Corante

About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Emolecules
ChemSpider
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
PubChem
Not Voodoo
DailyMed
Druglib
Clinicaltrials.gov

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
Kilomentor
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
ChemBark
Realizations in Biostatistics
Chemjobber
Pharmalot
ChemSpider Blog
Pharmagossip
Med-Chemist
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
SimBioSys
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Business|Bytes|Genes|Molecules
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Depth-First
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa


Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
FuturePundit
Aetiology
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Sciencebase
Pharyngula
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net


Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
GruntDoc
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine


Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem


Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Instapundit
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus


Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« But Don't Drug Companies Spend More on Marketing? | Main | How Many Binding Pockets Are There? »

May 21, 2013

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Here's a man who says what he thinks about getting students into STEM careers:

The United States spent more than US$3 billion last year across 209 federal programmes intended to lure young people into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The money goes on a plethora of schemes at school, undergraduate and postgraduate levels, all aimed at promoting science and technology, and raising standards of science education.

In a report published on 10 April, Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) asked a few pointed questions about why so many potentially overlapping programmes coexist. The same day, the 2014 budget proposal of President Barack Obama’s administration suggested consolidating the programmes, but increasing funding.

What no one asked was whether these many activities actually benefit science and engineering, or society as a whole. My answer to both questions is an emphatic ‘no’.

And I think he's right about that. Whipping and driving people into science careers doesn't seem like a very good way to produce good scientists. In fact, it seems like an excellent way to produce a larger cohort of indifferent ones, which is exactly what we don't need. Or does that depend on the definition of "we"?

The dynamic at work here isn’t complicated. By cajoling more children to enter science and engineering — as the United Kingdom also does by rigging university-funding rules to provide more support for STEM than other subjects — the state increases STEM student numbers, floods the market with STEM graduates, reduces competition for their services and cuts their wages. And that suits the keenest proponents of STEM education programmes — industrial employers and their legion of lobbyists — absolutely fine.

And that takes us back to the subject of these two posts, on the oft-heard complaints of employers that they just can't seem to find qualified people any more. To which add, all too often, ". . .not at the salaries we'd prefer to pay them, anyway". Colin Macilwain, the author of this Nature piece I'm quoting from, seems to agree:

But the main backing for government intervention in STEM education has come from the business lobby. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a businessman stand up and bemoan the alleged failure of the education system to produce the science and technology ‘skills’ that his company requires, I’d be a very rich man.

I have always struggled to recognize the picture these detractors paint. I find most recent science graduates to be positively bursting with both technical knowledge and enthusiasm.

If business people want to harness that enthusiasm, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and pay and train newly graduated scientists and engineers properly. It is much easier, of course, for the US National Association of Manufacturers and the British Confederation of British Industry to keep bleating that the state-run school- and university-education systems are ‘failing’.

This position, which was not my original one on this issue, is not universally loved. (The standard take on this issue, by contrast, has the advantage of both flattering and advancing the interests of employers and educators alike, and it's thus very politically attractive). I don't even have much affection for my own position on this, even though I've come to think it's accurate. As I've said before, it does feel odd for me, as a scientist, as someone who values education greatly, and as someone who's broadly pro-immigration, to be making these points. But there they are.

Update: be sure to check the comments section if this topic interests you - there are a number of good ones coming in, from several sides of this issue.

Comments (76) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Business and Markets | Current Events


COMMENTS

1. anon on May 21, 2013 7:54 AM writes...

While I would agree that more scientists is NOT what we need, having more of the population educated about science and specifically the scientific method, critical thinking, and skepticism is certainly what we need.

Somewhere approaching 50% of Americans believe evolution is a myth, think the universe is 10,000 years old or less (thus they are off by a factor of at least 1.4 million), think natural cures are "chemical-free", think that "The Flintstones" was a documentary, would try homeopathy, would pay 20 bucks for some magical bracelet to align you aura with the cosmos, etc.

The average American is scientifically inept, and most of us that become scientists had a huge amount of catching up to do when we got to college. "Just what is this evolution stuff--- I think we skipped those chapters in my high school"

So I support efforts to adjust the baseline in the USA to a higher level of scientific literacy without falsifying the story about how there are all of these great jobs out there for scientists.

Permalink to Comment

2. Nick K on May 21, 2013 8:00 AM writes...

More power to Colin MacIlwain's elbow! It's great to see the myth of the shortage of STEM graduates being dismantled at long last!

Permalink to Comment

3. YouGotIt on May 21, 2013 8:04 AM writes...

Anon, that's exactly my thoughts. We need greater scientific literacy in the general population. While this could be accomplished through STEM-like initiatives, I don't think that the current programs focus on what might be the best way to increase this, such as K-12 education.

