Skip to comments.Science seen as slipping in U.S.
Posted on 08/22/2004 12:02:47 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Hidden amid the hoopla of finding planets orbiting other stars, decoding the human genome and discovering miracle materials with nanotechnology, there's a seemingly improbable but perhaps even more important story U.S. science may be in decline.
After 50 years of supremacy, both scientifically and economically, America now faces formidable challenges from foreign governments that have recognized scientific research and new technology as the fuels of a powerful economy.
"The Chinese government has a slogan, 'Develop science to save the country,' " said Paul Chu, a physics professor at the University of Houston who also is president of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. "For a long time they have talked about it. Now they are serious."
According to the National Science Foundation and other organizations that track science indicators, the United States' share of worldwide scientific and engineering research publications, Nobel Prize awards, and some types of patents is falling.
A recent trend in the number of foreign students applying to U.S. schools is even more troubling, scientists say.
As American students have become less interested in science and engineering, top U.S. graduate schools have turned increasingly toward Europe and Asia for the best young scientists to fill laboratories. Yet now, with post-Sept. 11 visa rules tightening American borders, fewer foreign students are willing to endure the hassle of getting into the country.
"Essentially, the United States is pushing the best students from China and other countries away," Chu said.
The new restrictions also hassle students who are already here, like Lijun Zhu, a physics graduate student at Rice University since 1998 who returned two years ago to China to get married. The honeymoon became a nightmare when he and his new wife were stranded for more than two months, awaiting visa renewals.
"I was afraid of going outside my home for even a moment and missing the call from the consulate," Zhu recalled.
Losing future students like Zhu would cost more than just prestige in ivory towers. It could very well mean losing the nation's technological leadership, with implications for the nation's job market and security, to say nothing of culture.
Decline called 'ridiculous' Although President Bush's science adviser, John Marburger, dismisses as "ridiculous" the notion that America could lose its scientific prestige, scientists and policy-makers lay the blame in several areas: the drying well of foreign students, limited stem cell research and less federal funding for basic science research.
Since the visa restrictions were tightened in 2002, foreign-student applications to U.S. universities have fallen from 400,000 a year to 325,000, a 19 percent drop. Graduate school applications nationally are down even further, by up to 40 percent, said Jordan Konisky, vice provost for research and graduate studies at Rice University.
The problem, he said, is that when additional screening requirements were added, extra staffing in U.S. consulates to handle the workload was not.
And the atmosphere in these foreign offices, simmering with tension from terrorism's threat, breeds caution.
"No bureaucrat wants to make a mistake and approve a visa for someone that comes to this country and causes a problem," Konisky said. "So they tend to be very conservative about this, and that's good. But I think they're being overly conservative."
Graduate science programs at Rice and elsewhere are heavily dependent on foreign students.
Nearly half of engineering graduate students are foreign, as are more than one-third of all natural sciences graduate students.
These students invigorate research, professors say. They publish papers, bring new ideas and play a major role in patent applications.
Afraid to leave the U.S. In 2003, the Rice graduate physics program admitted 16 foreign students. Two were delayed more than six months, and three were permanently blocked from entering the United States. Southern Methodist University has a smaller program, and in 2002, the two foreign students who were accepted didn't get visas. School officials briefly considered ending the program, but enough students gained visas in 2003 and this fall to keep it open, said Fredrick Olness, the SMU physics department chairman.
Yet even if students make it into the United States, their visa troubles, as evidenced by the plight of Zhu, aren't over.
Scientific conferences are held worldwide, and many students with families or looming deadlines at school opt not to travel for fear that they won't be able to come back. Likewise, meeting planners say the number of foreign scientists attending conferences in the United States has dropped because they don't want to bother with obtaining a temporary visa.
Then there are the physicists who want to work at some of the world's best particle accelerators, which are in Switzerland and Germany.
"All of the foreign faculty we have are afraid to leave the country because of visa problems," Olness said. "If this keeps up, the United States is going to take a hit on its stature in the worldwide physics community."
Seizing the opportunity Marburger, himself a physicist, said changes to streamline visa problems, including adding staff in U.S. consular offices abroad, should be announced soon.
"This has very high visibility in Washington, all the way up to the president," Marburger said.
The winner, for now at least, is clear scientific enterprise everywhere else.
At Hong Kong University, applications from Chinese students have more than doubled in the past three years. Chu says his faculty is thrilled.
Chu said Great Britain and Australia have seized the opportunity and opened recruiting offices in China. The European Union, too, has set a goal of having the most competitive and knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.
What concerns U.S. scientists is that a decades-long brain drain into America may be coming to an end.
America began attracting scientists in the 1930s when the shadow of Hitler's political and religious persecution fell over Europe. Hordes of leading scientists such as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, whose work with nuclear chain reactions led to the atomic bomb, immigrated to the United States.
Focus on science funding After the war, the United States began spending billions of dollars on basic and defense-related research. Other great foreign scientists followed, drawn to new facilities and money. Their work laid the foundation for the technology bonanza of the 1990s, when one-third of Silicon Valley start-up companies were begun by foreigners.
