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.
Aren't they all US citizens?
I've heard of this too. Part of the problem is taking in all special needs students to swell their $$$ take. Then there a practically zero people who know how to work in a special needs environment. Some of these kids need to be in regular classes and some shouldn't be there at all. But too often they're thrown in together and the teachers and their many untrained "helpers" are overwhelmed. Many of them have no business in teaching.
The educational system is broken. They've experimented and their meddling is destroying an educated electorate.
Public schools are little more that DNC factories - hire union members, indoctrinate students and support Democratic Party candidates.
...excellence, accountability, discipline, family.....
>>Aren't they all US citizens?
Two of three are Nobel Economists. I think Hayak was British. Click on my screenname for some reading.
I guess I should file a lawsuit against society and the masculinity driven educational system, because back in my day it was nursing school if you wanted to work in the medical field...
those days when girls were routinely pointed in the direction of nursing school or teachers college are not that long ago..
I think our society has benefitted greatly by women entering medicine in great numbers now, as well as other professions, even as we have a nursing shortage....
If you cite these stats about boys/men in college, or stats on how American boys/men are not going into engineering school etc, I guess I believe you, because I don't care to go look up those stats....
but immigrant and 2nd generation male children are doing quite nicely academically....
could it be that it is actually the way we raise boys in this society?
could it be that American boys are being raised soft, non-intellectual?....Are they spending too much time playing violent computer games and watching the Playboy channel, instead of studying, all at mommy and daddy's okay?
are we teaching them that self-indulgence is their right?
are we teaching them that they can participate in any number of "boys will be boys" escapades and still find excuses for them?....
this egotistical upbringing goes for both boys and girls, it just seems that boys do not grow out of it soon enough...
the crux of the problem is this:....our boys are not being "feminized".....
I think our boys are actually becoming just the opposite...
they are becoming almost too testosterone driven....way too violent and way too sexual at earlier and earlier ages....
its frigthning .....
"Hayek moved to the United States in 1950 and became a professor of social and moral science with the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought. He held that position until 1962, when he accepted a chair at the University of Freiburg. He retired in 1968."- Britanica
No doubt many good students have made it into good schools. But how many students, who could have excelled, have been missed?
Stop complaining and start encouraging your children to learn. The best way to do this is to set an example. Turn off the TV and read a book on physics or learn to program or solve some mathematical puzzles - whatever. Get your children involved in real learning - that sort of discovery almost never happens in the classroom. Learn about and talk to your children about the great men and women of science. Don't blame the U.S. educational system. Your child can learn with or without that. It is up to YOU to encourage your child and get the fire started. Don't expect the goverment to do it for you.
Most definitely! But OUR MONEY ($600 Billion a year) is propping up this DNC swamp called public education.
Bingo. During the last two centuries, American scientists discovered great things for one primary reason: To make money.
These days, there is no money to be had. If you invent something great, something that will change the world like...say...the transistor radio, within two years some foreign country will steal your idea and your technology and put you out of business. And our government does nothing about it.
My neighbor works for Cooper Tools. Someone there invented a new kind of current-limiting fuse for electrical applications. The fools set up a plant in China to build the new fuses, and before the first batch came off the line, the Chinese had set up their own plant with the stolen technology and were selling the fuses here in America for a fraction of the price.
Our government does absolutely nothing to protect intellectual property of scientists from foreign pirates.
Yea, what you said. Lots of things parents can do to get kids interested in cool stuff.
My daughter is starting kindergarten this week and already I've seen how disorganized the public school system is. If any of the people who run her school worked in a business environment they wouldn't have jobs very long--already, I have been shocked by the way some things have been handled.
Anyway, we need to turn the public schools around (good luck) get them back on track.
There are a lot of things we just take for granted - electricity, water, food, phones, computers, etc. Where do these things come from? Who invented them and when? There's tons of great stuff we take for granted every day that could be used to intro kids to science and engineering. A house is a great museum/lab. Get them involved with problem solving, mystery solving, a little research. How does that work? Could you make one of those?
We live in an age with unprecedented access to information. Unglue their little hands from the nintendo and the remote. If U.S. kids don't take advantage of the opportunities, some other kids will. (oh, yea, obligatory - f the nea).
Two words - Road Trip!
Is it? What if American graduate schools stopped over-producing PhDs, which they can do because more than half the engineering and math PhDs awarded in the US are given to foreign nationals? Then more Americans might go into graduate schools in science, math and engineering. Right now, a typical starting salary for a PhD in math in academia is in the 40s. That's pretty small money for that level of expertise. New business prof salaries are in the 60s or 70s. Salaries in math are that small only because there are too many PhDs on the market in that discipline.
Despite the feminist fantasies, it is mostly boys who pursue these science and engineering degrees.
For the last decade or so, close to 30% of the new PhDs in math in the US have been awarded to women. My own discipline in mathematics, wavelet analysis (an important new area in applied math), was revolutionized by a woman, Prof. Ingrid Daubechies of Princeton University.
Outsourcing. Why assume a crushing debt to get a degree in a field in which you will probably never get a job?
I'm not saying it's smart to give up, but I don't know what I'd tell a kid to major in these days. I'm glad I'm not facing that decision. It's the toughest call that it's ever been. It used to be a slam dunk that if you were any good at science and wanted to work in it that you should at least look into it. Now it's not at all clear.
In computer science - my field - a lot of graduate students are foreign, yes. I don't know a single one who plans to "go home" when he's done. Most of them aren't getting financial support, either. Their tuition helps pay for my assistantship.
So when we're done, I'll be competing with "foreigners", yes; but foreigners who have been in this country for years and are largely acclimated, who want to work for the same wage, not less. And apparently there's no lack of jobs for CS Ph.Ds - I understand the starting salary right now is around $90,000 - that's not an indicator of an overfed market.
It's a fallacy that you have to go into debt to get an advanced degree in the sciences. I don't know any American student in my department (at a graduate level) who's paying tuition. Most of us have assistantships that pay a stipend. I'm in CS, but I understand it's the same way for many of the science fields.
Of course, if you want a Ph.D in, say, English Literature, be prepared to pay through the nose. When they take away my stipend, then I'll think that maybe we don't have a demand for Ph.Ds any more.
I'm just relaying anecdotal evidence, and it's only for one field, but I'm sure it's true for CS because I just spent a year looking at various universities with graduate programs. Pretty much all of them are the same way.
Also - the recent downturn in the economy, particularly in the tech sector, is good for creating American Ph.Ds. When the economy's really hot and you can get a good job right out of college, why go to grad school? But when it's not great, you might as well get your MS or Ph.D. So there were probably more applicants two years ago than there will be next year, which means more advanced degrees are in the pipeline right now.
Don't tell me anecdotal evidence about individuals. It is a fact of Nature that the outliers on the intelligence bell curve are overwhelmingly male. Our outliers on the high end are being systematically suppressed. This has consequences, and will have more consequences as time goes on.
The whole purpose of the article, of course, is about stem cell research.
Cash-and-Kerry thinks he invented science. Bush caveman. Bush no fund science. Ug. Make people pay for own science. Ug.
offshoring of tech jobs is causing this. who wants to go to college for an engineering degree, to compete with $30K per year workers in India and China. You need to look no further then this, to find out why this is happening.
All of my engineer friends with children - are piling their kids into law school.