Permalink to Comment

4. Curious Wavefunction on May 21, 2013 8:06 AM writes...

#1: Well said. The problem is not fewer scientists, it's the increasingly dwindling number of citizens who can't tell a meson from a melon. Re-routing some of that STEM funding into public outreach programs might get you a bigger bang for your buck in the long term.

Permalink to Comment

5. Immunoldoc on May 21, 2013 8:10 AM writes...

@Anon Completely agree with you. The best investment the government could make to support science is to spend more to help the general public become more scientifically literate and more capable of evaluating outrageous claims. This would also much more dramatically benefit (in my opinion) scientists, employers and educators.

Permalink to Comment

6. Matt on May 21, 2013 8:14 AM writes...

The UK education system at least acknowledges that the majority of pupils (age 11-18) will not go on to become scientists, or even study STEM subjects post 18. One of the stated goals is to "equip pupils to become informed citizens", able to critically appraise e.g. homeopathy, creationism, Daily Mail headlines, snake oil salesmen, etc.

How successful the system is, is of course another debate. But official policy at least seems to acknowledge that STEM education should not only exist to supply workers for scientific industries...

Permalink to Comment

7. jrftzgb on May 21, 2013 8:25 AM writes...

I work with a non-profit organization, in Canada, and we were funded last year to promote STEM education and STEM careers among First Nations (Native Americans for the Americans out there) kids. I benefit very strongly from government programs to promote STEM education as this grant directly pays my salary. This is my first employment in this field, I just got my teaching cert, and before that was in lab research.To give people an idea of where I'm coming from.

When I first started my job and went looking for partners I was amazed at how many organizations were doing the same thing. Overlap from national and regional organizations was very common. University outreach programs overlap with the non-profits and with other Universities. I can identify three Universities within a 25 minute drive of each other that offer the exact same camp, with grants from the same funding source. Each has trouble filling their camps and each is hounding me to help them find First Nations kids to come to their camp as if they hit under served populations their report to the funder looks better. I want to follow that by saying that each of these camps would be a heck of an experience for any child that would attend them, the programming is excellent, but it is delivered in a way that only reaches a certain portion of the population.

With all this effort to engage kids the numbers still show that we are not succeeding, either in the general population or in under served minorities. If you look at the enrollment advanced science classes in high school (classes necessary in Canada to go into a University science program) it's down sharply in many provinces. I would also argue that taking at least one optional science class in high school would at least indicate that a person is interested in becoming science literate, something we are sorely lacking in our population.

After a significant amount of reading, and getting funded for a project to investigate student engagement in STEM education, I believe that most people in the science fields don't understand that 1. there is a culture of science, and 2. that this culture is becoming less and less attractive to the average student. Think about organic chemistry labs for a second (please note I'm not bashing organic, I worked in those labs and maybe as a result I feel that the culture is the most distinct). I think the people who work in these labs, and those who have had the opportunity to see them operate, will both agree that these labs tend to have their own culture. This is true of all disciplines and of many sub-disciplines in science. These cultures are not at all a fit for everyone who may wish to work in the field, and they tend to trickle down. When many high school teachers teach a subject, they draw on the classes they took at University and as a result they tend to bring along that culture with them. As a result you have subjects taught in high school, that are unwelcoming to students.
The truth is it doesn't have to be this way, there are teachers out there making these subjects fun. Throwing away how functional groups were taught to you and teaching it in a way that reaches every student, is both difficult, and rewarding, but it's a change we need to make. This kind of change will bring in people who were not traditionally engaged in STEM subjects, and this brings fresh perspectives to the people who in ten years are doing the research. Fresh perspectives are where innovation comes from, it is not a function of the number of post-docs thrown at a project.

Some say that if you don't like the way a subject is taught (I hear this from Engineers a lot, and certain physical sciences) then maybe it isn't for you. I reply to this, why be exclusionary, the educator/outreach program should strive to be inclusive and that means changes in culture of the staff and in delivery of programming. This will benefit us all.

What we want is a diverse population that is interested and engaged by science. That population will see the value in funding science, and that population will send it's best and brightest to be scientists, as opposed to now where we are getting the best and brightest of those engaged by the scientific culture.

There are not too many scientific outreach programs, or too much funding for scientific outreach. There is too much overlap though, and not enough original ideas in programming and delivery of this outreach. We have to make outreach a priority and find people who are creative and passionate, and we have to support these people in creating programs that are truly unique and try to reach every student. The goal should not necessarily be people in STEM fields, but a population that is engaged in STEM.