Attracting top graduate students from other countries, then, is the first step toward continuing the trend.
"The United States used to welcome foreign scientists," said Zhu's adviser at Rice, physics professor Qimiao Si. "Nearly a century ago, the center of gravity shifted to the United States. We don't want that to happen in a reverse direction."
There are other policy areas that U.S. scientists say harm their ability to compete. Scientists say the Bush administration's policy to limit the use of embryonic stem cells will blunt advances made in biomedical research. "The stem cell decision has certainly put us behind at the front end of the curve," said Neal Lane, Clinton's science adviser. "It's a huge barrier."
The president's decision also led some U.S. researchers to seek private funds for their work. But this, said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, usually a stalwart ally of Bush, is no solution to the issue.
"It's the federal research that is the big opportunity," the Texas senator said. "That's where the big dollars are. And to have these avenues to federal resources closed is going to hurt us in the long run."
Another problem, said Albert Teich, director of science and policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is an increasing focus in the federal budget on applied military and homeland security research. Excluding a modest increase for biomedical research, nondefense research and development in the proposed 2005 federal budget would decline 2.1 percent, according to the association.
Marburger said federal science spending is still far greater than in any other country. The United States, he said, spends 1 1/2 times more on research and development than all of the European Union countries combined.
Teich agreed, but only to a point.
"It is probably wrong to say U.S. science is currently in decline," he said. "But it is certainly in danger of declining. We're perched on the edge."
Another troubling trend A fundamental problem, scientists and policy-makers say, is the lack of interest in science from American children.
Between 1994 and 2001, the number of U.S. students enrolling in science and engineering graduate programs fell 10 percent. Foreign enrollment jumped by 31 percent to make up for the shortfall.
National reports on this trend have offered suggestions to address the problem, such as giving money to community colleges to assist high-ability students in transferring to four-year science and engineering programs.
"Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet," said President Clinton's science adviser, Neal Lane.
Although there are some encouraging trends the number of U.S. Hispanics enrolling in science graduate programs between 1994 and 2001 increased by more than one-third the number of U.S. minorities in science graduate programs remains well below their representation in the total population.
The U.S. education system is broken.
These reporters are crazy. Public schools are failing, period.
Our country's strength is in peril with the decline of education and the family.
The ones walking across are borders will probably not be applying soon. Somehow we have got this all a** backwards.
...feminism, fatherlessness, not much manufacturing in the USA,...
Good thing we got to the moon\
and all the other sciences first... it will keep us alive just a little longer
I personally think these stories are made to keep our society motivated so we can yet again... kick the world's a$$.......
We educate more people then any country in the world... that is why they all come here to learn.... we are free.... we use volume to plant seeds of genius in the ripe soil of multiple minds....
The rest of the world focuses their attention on a select few inbreded class with poor genes from years of regency inbreeding.... not good soil for fertile seeds to grow.... not at all
We are the USA and we EDUCATE THE WORLD.... and do it better than anybody else
He's right. We went to the Moon to beat the Russians. It wasn't about science at all.
Then Carl Sagan got on his "Search for Life" soapbox and Saganized NASA, and the agency faltered.
Now President Bush has initiated "Moon, Mars and Beyond" to create a space infastructure that will use the Moon's resourses to explode a space industry and get us into the solar system.
Imagine what we could have done and where we would be if we truly were at our best.
Maybe exploring Mars...or mapping the human genome... or finding cures for cancer... or finding ways to protect our nation from ICBMs... or discovering new ways to communicate with the world (I'm in CA by the beach where are you).... or discovering new forms of energy...ect...ect...ect...
A continual flow of foreign students into our science and engineering programs is essential. Without it, the deliberate dumbing-down of American schoolboys by the feminist-operated education establishment would be exposed. Despite the feminist fantasies, it is mostly boys who pursue these science and engineering degrees. If the education establishment mentally cripples the boys so they will not be in the girls' way, and then the girls don't enroll in the engineering schools anyway, we get this. Plus we get passed up by foreigners in science and technology, and we get a generation of boys who can't read, write, add, or subtract.
Think I'm nuts? 60% of the incoming freshman classes are now female, and you just learned that an ever-growing fraction of the men who are there are being imported from foreign countries. This is not an accident folks. This is feminist social engineering coming to fruition. Think about a world where it's the Chinese and the Indians who have all the high-tech weapons, and we have nothing comparable. It isn't 30 years away.
It is dismal and getting worse.
I'm reading three books now...by Milton Friedman, Hayak, and Thomas Sowell - on how big government will destry us
They're scaring the bazoozies out of me.
This is all predictable.
Er...and talk about getting those kids out of school, that is.
A few years ago....a couple of us Freepers slipped on over to the teacher's on-line chat forum and raized a little havoc.
We used words foreign to them ---"vouchers," "republic," "freedom," "liberty," & "Republicans"
If we aren't it sure seems like everyone else wants to be like us...
It has always been that way... they always wanted to be like us
Go almost... almost... anywhere in the world... they would love to have your opportunity... to even study science here.
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