Skip to comments.George F. Will: Rev the scientific engine
Posted on 01/02/2011 12:11:23 PM PST by neverdem
New Republican legislators should come down Capitol Hill to the National Museum of American History, which displays a device that in 1849 was granted U.S. patent 6469. It enabled a boat's "draught of water to be readily lessened" so it could "pass over bars, or through shallow water."
The patentee was from Sangamon County, Ill. Across Constitution Avenue, over the Commerce Department's north entrance, are some words of the patentee, Abraham Lincoln:
THE PATENT SYSTEM ADDED
THE FUEL OF INTEREST
TO THE FIRE OF GENIUS
Stoking that fire is, more than ever, a proper federal function, so the legislators should be given some reading matter. One is William Rosen's book "The Most Powerful Idea in the World," a study of the culture of invention. Another is the National Academy of Sciences report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited," an addendum to a 2005 report on declining support for science and engineering research.
Such research is what canals and roads once were - a prerequisite for long-term economic vitality. The first Republican president revered Henry Clay, whose "American System" stressed spending on such "internal improvements." Today, the prerequisites for economic dynamism are ideas. Deborah Wince-Smith of the...
U.S. undergraduate institutions award 16 percent of their degrees in the natural sciences or engineering; South Korea and China award 38 percent and 47 percent, respectively. America ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering...
An iconic conservative understood this. Margaret Thatcher, who studied chemistry as an Oxford undergraduate, said:
"Although basic science can have colossal economic rewards, they are totally unpredictable. And therefore the rewards cannot be judged by immediate results. Nevertheless, the value of [Michael] Faraday's work today must be higher than the capitalization of all shares on the stock exchange."...
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
Silly article. Economic nincompoops like George Will often have absolutely nothing to say, but their bread-and-butter requires them to fill up a page in a magazine, so they bluster about something.
How about this:
Quality, not quantity. Despite our “paltry” 16% in science and engineering, we get most of the Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and medicine, and most of the world’s modern inventions — everything from the lightbulb to the computer — came from us.
How about this:
Despite their higher percentages, South Korea and China garner no Nobels in physics, chemistry, and medicine, and have contributed little in the way of innovation.
How about this:
The same idiocies used to be spouted by the George Wills of the world in the days of the former Soviet Union; i.e., “look at how many degrees in science and engineering they hand out; they will surely move ahead of us in science and technology!” The facts were these: (i) many bright students in the Soviet Union personally would have liked to go into one of the humanities — history, philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology, journalism — but DARED NOT DO SO, because those fields had been completely taken over by the State for the purposes of propaganda. If a historian or economist, for example, told the truth about Marxist history or Marxist economics, he would find himself in a gulag or a re-education camp. So many otherwise fine historians, economists, etc., went into the “hard” sciences and became mediocre engineers, physicists, and chemists, instead. They went into so-called “value-free” fields to keep themselves out of possible trouble with the political authorities. (ii) Despite the high number of students who became engineers and scientists, it didn’t help the Soviet Union; they still crashed and burned.
U.S. public education is completely screwed up, but it appears to be so across the board: it’s as screwed up in the quantitative sciences as much as it is in the social sciences, so the “paltry” 16% that somehow manage to tolerate the system and get through it to earn advanced degrees in science, probably represents exactly that proportion of the population that actually WANT to go into those subjects. There is absolutely no reason to force a greater number into a field that they have no gifts for.
George Will — like many ignorant journalists — doesn’t understand the idea of division-of-labor under conditions of freedom: everyone contributes, in his or her way, to the total economic health of the economy and therefore the country as a whole. The social sciences have as much to contribute to a country as the quantitative sciences do. And like everything else, it’s the quality of the contribution that counts, not the quantity.
I would hate to live in a country where a first-rate economist like Thomas Sowell was forced, for political reasons, to work as a third-rate engineer.
Our world economic leadership was created by our once unmatched ability to bring new breakthrough technology to market and is unlikely to survive if we do not restore that capability.