Permalink to Comment

8. RDist on May 21, 2013 8:58 AM writes...

As long as a bankster job is paid twice as much as a typical STEM job (provided there is any!), how can one seriously expect young people to start a science career?!

Permalink to Comment

9. bad wolf on May 21, 2013 9:03 AM writes...

I don't know anyone like the 'typical American student' Anon #1 describes. Perhaps this is its own little myth. Perhaps s/he should get out more and not let preconceptions and prejudices inform their picture of American life?

Also, a little disappointed in all of you who applauded it. Have you met actual students, or are you just getting this idea from watching TV?

Permalink to Comment

10. Vader on May 21, 2013 9:11 AM writes...

Here at Death Star, Inc., we need a lot of skilled STEM graduates, generally at the Ph.D. level. It's getting harder and harder to find them, and it is very tempting to blame the education system.

On the other hand, the benefits package we are offering gets eroded a little every year. The excuse is that we still pay well compared with industry averages, so I'm smelling a race to the bottom.

Then there's the regulations. Now, if you're going to play with giant lasers and battle stations the size of a small politician's ego, it only makes sense to have some safety rules in place. You don't want to accidentally kill anyone. But the mind-boggling stupidity of the some of the training is, well, mind-boggling. Sure, the Australian video on how not to throw your back out doing ordinary office work had its entertaining moments. But the video which essentially tried to teach us how to walk and chew gum at the same time was downright insulting. I work with in an office writing and running simulation software; the computer isn't going to spit toxic chemicals on me, and my office is almost certainly safer than my home.

Then there's the whole business of time cards. Might be nice if we actually got paid for any overtime, which we don't. Look, it's research. If you want me to charge by the 15-minute increment only those cases I'm authorized to charge, well, I'm going to put out of my mind any bright ideas whose application to my current project assignments I don't immediately see. I suppose this will make some MBA somewhere happy, and it will let His Majesty boast to the Imperial Senate about excellent his cost management is, but it isn't going to result in any creative breakthroughs.

Well, I could go on, but I suspect most of the readers here know exactly what I'm talking about.

Permalink to Comment

11. McChemist on May 21, 2013 9:45 AM writes...

You've talked a number of times about how we need more good scientists, and not more scientists in general, Derek, but I don't think you quite understand the dynamic at play here. It's really tempting to think that you can go through some crop of incoming college freshmen, pick out the next E.J. Corey, and say, "You can go be a scientist, the rest of you go study English Lit or Art History." But it really doesn't work that way.

You want more great scientists? Then you need more scientists. The cream rises to the top, but if you don't have much milk, you don't get much cream.

As for the jobs issue, from the point of view of society as a whole, a great discovery from a scientist is going to create much more economic growth than most anything a humanities major, or lawyer, would do. It makes sense to gear our economy towards research and development. That model isn't working well for the pharma industry, but that doesn't mean the whole STEM education idea is bunk.

Permalink to Comment

12. sth on May 21, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

It is a bit overstatement to declare all those funds a failure for producing mediocre scientists. You make the unwarranted assumption that only the ones who currently go into STEM without encouragement are the good scientists/engineers. This is patently false. What the funding does is remove barriers to students who might be inclined to go into STEM and make it easier. This will produce more STEM students and some will not be the top students but there will be more overall students in the top category.

Permalink to Comment

13. Brian on May 21, 2013 10:19 AM writes...

I think that there are only benefits to an increased STEM education in our society.
How else can we advance?
You quoted Heinlein yesterday about the smaller group that pulls society forward, but why should it have to be that way? Wouldn't an increased education provide a 'better' population? I'm not advocating that STEM fields are 'more important' than the humanities (although I would like to), but they are harder for most people because they are stigmatized as being harder. People have very strong feelings about Math and Science in grade school and college, and (with the likely exception of the readers here) they are not positive feelings. Average students dislike them, even many students that are pursuing STEM related fields, because during the formative years they are uncomfortable with them.

I won't argue that more scientists means better scientists, but more scientists (or just STEM education) is better. If you have a larger supply of people who understand the basics of logical thinking and critical analysis, or even just statistics, then we might not have to deal with as much scare tactics in news and politics and I think that would provide for a 'better' future.

And monetarily speaking, in my opinion, the economic impact will be short lived in either direction since economics is all just a wrapper for greed anyway. If you have a lot of 'garden variety' workers in any STEM field they will take the jobs that current 'cream of the crop' workers hate to do. There is ample room for research and development in most fields. Someone had to do research to determine how best to create the Chicken & Waffles flavor of potato chips, someone else had to research the best way to mold latex into gloves. There is almost unlimited room for improvement in our world.

