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US losing it's technological and scientific competitive edge?

  1. Aug 25, 2005 #1

    ZapperZ

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    OK, for once, *I* don't quite know where to put this (since it covers almost the whole gamut of issues). I'll move it if I find a good suggestion on where it should go.

    In any case, if you are in the US, or any vested interest in how poorly civilian scientific endeavor is being supported, you may want to read this:

    http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/innovation.htm

    Zz.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2005 #2

    Bystander

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    Here, P&WA, Social Sci., Phi., and why not here --- it's a career decision.

    Patents? Not all that alarming or surprising --- global literacy is increasing.

    Percentage of GDP on research? Tough to say --- numbers for this country are grossly overinflated; better number to look at might be percentage of primary productivity (extraction, agriculture, manufacturing, and distribution).

    Percentage of degrees? Delete underwater basket weaving, blank studies, and some of the other nonsense, and recalculate.​

    That said,

    "Investing in the Future

    Basic research may seem expendable to politicians because it’s not about instant gratification.

    “You don’t pay today and see the results tomorrow. Basic research provides for the future,” notes Samuel Rankin...."​
    (from OP link)

    pretty much sums up the problem. The present funding system was put together from Vannevar Bush's recommendations of 60 (wow) years ago, and the parasitic loads (layers of management, more layers of management, and more layers of management) that have grown in since that time have rotted the structure to the point that it costs a buck to do a dime's worth of research. Further, to protect the parasites, that dime's worth has to be a "sure thing."

    Federal labs, excepting DoD, are rat mazes for testing this, that, and the other business model, the funding is year to year (no long term projects), and direction is spotty (new "five year plan" every six months to a year to reflect "improved" management, organization, and HoR politics). NSF exists to fund NCAR purchases of CRAYs every other year. And, NIH is the multi-billion dollar fund sponge for AIDS research funding (public-political posturing).

    Money, equipment, lab space, and public permission and interest for research? In the Post WW II U. S.? The Post WW II, Scientists as mass murderers, politically correct U. S.? Don't hold your breath.

    Problems? Yup. Same causes as those presented in original post? Opinion: nope. Causes? Opinion: the people writing the article prompting the OP are the class of individuals who have eroded the scientific and technical research base in this country. Do they want more funding? Sure. Do they want the money to get to the lab bench? Nope.

    Another view.

    The topic is worth discussion. We are all going to regret a failure to identify and correct shortcomings in funding, PR, and direction.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2005
  4. Aug 25, 2005 #3

    Pengwuino

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    As a recent by-product of the US educational system... I blame the K-12 setup for a majority of the problems being discussed. Science is considerably dumbed down and unimportant. I'm not sure why you only have to take 2 science classes in 6 years of junior/high school around here and 6 years of english... I swear almost everyone I know doesn't have a shred of scientific knowledge or mathematics skills. I can't believe people are allowed to leave high school without being able to use the quadratic formula or even spell 'physics' yet being able to tell you the plot to 3 shakespeare plays.\

    And I swear its almost to a point where there are more administrators then there are students in this damn school district.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2005
  5. Aug 26, 2005 #4
    Really? Where are you from? In K-12 where I went, we had science and math every year. I did, however, go to one of the best Catholic high schools in the nation though. I think the problem is the fact that the high tech industry is too volatile. Seriously, if you don't want to be a professor as a profession why on Earth would you study a science? Sure you could work for the government, but the government pays you squat. You could try to find a job in industry, but you would always have to worry about your job being shipped overseas. The chemists, pharmacologist, biologists etc. at the pharm. company where I have my internship now are always worried about getting axed. Although I will graduate with science degrees in Dec. I am probably not going to persue them further and just go to med school since science and high tech jobs are way too unreliable. Who wants to constantly have to worry about putting food on the table and paying the electric bill?
     
  6. Aug 26, 2005 #5

    mathwonk

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    medical school is no guarantee either nowadays, with business managing healthcare. do what you love and at least you will not be as disappointed if the salary is inadequate.

    And do not entirely ignore politics. If all the people who oppose W's ignorant plans voted, or even most of them, I suspect he would not be there.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2005
  7. Aug 28, 2005 #6
    If you can get in, and finish, you shouldn't have trouble finding a job. You might not be able to work wherever you want, or be incredibly rich, but you will have at the very least a decent paying job. The same cannot be said for science/engineering.
     
  8. Aug 28, 2005 #7
    Seriously, how many scientists and engineers do you know that have worked in industry (non government) for the same company for more than 20+ years? Few probably. Working in industry is just too risky for me.
     
