The Washington Post reports on news that is music to my ears. Scientists AND “big business” are actually joining forces for a cause that they know to be important:
Business and science groups are reviving images of the Cold War space race in an effort to persuade lawmakers to spend millions to recruit and train high-caliber math teachers.
They argue that, just as a stronger focus on math helped the United States top the Soviet Sputnik launch by putting a man on the moon, the country needs to improve math education to win an economic race with China and India and a national security race against terrorism…
“The interesting sort of difference in the dynamic then and the dynamic now is that we were competing with a military threat, whereas now it’s much more an economic threat,” said Susan Traiman, an education and work force policy lobbyist for the Business Roundtable. [Link]
Many groups have been sounding this alarm bell for a while now, but nobody listens. From 2002:
The U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century warns, “The harsh fact is that the U.S. need for the highest quality human capital in science, mathematics, and engineering is not being met… We not only lack the homegrown science, technology, and engineering professionals necessary to ensure national prosperity and security, but also the next generation of teachers of science and math at the K-12 level… The nation is on the verge of a downward spiral in which current shortages will beget even more acute future shortages of high-quality professionals and competent teachers.”
According to the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), student science scores for grades 4 and 8 are flat and there has been a slight decline in scores for grade 12 since the assessment was last administered in 1996. Furthermore, 84 percent of science teachers and 86 percent of mathematics teachers in grades 5-8 did not major in science or mathematics. This report further underscores the need for reform and investment in math and science education, particularly at a time when our economy, national security and technological advances are heavily dependent on the quality of our future workforce. [Link]
Here is the key problem though. Congress isn’t going to fund math and science at higher levels until ordinary citizens call them up and ask them to. However, most people aren’t going to pick up the phone unless they are inspired to do so. Silly television shows about math, just ain’t going to cut it. The nation needs to pursue a worthwhile cause that will engender homegrown talent. This is why I think America needs to more aggressively join the new space race by integrating Bush’s NASA initiatives into a broader science education agenda. Let’s look for something positive in the SOTU address tonight.
The lobbying also looks to public opinion, and it can be difficult to inspire much passion for math even though Americans worry about jobs moving overseas, the number of college math majors is declining and student math scores lag behind those of many other countries.
The Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, an epic event to Americans alive at the time but now known to many only from brief references in history class. The United States sent Neil Armstrong on his moonwalk in 1969, ancient history for students now debating whether to take a tough high school math class or pursue math careers.
India will be deciding within the near future if it is going to enter the space race as well:
After the moon mission, India wants to reach out to Mars and the government is keen to jump onto a possible global bandwagon for this potentially exciting planetary exploration.
Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman G Madhavan Nair said the United States and Europe appear to favour a global partnership in this context, and India would be more than willing to be a partner in this huge exercise…
“For mankind, the next interesting thing (after moon) is Mars,” Nair told PTI in Bangalore.
“To reach there and make an investigation is a big challenge. After the moon, Mars could be logical step,” he said…
“It’s not a question of shying away. Whether we need it (manned mission to moon) immediately or not; that debate is going on. Opinion is truly divided. Some people believe the instruments themselves are more than adequate. Robots can do the job and so on. A few others believe it (manned mission) is a national pride and we should do it. We are also subjecting this for an internal review as well as in various professional bodies. Maybe in the course of a year, we will have better clarity on that (whether or not India should go for a manned mission),” he said. [Link]
Meanwhile, as in all other aspects, China is zooming on. I predict right now that if the Chinese put a human on the Moon before we send one back there, it will shake the core of America’s faith in its dominance, every bit as much as Sputnik did. U.S. leaders must not allow that to happen.
Internal NASA memos are reportedly calling for a much earlier return to the moon than had previously been mentioned by President Bush in speeches he made in 2004. The plan, called “Lunar Sooner,” would have NASA scale back space shuttle launches and put the savings towards the development of a new space vehicle capable of a manned mission to the moon as soon as 2017…
Still, it could cost many tens of billions for the moon program. China and Russia have both recently announced plans to send their astronauts to the moon as early as nine years from now, mimicking what the U.S. and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did almost 37 years ago. [Link]
See related posts: India backs off of Moon ambitions, Western scientists hop aboard Indian Moon mission,Will the U.S. participate in an Indian Moon mission?, Desibots on the Moon, An heir for Rakesh Sharma, How can a flag “blow” on the Moon?, Mars comes to India, Space and Politics, “…is worth the risk of life”, Shah Rukh Khan as NASA Astronaut??