Permalink to Comment

14. The Iron Chemist on May 21, 2013 10:33 AM writes...

Science is going in the same direction as primary education. In both cases, people SAY that the profession is important ("We need more teachers! We need more scientists!"), balk at paying them anything close to what they're worth, then act all astonished that the most talented students no longer want to pursue these areas. A huge number of teachers leave the field for good within five years of their first appointment; whereas, in science, the same thing occurs after the first or second postdoc.

Permalink to Comment

15. The Iron Chemist on May 21, 2013 10:37 AM writes...

@11: McChemist, the huge problem right now is that, to further your analogy, we're throwing out a lot of cream in addition to the milk.

Permalink to Comment

16. Expat on May 21, 2013 10:41 AM writes...

Echoing above, there's no real point in trying to excite people into STEM careers as long as they take longer to train, result in less income and job stability and are seen as more difficult and less socially acceptable. When STEM folks get paid more than surgeons, then I'll accept there's shortage. And there just might be a shortage in Asia, what with the growth of off-shore and CRO positions. Right now, it looks to be a field that's dying off or at least noticeably shrinking...

Permalink to Comment

17. Anonymous on May 21, 2013 10:42 AM writes...

I was one of those that fell for the line that we need more scientists and i don't know why it persists to this day. A common topic in my eventual pharma lab was what we would be doing if we hadn't believed the lie!

Permalink to Comment

18. Chrispy on May 21, 2013 10:58 AM writes...


Science education is already supported handsomely in the United States. Everyone I know who received a Ph.D. in the sciences did so with full tuition and stipend support.

I know that had I had to pay for it like my colleagues in the Humanities that I absolutely would not have gone to graduate school.

The really appalling state of affairs now is that even with this support it really isn't worth it for most people to pursue a Ph.D. in the life sciences/drug discovery field. This is because the jobs are simply not there, and you will be looking forward to a string of postdocs followed by (if you are lucky) employment by an indifferent/hostile pharma company that will lay you off, followed perhaps by an opportunity to teach community college in a non tenure track role until, despairing from the low pay, you move on to do something completely unrelated to your degree.

Permalink to Comment

19. RKN on May 21, 2013 12:01 PM writes...

@anon 1 & Curious Wave,

I can't agree. What the average person understands wrt particle physics or evolution evidently has little to nothing to do with living a satisfying life.

Even for me, someone who understands the theory of evolution pretty well and has some understanding of particle physics -- that's had no impact whatsoever on the jobs I've succeeded at, who I've fallen in love with, my friendships, books I've chosen to read, what I do on weekends, how I would raise children, etc..

One could argue that believing in true ideas has a value all it's own, and I could agree with that, but even absent a basic understanding of certain scientific theories, evidently many people can and do live productive and fulfilling lives.

My own parents come to mind.

Permalink to Comment

20. alig on May 21, 2013 12:01 PM writes...

If you want the best & brightest to go into STEM jobs you have to pay top dollar for them.

This is a similar argument for migrant farm workers. The farmers say they can't get Americans to do those jobs and therefore require Mexicans to pick strawberries. What they mean is for $10/h and no benefits they can't find American workers to labor in the hot sun.

Shortages can only be cause by artificial barriers. There is no goverment imposed barrier preventing workers from taking of STEM jobs. Therefore there is no shortage of STEM workers. It is just employers don't want to pay the price for the best workers.

It seems like we need better economics education in America.

Permalink to Comment

21. patentgeek on May 21, 2013 12:28 PM writes...

@9: @1 didn't reference 'typical American students' s/he referenced 'average Americans'. Numerous polls (Pew Charitable Trust and others) over the last several decades have consistently found that large percentages of Americans hold the types of views described. You can find these results by minimal use of Google.

@19: The issue is not whether scientific literacy provides more fulfillment in life; it's that scientific literacy is essential to intelligent decision making in a technologically advanced democracy.

Permalink to Comment

22. RKN on May 21, 2013 12:44 PM writes...

scientific literacy is essential to intelligent decision making in a technologically advanced democracy

So my mother hasn't made one "intelligent decision" in the last 80 years? Or my sister? Both of them are functioning quite well in this technological democracy. As I am sure are tens of thousands of others who wouldn't know a "meson from a melon."

Permalink to Comment

23. flem on May 21, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

$3bb to promote science? That's over $400/HSgrad/yr going to college. Like everything else in life...the dose makes the poison. Sure we should promote science and math but at the right dose and with appropriate accountability. Like everything else we spend publically there should be metrics and accountability.

Permalink to Comment

24. Anonymous on May 21, 2013 1:07 PM writes...

Agree with #19. Ignorance is bliss. By definition 50% of the population is below average; let them have their God delusion, guns, and fast food. “Teachers leave them kids alone.” The game theory works without assuming “the population educated about science and specifically the scientific method, critical thinking, and skepticism”.