  9. Aug 28, 2005 #8

    Dr Transport

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    In the past 6 months at the corporation I work at we have had no less than 30 20+ year anniversaries. The average age of the scientist/engineer here is about 50 or better. I routinely work with engineers who have in excess of 30 years in the same company. I am a young kid at 40 with 5 years seniority. Now, I will admit, industry is risky, but I making 30 percent more than my contemporaries in the govt sector, the only thing they have is essentially a lifetime job. Becoming a professor someplace without getting tenure walking in the door wouldn't appeal to me, the pay cut would be too much to handle. Taking a government job wouldn't happen either, they save the reasonably paying jobs for their cronies, not for an outsider who worked in the real world.
     
  10. Aug 28, 2005 #9
    In a world where innocent people get blown up daily by fanatics praising their God as they explode, where slavery still exists, and where a great portion of the global populace dies before the age of 45, it is interesting to see "risky" defined as a person not keeping the same job for 20+ years.
     
  11. Aug 28, 2005 #10
    My father (biochem dept at Yale) lost his grant because of budget cuts. Many there blame the increasing shift of budget from scientific research to this "global struggle against extremism (war on terror)". As a result, more professors will have to compete for less money.
     
  12. Aug 28, 2005 #11

    ZapperZ

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    You dad isn't the only one.

    Note that, for example, some of the most productive scientific endeavor are on the chopping block to be shut down due to budget shortfall. And we're talking about MAJOR facilities like RHIC at Brookhaven and JLAB. And Fermilab has NO new initiatives beyond 2009, which means that unless they can get something, the Tevatron will be shut down by then. Considering that SLAC is being converted into a light source facility with the LCLS and away from being a particle collider, the US by 2010, will have ZERO high-energy physics experimental facility, an unprecedented and dubious achievement.

    Zz.
     
  13. Aug 28, 2005 #12

    Dr Transport

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    As I have said before, my advisor lost his research money and his job, partially because of the war on terror, but mostly on NASA's short-sightedness when it comes to long term planing. I have seen universities jump on the money wagon without any knowledge in an area or expertise. The long and the short of it is that the academic community (and I include the government labs in this category) isn't in the business of furthering knowledge but in the business of making money to further their agendas. No wonder why we are losing our competitive edge in the world of technology. We don't want to work on figuring out anything from scratch as much as putting off-the-shelf components together and integrating.
     
  14. Aug 28, 2005 #13

    Pengwuino

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    Maybe theres some misappropriation going on. At my university, money is being sucked out of the physics department but we're getting a new library, a new "student activities center/skyscraper", and a new science building (that is devoted almost entirely to math and criminology). I remember berkeley seems to be practiaclly under total construction/remodeling when I went to it a couple years ago. An entirely new UC campus is starting up in the middle of nowehre :D
     
  15. Aug 28, 2005 #14

    ZapperZ

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    I'm sorry, but I disagree.

    If the Govt. Labs are truly in the business of making money, all of our patents and discovery should belong to the Lab only and not to the public. Every single patents and copyright money go back into the public cofers. We get none, and we can't even use them to reinvest into the work we do. We are tied to what has been mandated by the politicians who control the purse string very tightly.

    And not only that, we are reviewed yearly not just by academicians, but others from outside such area. At almost every instant, we continually have to justify our worth.

    But all this is missing a very important point. While there are many areas of "application" that is being worked on in academia and the Nat'l Labs, the major work being done at most of these facilities are those in which there are no clear short-term commercial application. Many of these are, especially those that fall beyond the DOE Basic Energy Sciences category, are basic, fundamental physics research. Not many for-profit entities are willing to invest in such uncertain areas. Even the infamous Bell Labs have abandoned many such fields and the slack is now taken up by several Nat'l Labs and universities especially in the Northeast.

    Considering that some of the most exciting physics lately came out of such environment, I do not understand how you can simply say that we do nothing but "putting off-the-shelf components together and integrating".

    Zz.
     
  16. Aug 28, 2005 #15

    ZapperZ

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    You should check if the money came out of an endowment that is meant for specific projects. Money that is meant for something very seldom can be reappropriated for something else. People to go prison for doing such slight of hand trick.

    Zz.
     
  17. Aug 28, 2005 #16

    Pengwuino

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    Well I dont mean the money is being funneled off or taken illegally. Im saying theres seemingly money to be spent at our university but its being given to less-scientific (or of no academic use at all at times) uses. I wouldn't think that they are endowments because the new facilities are just massive (or at least it feels like it... maybe its not, i have a bad memory when it comes to sizes. And I thought endowments are for smaller things like new equipment or a new wing to a building and stuff like this) at my university compared to a lot of other facilities.