Looks like the U.S. Commission on National Security finally read Friedman’s “The World is Flat“. For years, Friedman has been calling for a revision of math classes in the public school system. The looming threats of the Chinese and Indians potentially taking over future American jobs might have woken up lawmakers – let the space games begin.
Can we please do this exercise, if you allow: 1) If you are a 2nd/ 1.5 genner. 2) Have a training in science and technology field. Leave a comment.
PS: 1) If you are specifically, in mathematical sciences (engineering, physics, etc.), please tell us the subject.
I know you, Manish, Vinod, Maitri, MD, and chick_pea are in science and technology pursuits/ training.
Abhi, You will be surprised how not many are in mathematical sciences even for sons/ daughters of recent immigrants . Why blame Mayflower crowd?
US of A is getting math-deprived big time. To go to moon, you got to calculate the escape velocity – don’t you.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Even my roomates in college that graduated with engineering degrees are now lawyers. Sell-outs. 🙂
LOL! The USA always had an edge by picking on other’s brain. Pre-pos, so many Nazi scientists were rechristened and given American citizens. The Soviets did it to East European (Hungarians have a deadly reputation in theoretical math/CS). From the 70s, the USA got plently of help from Indians and Chinese in running the scientific establishments eventually racing ahead of the USSR. Now who will come to their help, their major-non-NATO ally?
For starters how about making professions such as trial lawyers, Faux News ANALysts, etc. somewhat less lucrative?
About time. Hopefully this can be done with sensibility as well as progress. I’d hate to see kids deluged with math classes and problems but in the end see no improvement whatsoever.
Does chemistry count, Kush? 😉
Am I the only one who thinks that the photo looks like the Eiffel tower disintegrating? Like a computer generated demolition photo.
“Does chemistry count, Kush? ;)”
Yes, definitely. If you heart Physical Chemistry. Theoretical physical Chemistry is mathematical science. For that matter, BioPhysics.
Also, laboratory sciences are very significant too. I just want highlight the dearth of certain specility……..
My father, mother, brother, sister-in-law, Uncle (mother’s brother) all are Chemists.
Hot off the press. A preview of the SOTU:
Weapons of Maths Instruction, anyone?
In this book, Friedman advocates for a focus on the development of alternative energy sources as a way to galvanize the support for more math and science in the US. Instead of another space race, I think this would be a better way to gain an advantage given our current reliance on OPEC.
True. But the fact that the US government has overtly recognized that math and science-related subjects need to be overhauled is a positive step in the right direction. Not sure how easy it would be, particularly with the current administration, for efforts to focus on the development of alternative energy sources without ignoring the voice of the incredibly powerful oil lobby/interests.
i don’t know. everyone knows that a technical education is a low risk way to make some $$$ (engineers are often listed as the highest paying initial salary with a bachelor’s degree)…but it seems people still shy away from them. i don’t know if i buy that people are dumber today, what i suspect is that people have high expectations for all of society. one reason that the SAT average dropped from 1000 to 920 in the 35 years between 1960 and 1995 (when it was recentered) is that more and more kids started taking it. ultimately the US is doing its part by getting talent from abroad who become americans.
oh, and can an admin change my handle above back? tx.
Actually, technical education leads to a high starting salary but not the highest, and the salary levels off quickly, unlike other professions. Consider the fact that most Silicon Valley programmers don’t keep writing code, but instead move on to business school or straight forward (and less technical) management positions. The financial incentives really aren’t that strong for technical jobs.
well, ennis, i did imply for a bachelor’s. check out the graph here.
Actually, technical education leads to a high starting salary but not the highest, and the salary levels off quickly, unlike other professions
also, to be clear, are you implying that as you get more experience variance increases in many non-technical jobs so you have a greater opportunity to $$$ even if the median in your field might be lower than an engineer’s? that is my impression in something like sales, where a few ‘superstars’ really rake in the big money.
but anyway, if a lot of people got bachelor’s degrees in the sciences that would mitigate the science and math crisis somewhat.
as a techie and an unrepentent capitalist, a few thoughts….
so.. how the whole thing plays out in the real world – tech’s a good place to get trained. BUT, unless you’re sure you’re going to be a wizard, it’s risky and there are other places to apply your High IQ brain to make more $$$. And if you are a wizard, get your ass to the USofA ASAP.
if you’re doing it cuz you’re a romantic, then bite the bullet and recognize that there are other things you could do that will make more $$$ BUT, you love it and you hope to be a wizard. In which case again, the USofA still ain’t a bad place to be.