Permalink to Comment

25. PrairieBoy on May 21, 2013 1:17 PM writes...

@9: as @21 says, those unfortunately are the typical American's viewpoints. Might this be because, while much science is taught in schools, so is pushing high self-esteem? Could this be why after graduation, the science education is forgotten, but the belief in my own opinion being "valid" persists? Who needs facts when opinion is truthiness!

Permalink to Comment

26. Hap on May 21, 2013 1:25 PM writes...

1) The problem with metrics and accountability is (just like drug development) the end results lag the actions by at least ten years, making it difficult to connect the two. What you can measure may also not be what is important.

2) I don't know that everyone needs STEM education to be an effective citizen - knowledge of basic logic and math and some working skepticism would be more useful. Many issues (energy, global warming) require some STEM education, but the major problems we face are those requiring logic, not STEM knowledge (if we want to spend money, where should it come from. If we don't want to pay more, what do we cut? What should a government do?). An appreciation of science would be nice, but other than the scientific method, I'm not sure there's one piece of scientific knowledge that can't be lived without. In addition, even that minimal bit of knowledge is useless if when you ask questions of nature or others, you don't really care about the answers.

3) I blame employers and business primarily for STEM employment problems. Wanted a free labor market? Bing! That means that you have to train people that might jump ship with the skills. OK, so just hire already trained people! (Talk about a solution being its own problem).

Lots of the current economic problems come because jobs are highly uncertain - it's hard to find jobs and easy to lose them by no fault of your own. (Hence, no one wants to spend money they may need shortly.) However, a lot of what makes STEM education valuable is its utility in lots of different jobs. The demand that everyone comes trained for the exact job they want means that the flexibility and skill set that make STEM useful is deemed worthless. That makes science careers unattractive because they require lots of fixed costs while removing little risk from employment and not paying enough to be attractive despite the risk (other than for those who love science). If STEM training were truly valued, people who have it would be more employable, not less, and could address a far greater range of problems for business and society (meaning society get value for the money we didn't spend and it did training us). Job security wouldn't be expected or demanded because we could do something else relatively easily. It might be good for everyone.

Permalink to Comment

27. Curious Wavefunction on May 21, 2013 1:28 PM writes...

#22: They might not need it, but that doesn't take away anything from the argument that improving scientific literacy can only help. Also, we are not really talking about the details of particle physics or genomics here - those are incidental - but with familiarity with what the scientific method stands for: rational analysis, hypothesis testing, the process of elimination etc. Science is really a way of looking at the world.

Permalink to Comment

28. Anonymous academic on May 21, 2013 1:43 PM writes...

I don't find it at all odd that Derek would feel this way; I share many of the same ideological biases and my view ends up being pretty similar. It's immensely frustrating to see the managerial class actively campaign to degrade your employment prospects, even as their own compensation continues to increase. It's even more frustrating to see politicians and policy wonks taking their lies at face value.

Permalink to Comment

29. RKN on May 21, 2013 2:07 PM writes...

They might not need it, but that doesn't take away anything from the argument that improving scientific literacy can only help.

Learning science can be rewarding for the individual, I'm glad I did it. But the claim that it's "essential" for every individual in order to make intelligent decisions in a modern democracy, is clearly false. If anything, one of the achievements of technology is that it's relieved the average person of needing to know the details in order to benefit personally.

Permalink to Comment

30. paperclip on May 21, 2013 3:12 PM writes...

@29: Some science education may turn essential for certain people in certain situations. My (college-educated) friend blithely said in the car the other day that wheatgrass cures cancer. If, God forbid, she ever gets cancer, I hope her ability to analyze claims improves by then. Granted, learning advanced (or even intermediate) science won't be useful here, but it helps solidify the basics in one's head.

Permalink to Comment

31. Ben on May 21, 2013 6:19 PM writes...

I submit that there are two very different topics, which are often deliberately conflated by persons with an agenda.

1. The lack of general science literacy (or even basic critical thinking skills) in the U.S. population.

This I think is a huge problem, and it is completely worth spending a fair bit to try to improve the situation. I don't know of any magic bullet: the real problem may simply be large classes, lousy/expensive textbooks, or schools not being able to pay enough to attract competent teachers. Or it could be that most teachers really are incompetent -- but see the bit about needing to attract competent ones.