    But to be fair, I am in California. When we got rid of Davis, we found out that the state was just in tremendous debt and someone was covering it up. Something like a $77 billion deficit yet the books were supposedly showing surpluses. The state had (and still is) to come in and just cut things left and right. I mean we have paid soooooooooo much taxes over the years compared to other states and our reward is "oops, we're $70 billion in the hole, time to cut things like crazy". We recently had to cut $2 billion out of hte educational budget which was promised back but when the time came to give it back, the state refused (we still havent fixed the budget problems).

    Oh and of course I love bringing up the drug-induced (at least it had to be) expenditure from a few years ago. Big new administration building downtown for a school district that can't even afford textbooks for every classroom!

    I'll definitely talk to one of my professors who is pretty up on things like this and we talk about that kinda stuff all the time. He recently was tellen me about how we're moving to a tri-mester system that is entirely insane...
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2005
  18. Aug 29, 2005 #17

    Dr Transport

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    That is the price you have to pay for essentially having a life-time appointment on my tax dollars.

    [QUOTE = ZapperZ]

    And not only that, we are reviewed yearly not just by academicians, but others from outside such area. At almost every instant, we continually have to justify our worth.

    [/QUOTE]

    And if you are reviewed by acamedicians and others, why is your funding being decreased continually, lack of progress or ????? We in industry have to be evaluated continually, and lately our funding has been decreased in areas that we were not performing to our funding agents expectations. In such cases we go back and replan for our future, if Fermilab hasn't planned past 2009 it is their fault, corporations have been in replan mode for alot of years.

    In the arena I work in, many of the contracts for advanced systems are being scaled back for quick off the shelf fixes, the funding agencies are wanting to see a bang for their buck. It is essentially a "make me happy now, not 5-10 years down the road" attitude.
     
  19. Aug 29, 2005 #18

    ZapperZ

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    There is no such thing as a "lifetime" appointment. You must have missed the layoffs we had in ALL of the US Nat'l Labs within the past 2 years alone! I don't know where or how you got this impression.

    Lack of civilian research funding money. Look at the funding rates for NSF and DOE for the past 12 years, and especially for the past 4 years. The article I cited clearly stated that. We have been producing work for less and less each year and still expected to produce more.

    Several of Fermilab's projects were cancelled AFTER they were approved earlier DUE TO BUDGET CUTS. Example: BTev. Nowhere were there a case of lack of planning. Unless you forget, the politicians have the propensity of cancel things that they have already approved. Example: SSC. So in this case, there is never a "fault" due to lack of planning.

    And that is what for-profit entity have to deal with. But if you read the article carefully, a lot of what we reap the benefits from today came from long-term basic research that did not have clear applicatons. Furthermore, only large scale govt. funding is able to build user facilities such as the synchrotron light sources that other institutions (even commercial companies) could use. No commercial entitites could afford to build such things even when the commercial use is evident.

    Zz.
     
  20. Aug 29, 2005 #19

    Dr Transport

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    The chances of your getting laid off as a govt employee when a program is cancelled is far smaller than that in industry. When was the last time a program was cancelled and the HR people met a group at their cubes with their final paycheck and a couple of boxes to take their stuff home before COB that day......Has not happened in the govt to the best of my knowledge. Happens all the time in industry.

    They didn't plan correctly, budget cuts happen all the time in industry, we plan on having 50% cut from our funding request and plan accordingly.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2005
  21. Aug 29, 2005 #20

    ZapperZ

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    However, that isn't the point I was rebutting against. I was rebutting against this idea of "lifetime" appointment. There is no such thing.

    And again, I was rebutting against your accusation that they didn't have any "plan" beyond what they have. This is false and that is what I'm trying to show - that there were plenty of plans and approved projects already. It is beyond their control. And it isn't just a matter of budget cuts on a particular program. It's a COMPLETE elimination of that program that was already approved. BTeV wasn't just "reduced". It was a complete elimination.

    Fermilab will still be alive as a "lab". They already have funds to run MINOS and other smaller projects. But as a high-energy particle physics lab/collider, it will be dead by 2009. There's a push to have it host the International Linear Collider, but there are still huge question marks regarding such humongous project. The point I'm trying to make here is that there is a severe cutbacks on nuclear physics/high energy physics fundings. I see this as the major factor in the decline of the physics initiatives in this area and not the factors that you are attributing to.

    Zz.
     
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