All of the official institutions of “science”, such as the National Academy of Sciences, have been taken over by religious crackpots styling themselves as “climatologists”.
Giving them any more money is not a wise idea.
As I recall Nikola Tesla didn’t revolutionize our world with the help of tax money, he did it with risk capital from an entrepreneur named George Westinghouse.
Government is the problem, not the solution!
” and protect his idea for commercialization, then to be allowed to actually keep the majority of profit from his idea “
No invention or idea - even if it’s world-changing - will bring our Nation out of its doldrums, as long as the only way it can be commercialized is to be manufactured overseas...
Abolish the anti-comptetitive regulatory alphabet agencies (and their underlying laws), and rationalize the taxation environment which rewards the entrenched and punishes the innovative - and then, maybe, we might breathe some life back in to the economy of this once-great Nation....
How long until Thomas Sowell’s job is outsourced?
Poor old George is someone, I'm sure, who thinks that government is a refuge for the nice. Unlike in the private sector (according to commonplace), nice guys with good ideas finish first in government: that's what he almost surely believes.
Granted that I myself am questionable on this count, but there's a fine line between "above it all" and "out of it." Poor George doesn't seem to realize that the fedral government is a refuge for blamers. If you chance upon a bureaucrat who seems to be monumentally stupid, best odds are you bumped into one who washes his/her hands with Blameum soap and considers then clean.
The rot is well-established in even our so-called ‘elite’ institutions - talk to any recent graduate/student at Cal Tech, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, etc. and listen to their sincere belief in and babble about “Green’ energy, etc. you get Sesame street logic wrapped in big words. When an MIT graduate level degreed ME claims the internal combustion engine was one of man’s (this was several years ago) most damaging inventions - you are NOT talking to anyone who understands engineering.
The rot is well-established in even our so-called ‘elite’ institutions - talk to any recent graduate/student at Cal Tech, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, etc. and listen to their sincere belief in and babble about ‘Sreen’ energy, etc. you get Sesame Street logic wrapped in big words. When an MIT graduate level degreed ME claims the internal combustion engine was one of man’s (this was several years ago) most damaging inventions - you are NOT talking to anyone who understands engineering.
Apple is still led by its founders -- and thus retains its innovativeness.
Corporations have a life cycle. And the more mature they become, the more likely they are to be led by the finance department or the legal department than they are by the engineering, operations or sales departments.
At that point, they usually become more concerned with maintaining their share of market and maximizing profits -- including acquisitions and mergers -- than they are with building share and internal product innovation.
The exceptions are, as I said, those companies with a vested interest in research -- which would include petrochemicals as well as pharmaceuticals.
A good example of what I'm talking about is the railroad business. By the late fifties, virtually every President or Chairman in the industry had come out of the Legal Department. And they were dying...
That is the nature of government. It cannot be reformed, it cannot be fixed, it can’t be run like a business. It can and must only be minimized.
IBM sold it’s personal computer business lock stock and barrel to China, which now not only makes them as “Lenovo” but also owns that business.
Apples are made there.
Neither is helping American jobs.
“These Boards of Directors need more scientists and engineers and less MBAs and Attorneys.”
I believe it was the head of Michelin that said if he needed MBA’s he would send his engineers back to school. He didn’t need anyone that didn’t know how to make tires first.
Businessmen, surprise!, respond to the market. If more money can be made by financial manipulation, then they will manipulate rather than innovate. That's what businessmen do, indeed it is their proper function in society. Sniff out the way to make the most money with a given investment.
An even easier way to make money than financial manipulation is rent-seeking from the government. Risk-free money. An example of which is Will's notion of government investment in "research."
When governments determine buying and selling, the first things to be bought and sold are politicians. The problem is not to get business out of the government, it's to get government out of business. A is impossible, B is just really difficult.
I agree, well said
Right out of “Atlas Shrugged”.
Which leads to the question: does steering the government to a less destructive path end up helping or hurting?
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