This broad societal critique is very distinct from

2. The (alleged) lack of "good" STEM graduates and professionals, at the price that industry wants to pay.

This strikes me as CEOs looking for a way to pay less and keep more for themselves. When STEM salaries are increasing as quickly as senior executives', I'll agree that we (urgently) need to train more STEM professionals. Until then, I consider increases in (e.g.) H-1B visa numbers to be an active attempt to cut my pay.

Unfortunately, programs like high-school or even undergraduate STEM outreach have an effect on both issues. If STEM is Boring, then few people will be inclined to become even vaguely familiar with it. My suspicion is that outreach programs have a fairly marginal effect on the number of number of STEM professionals, and therefore are an almost unmitigated good by my metrics.

The American Physical Society has a lot of good historical statistics on both physics and STEM education in general. It's available at http://www.aps.org/programs/education/statistics
According to that page, the number of STEM majors has slightly more than doubled since 1967 while the U.S. population has only gone up ~60%. But the U.S. economy was driven by very different things in 1967, too.

Permalink to Comment

32. Anonymous on May 21, 2013 7:44 PM writes...

if you want more scientists, pay them more and hire more of them. you don't need outreach for that. as a kid i was always as impressed by my dad's 90th percentile income as i was by the fact that he was able to start that career completely without help or connections, by studying hard and then working hard in grad school. it's not unheard of to get a 6-figure income as a chemist right out of grad school today, but the competition is a bit fiercer, and being a "company man" like he was really seems to be a thing of the past. even his company's 25 and 30 year gifts are sad compared to the ones he got at 20 and 15, and despite his top performance ratings, he essentially reapplies for his own job every few years now.

young people understand the bottom line, there's no need to try to hoodwink them with 600 dollars worth of ADHD programming full of exploding multicolored goo or whatever else they use to sell "science". unless you think flooding the market with more science-literate graduates will revolutionize society in a way that leads to new STEM jobs, you're only serving the interests of the people who want more competition for positions they hope to fill

my generation perceived pharmacy as a career track that required a reasonable amount of school for relatively high pay and good job security. that is exactly why there is currently a huge swell in the number of pharmacy students. it wasn't because our government went from elementary school to elementary school with parlor tricks centering on powders and pills

we do need a proper education system, but to me that seems like a completely separate issue. a lot of the rebuttals here and in the linked comment section present this red herring. no one is saying we shouldn't teach our kids science, or math, or reading. how to fix our school system is a whole other discussion, a long one at that

finally i think it should be pointed out that half the population will always have an IQ below 100. this is and always will be a level of intelligence where one struggles with simple logic problems and is wholly unsuited for science. showing that population some exploding goo is just setting them up for failure

Permalink to Comment

33. Philip on May 21, 2013 10:24 PM writes...

For more information about what the general population knows about science look at:

http://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/science-knowledge/

Take the test. It is 13 simple questions. After you finish the test I hope you find yourself in the top 7%. Then look at what people missed. I think you will find that we do need more emphasis on STEM education, at least in K-12.

As for the H1b visas. What a mixed bag. It is only going to get worse for US STEM grads after today's news about Big Tech getting their changes into the immigration bill. Companies will only have to interview US citizens. The pretense about pay looks to be going away. Warning, I am in IT, not pharma, so I may have a different perspective. I have to compete with grads from India and China. The H1b visa program just means I have to compete with them here. If I charge too much large companies can just have their overseas employs do the work. It may not be as convenient, but they will do it to save a dollar. Small companies will still be stuck with expensive people like me. In the long term I am not sure that is a good thing.

Permalink to Comment

34. newnickname on May 22, 2013 7:38 AM writes...

@33 Philip, PEW Science Literacy Quiz. A couple of those Qs could be answered in more than one way. "Which of the following is an example of a chemical reaction?" (Spoiler Alert! No, I am not going to post the choices here.) If you go with the IUPAC definition of "chemical reaction", the answer is "all of them". If you use some other definition, you might pick 2 of the 3. ONE of the answers is a correct choice for ALL definitions of chemical reaction that I know of, but someone with an A in K-12 Science or Chemistry might be knowledgeable but confused by the ambiguity (and choices) of meaning of "chemical reaction".

Permalink to Comment

35. SteveM on May 22, 2013 7:46 AM writes...

Agree mostly with RKN's comments. Most people need no more math than simple arithmetic. Although a "Probability for Plebeians" course in H.S. for all students would be a good idea so people have some basic understanding of risk and the stupidity of visiting casinos.

About people believing that the Earth is only 5,000 years old - well so what? Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu believes that shoveling tons of taxpayer money to Crony Capitalist companies with obviously pathological business models makes sense.

At least the young Earth believers' impacts on society are minimal, while Power Elite stupidity like Chu's injures us all.

