19 June 2011

American science without Americans?

Physicist Michio Kaku may miss the mark here (edited down; full quote here):

The United States has the worst educational system known to science. Our graduates compete regularly at the level of third world countries. So how come the scientific establishment of the United States doesn’t collapse? ...

How come the scientific establishment of the United States doesn’t collapse? ... America has a secret weapon.

That secret weapon is the H1B.

Without the H1B, the scientific establishment of this country would collapse. ... The United States is a magnet sucking up all the brains of the world, but now the brains are going back. ... And people are saying, “Oh, my God, there’s a Silicon Valley in India now!” “Oh, my God, there’s a Silicon Valley in China!” Duh! Where did it come from? It came from the United States. So don’t tell me that science isn’t the engine of prosperity.

I part company with Kaku when he asserts that American students can’t do science (or that there aren’t enough of them – I’m not sure which he’s arguing). I work with plenty of smart American students. They can perform science at the highest levels. Mike The Mad Biologist has often noted that American students perform well in scienceif you account for the bad effects of poverty.

It might be that many Americans don’t go into science not because they are incapable (or lazy or damaged by their education), but because they’re smart. Americans might not pursue scientific careers for the same reason that they don’t pursue careers as migrant crop pickers or maids: there are better ways of making a living out there than being a researcher.

Shorten the path to a doctorate and a career, increase the number of positions requiring doctorates in education and industry, may consider a slight pay raise, and then we’ll talk.


tshilson said...

It seems to me that back in the old days (early 70's, for sure) companies invested in a lot of training for their employees. (I was trained as a computer tech on IBM computers.) Sometime since they seemed to decide that education and training were unnecessary costs and tried to hire the skills that they needed from overseas with H1B visas. I see it as capitalists taking the short-term view.

Dr.B said...

Indeed, as long as the outlook is better (career paths, income, status, flexibility) for MBA's than PhD's, unless students are very passionate about science, the former is a smarter and more reasonable option. (Dr.B, PhD, MBA)...