Which, incidentally, ain’t too far from how things have shaken out.
Techie capitalists are now majorly math focussed. But, yeah they have taken the old finance and comp. bio routes where all the big bucks are. Read this news article in BusinessWeek (not the most scientific publication) on how Math will rock your world which talks about math based start-ups. The article mentions desi entrepreneurs (surprise surprise) raking it in, in big deals
That said, most mathematicians and applied mathematicians are quite poorly compensated when compared to their peers who ‘sold out’ and went to the banks and statistical analysis shops. Most of those guys make as much as an academic’s salary in end of year bonuses alone.
I guess it goes to show how little BW understands math and science that Perabit networks is credited with ‘genetic research’. AFAIK, Perabits networks main R&D selling point was optimizing caching in high speed networks. The probably used Genetic Algos (wild guess pulled out of thin air) but anyways, their company was never into ‘genetic research’.
I agree with your analysis. But what about the future? The next 20-30 years? Can we (Americans) compete? A good portion of the wizards you talk about are immigrants. Will this talented pool still want to come here over the next few decades or will they stay home in India and China and rake in the bucks? Our country (USA) is going down. The educational ambitions (and attainments) of average, middle-class Americans are so poor. I work in a nice, predominantly white area in NJ. Middle class life, working class professions (nurses, plumbers, electricians, etc) Most of the high school kids around here have no clue that their financial future is in such peril. They DON’T want to do math/science, many don’t even want to go to college…it is all about partying all the time, getting drunk, making some quick cash to burn it all over the weekend. Granted, they are no different from their parents and grandparents in that regard, but before in this country you could still be middle class without an intense education; in the future that will be impossible. What I see happening gradually is the development of a system much like present-day India; as our public schools fail, those who can afford to will send their kids to private schools (which will mushroom all over the place and be very expensive). And those are the ones who will continue to live a materially comfortable life in this country. The majority will continue their downward economic slide. The political and social ramifications of this are scary.
Vinod, the only thing you have neglected is the security clearance issue which (I am only assuming) you don’t have to deal with as often in your line as with many defense jobs. Yes, we can import engineers for a while longer. But, we can’t give them security clearance because they aren’t citizens. THAT is the threat to national security that many of these studies always point to. I am not an advocate of simply changing the law to give clearance to non-citizens. We already have too many Chinese agents carrying out acts of espionage.
vinod-at-large: where did you get the number regarding the “wizards” making 7 figures ? Without stock options that figure is just too high. Even after allowing for stock options, I’d be really surprised if it were true- big company stock isn’t nearly as profitable as it was 6 years ago. Even with Google, unless you joined them pre-IPO good luck pulling in million!
Put another way, who’d classify as a “wizard” ? At MSFT: only Nathan Myrvhold? or all of MSFT research ? Or the product manager for MS Excel ? Or all product managers ?
Vinod-at-large is a wizard 🙂
Americans don’t worry, we are here to meet all your Math / Engineering / Medical needs. Please continue partying/getting drunk and leave the brainwork to us.
As per KT’s request, I’m checking in with a 2nd gen physics BA now wasted in journalism.:-)
But who knows what I’ll end up doing with myself.
The biggest objection I have to becoming a teacher is that I have NO desire to discipline anyone. It’s possible there’s a cultural element to that, I don’t know. I know I was routinely mocked for my own high obedience quotient as a child, and usually in a way that associated it with being my being desi. Solve that problem, and I think you might have more math and science teachers.
I’m checking in as per your request 😉
2nd generation MD, training in a subspecialty with tons of math and physics and radiobiology.. what fun what fun.. just gotta be fascetious since my boards are coming up in ehem.. july…
My math teachers in both high school and college impacted me a great deal… geometry and calculus 2 respectively… i was never mathematically inclined…but had to bust my ass 343434343 times as hard as with other classes that i was in…
Math is super important.. I wish it came easier for me….. math (not trying to sound nerdy) is all around us…
haha!! very nice h1 guy!! But, I don’t think there will be many Indians coming here in another 10 to 15 years. I know friends back home that are already into their own startups doing world class research. If this is an indication of things to come, then it augurs well for the US to train and prepare their future generations.
“As per KT’s request, I’m checking in with a 2nd gen physics BA now wasted in journalism”
I never meant never that way. You should be happy first and foremost.
I think nobody caught my jist: ***To build rockets, to build a project like Manhattan, to do another Apollo Project, to bring break through in AIDS research, to really crack Hydrogen economy, to do this long-term, big picture projects be it in academia or government or private industry………….