Permalink to Comment

36. Kent G. Budge on May 22, 2013 9:07 AM writes...

Pew survey: Yeah, there was a question or two that could be overparsed, but after the first couple questions, I'd think any responder would have it figured out that the science is at a 7th-grade level and overparsing is not called for.

I got them all right. I think most of you will.

General science literacy versus STEM recruitment: Yes, it's a good idea not to mix them up, and, yes, general science literacy is a good thing. I don't know that the right approach is, because I'm apparently not normal in this respect: I can't imagine any normal child [i]not[/i] being curious about how the world works. But evidently large numbers aren't.

Permalink to Comment

37. Joshua Cranmer on May 22, 2013 9:21 AM writes...

@33
These numbers are hard to interpret, since they are the fraction of people who got the correct answer of everyone who the question was posed to, and there's no indication of how many people admitted to not knowing the answer. After eliminating everyone who didn't know in the few questions I found these numbers for, in excess of 2/3 of the population got the questions right.

Keep in mind that most of these questions amount to trivia for the general public and are generally useless unless you're working in one of the few STEM fields where that matters.

Permalink to Comment

38. alig on May 22, 2013 9:23 AM writes...

The young people scored better than the old people on that PEW science survey. Must mean that today's education in science is better than it used to be.

Permalink to Comment

39. NJBiologist on May 22, 2013 11:40 AM writes...

@38 alig: "Must mean that today's education in science is better than it used to be."

Or maybe the Pew people have discovered forgetting.

Permalink to Comment

40. Chile Tom on May 22, 2013 12:27 PM writes...

If there really is a shortage of 'good' scientists, then companies surely should be offering better wages to lure more 'high achievers' into industry. Isn't that how capitalism is supposed to work?

Permalink to Comment

41. Design Monkey on May 22, 2013 1:53 PM writes...

@RKN -- Different understandings what constitutes "intelligent decisions".

> Both of them are functioning quite well in this technological democracy.

It has nothing to do with intelligent decisions. (Female dog) sarah palin functions quite well and has high political posts, without being able to tell Czechia from Chechnya before calling to bomb one or other.

No one will try to insult palin that she has any intelligence at all. That does not interfere with her raking in monies.

Permalink to Comment

42. Design Monkey on May 22, 2013 2:02 PM writes...

35. SteveM on May 22, 2013 7:46 AM writes...
About people believing that the Earth is only 5,000 years old - well so what?

---------

Nothing much. Except that you can not have any sensible or usable geologic theories based on such bovine waste products, and therefore you can not search for oil and other mineral resources in a useful way.

TV preacher can be a head impaired creationist. Geologist - can't.

Permalink to Comment

43. Dr Duh on May 22, 2013 3:15 PM writes...

First, this is a great blog. I found my way here by happy accident and I'm bookmarking it.

It appears most of the people commenting on this post are in fact scientists and by definition were recruited to STEM through the usual channels, hence discount the need to increase recruitment. My personal experience as a top 1% student who avoided science until I was 30 has given me a different perspective.

Sure I took the AP classes in high school, but only to 'punch my ticket' to an elite university. It wasn't so much that they were hard. Just not that interesting, it seemed like an awful lot of facts and formulas... an advanced version of long division.

In college, I avoided STEM all together. There was little sense in taking 'Rocks for Jocks' or 'Physics for Poets' and going into a serious class with hard core science nerds seemed like GPA suicide.

Flash forward to 9/11 and I decided to 'be the change' and went to medical school. But first the science and math requirements. I walked into class with trepidation hoping to 'make it through' and then suddenly, unexpectedly the 'earth moved for me.'

I found that I loved science. I got into a lab, did some immunology research, took a year to do more research in med school and two years in residency. I've published. I describe myself as a physician-scientist.

When I look back, I wish that there had been better STEM outreach. Outreach that taught science not as facts and formulas but as a way of thinking and a set of skills that allow you to attack and solve problems, that communicated the joy of being a creator as well as a consumer of knowledge.

The economic concerns regarding competition are understandable, but I believe they are misplaced. Increasing STEM grads increases the real productive capacity of society. First in the sense that a forty year career in STEM will do more than a similar career in lying (advertising), paper shuffling (middle management) or stealing (finance). Second, in the sense that the assets will themselves create opportunities. To see this look at the virtuous cycle of wealth creation that goes on in the San Francisco area.

Ultimately there are two approaches to making STEM pay. First raising the floor in society, so that one doesn't have to plan on saving $5 million dollars to afford healthcare, put a roof over your head, send your kids to college and avoid subsisting on dog food in old age. (This is not meant as a call for communism, but rather a 1950's level of income equality). Second is to let STEM workers capture more of the value of their creations much as programmers are able to in Silicon Valley. While there's clearly a tension between these two approaches, balancing them is one of the geniuses of our society.

