain coming in from the source of water (and source of the hawk's food) back to the hawk's nesting grounds on the other side of the village. But in the end, the village STILL can use the hawk to prepare themselves for rain in advanced. In the end its still two strong beliefs colliding. And in the end, does it really matter who is right and who is wrong?
For there is only one damned truth out there: your own. And there is only one person who needs to hear about it: you. Because in the end if you die and rot in a hole, or die and your consciousness carries on through the stars doesn't matter! Because the guy your arguing with will find himself in the same hole or astral-traveling through the same stars! Its like arguing over whether to use a magnum or colt to commit suicide with, and then dying of old age during the 15 year government funded study on which hurts less to get hit by.

Don't worry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144596)

America is focal point of the world. Every young (and many not so young) expert in every part of the world dreams about coming to USA for virtually no other reason but to work with the cream of the crop, regardless that many of those best guys were not born in America (sorry guys, I know you are very proud of all the freedoms, power, wealth, novel culture, history, etc. but challenge is what draws the best minds, it is a kind of a process with positive feedback loop). So, research will continue to be funded and done there.

Elsewhere, kids may perhaps get better education en masse, but it doesn't make each and every one of them a genius. When a genius kid is born in USA, it will have perhaps more chance to make it to the top there then anywhere else.

What your government can do to enhance it: don't ever let research activities get outsourced! Make them state secret or something, so that smart people have to be imported, not given jobs somewhere abroad. If need be (companies refuse to suffer higher costs of research), start huge scientific "New Deal" projects to attract them. Make top notch brains scarce in other parts of the world (just please, don't murder those who won't relocate!), thus forcing companies back in. As these people mostly come from cultures (or at least, families) which hold education in high regard, they may also be a part of a push toward better education for their own children in the USA.

I think we have a bigger problem than that.... (1)

LordPhantom (763327) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144606)

The hang wringing has generated a couple of new ideas to deal with the dilemma.
As apparently even basic spelling is difficult for editor and submitter alike!
I can just imagine the "ZOMG", kkthxbye?, IIRC, evelution, and neuclear phisics in the papers of the "scientits" of tomorrow....

You 7ail 1t! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144626)

Slashd0t 'BSD is

Oh... (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144630)

This sounds weird I know, maybe even out of place, but I think more studies needs to be done with linking subjects together. I know it sounds funny, but when a student is given a hyper-text encoded text-book, they tend to like to click on links they want to find different articles and learn even more about different fields they would have otherwise ignored. Kind of a "wikipedia" format of learning.

simple solution (1)

Ignatius (6850) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144694)

If you want more scientists, pay them more! Once an average scientist makes more than your typical lawyer, doctor or business executive, the social status of science will increase accordingly and a higher proportion of the most talented will pursuit a scientific career.

A good writeup on the situation (hooked on the topic of women in science) can be found here: ce []

I think there is more to it... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144704)

While culture has a lot to do with the current problems, there are other things that need to be looked at: There are hobbyists that practically have made themselves into scientists, dedicating much of their spare time at learning new things and trying new things. Imagine a guy with a hobby that can launch scientific payloads into the upper atmosphere? Yes, that is right, upper atmosphere. Imagine a group of kids that are building robots that can help deal with IED's?

Part of the problem is that such studies and people often only look at academia for the results and the answers. I can tell you that if you spend your money with people that WANT to solve problems and do things just because... well, you're going to get some good research. If there were tax cuts for commercial support of such things, it would create more research funding at all levels.

Okay, that sounds optimistic, but there are many hobbyists in North America that are not creating world class projects for the simple lack of funding. The iRobot robots that are being used by the military, police, etc. were basically designed by hobbyists. There is huge efforts by such people that go unnoticed, and uncounted in studies such as this one. Its sad.

All it Takes is a Little Inspiration (5, Insightful)

pkiesel (245289) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144718)

Sure, our society de-values intellectual achievement vis-a-vis instant gratification and entertainment. However, as one who mentors secondary school students in engineering, I have seen first hand that those students who have even a slight inclination towards technology or science only take a little push to get them to pursue those interests.

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

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

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

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

All it takes is a little push, and some of us are pushing instead of blaming foreigners and politicians.

One possible solution. (1)

Lethyos (408045) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144724)

Maybe we should ignore religious fundamentalists who are trying dictate their doctrine over science? You know, pay little heed to people who say the universe is 10,000 years old, or that evolution is false, or that stem cell research should be forbidden. It is a simplification to say in so few words, but it seems intuitive to me that assigning greater importance to bizarre ramblings of a few desert death cults from a thousand years ago over the tenants of science is a great way to quickly lose your “edge”.

Blowing shit up (5, Insightful)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144728) the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

Stop accepting crap systems research!!! (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144734)

I've studied graduate-level computer science at several American universities, and the one theme that I find most depressing is the lack of reality in the research. I'm afraid that this decoupling from reality keeps many computer scientists from actually being responsible for accurate research. For example:
  • Many CS papers make motivational statements like, "The typical sensor network has...". That's complete BS. The authors have no accurate way of knowing what a "typical" sensor network is like. Because they've never seen a study that's sampled the world's sensor networks. They write papers that quietly confuse what's *really* typical with what the authors imagine would be typical. So there are two problems: (a) academic dishonesty in their writing, and (b) not facing up to the fact that they're guessing about the relevance of their paper, rather than actually having a well-grounded sense of relevance.

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

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

The real reason... (1)

Unique2 (325687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144748)

This [] is the real reason. (Safe for work, not or anything :))

Timetravel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144754)

Did you know subscribers can see articles in the future?

Boy, they sure aren't kidding about this. Evidence the blurb, "Twenty years from now, experts doubt that...

Science & engineering just doesn't pay enough (1)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144758)

Why would any top student want to spend years of schooling only to graduate into a profession that only pays 65k to 85k avg for a senior position; when they could go into law, finance, medical and make 90k to start.

Sure there are talented and experienced engineers making over 100k, but they would have been better off crunching numbers for an investment firm and getting 7 figure bonuses.

Don't need saving! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17144772)

America will still be a dominant force in the science of ID and Creationism in 20 years. The rest of those "sciences"... phew. Why should anyone need those?

Moo (2, Funny)

Chacham (981) | more than 7 years ago | (#17144800)

Twenty years from now, experts doubt that America will remain a dominant force in science as it was during the last century.

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

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

Does anyone know who to write anymore?
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