***You need a set of people who are dedicated to physical sciences for a long haul. You need people with solid foundation. Therefore, Abhi screamed for math proficiency. With due respect, I was talking of big, broad missions beyond software development. I think Abhi meant the same way. Oh, well. So much for big picture.
***The way things are set-up in US of A right now (very soon it will be India and China too) – It does not pay off on short-term to think about partial differential equations, far from equilibrium thermodynamics, photoelectric effect for years and years. If you read Feynman’s book, it was back then too but still the pursuit of science was an empowering mission. Therefore, I requested the exercise.
***Let me burst a bubble, pure science in India is dead – it has almost become driod factory for software programmers (CNR Rao – the Director IISc says that at every possible ocasion).
***Abhi, if security clearance was an issue, the most of scientists could have never worked on Manhattan Project and Apollo Porject. The heart of both projects were European-born scientists. Like Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Neils Bohr, Edward Teller, Von Braun, etc.
***Interestingly, BBC was discussing about 1960s lesser paper in a scientific journal that ushered the broadband revolution.
Just collecting data, you know.
The US government does not need to train its future generations ..thats what IIT is for :)…in IIT , the USA is referred to as “watan”…
wow this WaPo article comes on the heels of bush’s inauguration speech calling for more math/sci teachers.
regarding kush’s request: 1) 2nd gen 2) BS in Computer Science, MS in Software Engineering
i agree with some of vinod’s comments, but i think the salary figures are way off. i mean, pure salary wise, it’s very rare for top engineers to pull in 7 figs. most ppl were ga-ga over kaifu lee’s salary @ google and he wasn’t even really an engineer. i’ve met the crew @ cisco responsible for HFR and those guys weren’t making 7 figs… i think the big dogs’ “total compensation” may approach that for “wizard engineers” but that hinges on the company’s overall performance.
regardless of any economic race, the us will at some point perk up and realize that they are losing the military technology race and start investing in math/science from grades 1 on up. clearances are definitely an issue in the defense industry and i don’t think you’ll ever see non-citizens approved for DoD secret clearances or higher. anyone who’s read the documents you have to sign upon being briefed about your clearance will understand what i’m talking about. what happened with manhattan/apollo won’t ever happen again with foreign scientists.
interesting read and very interesting post…
“what happened with manhattan/apollo won’t ever happen again with foreign scientists.”
you are right on that, it was a different time. thanks for the response.
vinod has a point that US will continue to import talent – it always has been doing that. from the founders of google (are they still on leave of absense from stanford) to Linus Torvalds
This is one literal meaning of shortage, but I’d think the government is more concerned, rightfully so, about the (potential) drop-off in invention of new technology. For instance, a handful of math/sci/engineering grads can build the next gen laser, but it’ll take a boat load more to actually doing something useful with the invention, and till then the invention sits unused. “Shortage” in this context means applications/gizmos/products not being built, or being built by some other country.
As a guestimate to the origins of the shortage —
(Science, Math, Engineering = SME)
1) while there may be people going back to school to retrain for various things, it’s not common for this retraining to be in a SME field, and is especially true if they didn’t start out in SME 2) people studying SME in college knew they had a flair for SME getting out of high school (good math scores, etc.)
What I’m getting at is that high school has a rather heavy bearing on whether one ends up in SME, and if you didn’t start out in SME, there’s no chance to switch later on. And it’s not just a question of money — does a average high school math student consider engineering a good bet just because it pays well? how about developing some other skill that’s less risky with lower payoff?
Looking back at my own experience in high school, there’s a rather heavy correlation between average/below-average high school math/science grades and future non-SME grads … (my high school was abroad)
OT, but there is some truth to the BW article. As a grad student Amit Singh was developing algorithms for extracting similarity features in DNA molecules when it dawned that the same idea could be applied to network traffic and used for data compression.
ngm, I find your comment #34 quite interesting. Perhaps a lot of the lack of interest in SME has to do with the lack of exposing teens and kids to the possibilities they have, career-wise, in pursuing study in SME. For example, had I known then what I know now, I’d have stopped cutting biology classes to go eat breakfast and smoke cigarettes and leveraged a solid biology knowledge against my dance background and voila– a sports medicine degree focused on dance rehabilitation. Or that an interest in chemistry could lead to a career in textile design, working with a company like North Face to create new functional fabrics… I think schools should take up a Science is Sexy campaign and enlighten the youngsters.
Nonetheless, despite my handle, my degree is also in engineering (to answer Kush’s question). I was a clever teen though, and did take the opportunity to integrate my personal interests with a track of study that my parents sighed in relief over: Audio and Acoustical Engineering (with a minor in electronics). They only caught on later, what the career really is. 🙂
bs, ms, phd —> applied math
i agree that the salaries are inflated…but then again, i’m not a wizard 🙁
Tally so far for people (1.5/2nd genners) involved/ trained in physical and biological sciences with mathematical training
1) Abhi, 2) brimful, 3) razib, 4) vinod, 5) Saheli, 6) chick_pea, 7) Manish (even though he did not leave a comment), 8) absolutgcs, 9) DesiDancer, 10) answeringKush
Some back of the envelope calculations: 1) Average hit @ SM = 9705/ Day 2) From US = 9705 X .70 (70%) = 6740/ Day 3)* Probably 1.5/ 2nd genners = 6740 X .50 (50%) = 3397/ Day 4)* Inclinced to leave comments = 3397 X .10 (10%) = 400/ Day
Out of 400/ Day, 1.5/2nd genners who would be inclined to leave a comment, about 10 people have raised hands that they had mathemaical sciences as part of their formal training. Say, 10 more are too shy/ modest for such a thread even though they may be inclined to leave comments. The total comes to be 20/ 400
Now, you guys get the picture. The exact numbers, I have calculated are wrong – but I think the broad (qualitative) implications are correct.
Those #’s are way off. 10K/day, 60% U.S., maybe 2% leave comments, not everyone leaves a comment on every thread, and math (and math posts) repel a lot of people.
“maybe 2% leave comments, “
You would know better. I am just thinking out loud and make others think
Dad was an engineer, came to the US in 1970. I was born in Evanston, ILL. I did my schooling in India from grades 2-10.
I have my bachelors and masters in mechanical engineerg, with a masters concentration in orthopedic biomechanics. Ironically, I work ammunition quality assurance right now for the federal govt.
I’m on the fence.
I see the seeds of greatness and the seeds of failure and on net, think things will generally be ok. In part, I’m a big believer in the Hard America, Soft America argument (roughly – America’s 20 yr olds are idiots, 30 yr olds brilliant).
I think Sci / Engineering is critical, but i don’t think we’re at a crisis point w.r.t. “underinvestment” in this space. And I certainly don’t see the global economy in quite the same competitive, zero-sum game that the space race was. From a prima facie, Econ 101 standpoint, if India + China have 10x the engineers of the US in the near future, that INCREASES our standard of living.
I also agree that Math / Sci / Eng education can / should be overhauled – it’s no accident that so many of the best techie’s I’ve come across over the years are / were jaded by school and the tech ed process. In >10 yrs in the tech biz (MSFT, silicon valley, startups, big co’s, etc.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the proverbial USC slacker outperform the CalTech 4.0 ….. the best, most passionate programmers are often the late night hackers rather than the straight-A students.
and the phenomena of the academic underachiever but tech/biz overachiever is a very American one (my USC techie above, Bram Cohen, Marc Andreeson, many other lesser known silicon valley examples, etc.).
And it’s hard to think of a better of example of how f*cked up the education process has become.
I’m including all sources of comp – salary + stock options + stock grants. Top salaries within (pure) tech top out in the low 100’s of K. It’s stock that puts you over. And if you avg over several years, the top guys at these firms truly are making 7 figures. Not always, but often.
the wizards I’m thinking of are the top 2-3 engineers within a 100 person dev team @ MSFT. Within Google, b/c of recent, crazy stock price appreciation, it’s likely that the top 3-4 engineers with a 10 person team are millionaires. At an IBM, it’s probably only the top 2-3 within 1000 who are in the deep 100’s of K.
Sorry, haven’t been following this thread. I was a member of Tau Beta Pi, which I guess should qualify me as well.
And you’re in the latter camp 🙂
vinod (at large, or elsewhere), does Hard America, Soft America base its concept on the difference between Gen X and Gen Y, or on the difference between any 18-20 year olds and any 30 year olds, regardless of the generation?
From the reviews on Amazon, it’s age-independent. The book blames liberal universities and lauds the conservative business world.
desidancer – it’s age independent. I blogged a bit about it here…
thanks V and Vij
Curious: no one discussed the silliness:
Um. Ok. Does anyone want to discuss the idea that manned space exploration has become nothing more than a series of prideful flag-plantings, with almost no emphasis on meaningful exploration, sustainability, or cost-effectiveness? I can easily see India’s space program following America’s after reading quotes like that.