Permalink to Comment

44. me on May 22, 2013 4:50 PM writes...

As long as we keep importing cheaper STEM from overseas, the number of citizen graduates we will see in these areas will dwindle. When I graduated with a doctorate in Math in 84, according to the math association there were 1000 jobs, 1000 graduates, ... and 1000 new immigrants with PhDs in Math.

Permalink to Comment

45. RKN on May 22, 2013 6:22 PM writes...

Nothing much. Except that you can not have any sensible or usable geologic theories based on such bovine waste products, and therefore you can not search for oil and other mineral resources in a useful way.

As someone who worked in the oil and gas (O&G) exploration business for ~20 years I can assure you most of this is false.

The true part is that while modern O&G exploration does leverage knowledge of paleo-depositional environments, a great deal of the technology involved with finding and delineating O&G reservoirs (e.g. , seismic, well logging) has little to nothing to do with how the oil got there.

Permalink to Comment

46. motionview on May 22, 2013 8:29 PM writes...

Those businesspeople should swap the salaries they pay lawyers and engineers, the problem would solve itself in 10 years. Bonus: fewer lawyers.

Permalink to Comment

47. FC on May 22, 2013 8:36 PM writes...

I'm sitting here laughing at y'all. First talking smack about some guy's mother, then Sarah Palin, then proudly demonstrating ignorance of economics and business.

Get out of the lab a little, people.

Permalink to Comment

48. FWIW on May 22, 2013 8:44 PM writes...

Can't imagine why some would be disinclined from entering a field where free thought is declared but those with differing thoughts are impugned. Odd how attitudes like @1 are cheered and then the same folks look around them and wonder why no one wants to join them. Get off your ideological pedestals. Be welcoming to others. Or keep insulting others. Conflate prejudices. Demonstrate apparent ignorance. Whatever floats your boat.

Permalink to Comment

49. Kevin Stroup on May 22, 2013 8:45 PM writes...

1. The average person has an IQ at, or below, 100. One hundred is not very bright. You want this group being STEMs?
2. Wages in all areas but engineering or medicine are HORRIBLE. STEM does not pay. Why waste your time killing yourself studying for a job that will not pay much or be outsourced to India?
3. We have more workers in all fields than we have jobs for. Automation has replaced many people and it will only accelerate. Don't believe me? Look at unemployment numbers in STEM fields. Thanks to machines and automation you do not need the number of STEM people you used to in order to accomplish a given task.

Permalink to Comment

50. FWIW on May 22, 2013 8:46 PM writes...

Can't imagine why some would be disinclined from entering a field where free thought is declared but those with differing thoughts are impugned. Odd how attitudes like @1 are cheered and then the same folks look around them and wonder why no one wants to join them. Get off your ideological pedestals. Be welcoming to others. Or keep insulting others. Conflate prejudices. Demonstrate apparent ignorance. Whatever floats your boat.

Permalink to Comment

51. Nate Whilk on May 22, 2013 8:51 PM writes...

anon on May 21, 2013 7:54 AM wrote, 'Somewhere approaching 50% of Americans believe evolution is a myth, think the universe is 10,000 years old or less (thus they are off by a factor of at least 1.4 million), think natural cures are "chemical-free", think that "The Flintstones" was a documentary, would try homeopathy, would pay 20 bucks for some magical bracelet to align you aura with the cosmos, etc.

'The average American is scientifically inept'

Americans are NOT unique in the developed countries about this. Don't forget that over 50% of the audience of the French version of "Who wants to be a millionaire" who thought the Sun revolves around the Earth (see the YouTube video). And back to us, remember all the people Penn and Teller got to sign a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.

Permalink to Comment

52. J'hn1 on May 22, 2013 8:54 PM writes...

What STEM jobs will still exist after the new Senate Amnesty bill removes all caps on H series visas, and the few entry level jobs at $40,000 disappear and go to qualified to overqualified immigrants willing to work for $24,000 and a US visa? And on up the scale up to and including the very top?

Permalink to Comment

53. sdb on May 22, 2013 8:55 PM writes...

Whether increased scientific literacy will actually drive people to "better" political opinions (those approved of by #1, Design Monkey, et al. for example) is an empirical question that can be tested. Consider the following paper:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503

From the abstract:
"The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones."

I've seen very little evidence that student engagement activities (REUs and other undergrad research efforts), E/PO components to research programs, or STEM outreach has any measurable impact on the STEM community. I'm not entirely sure that moving all E&PO funds back to research dollars would have any discernible effect other than putting mediocre hanger-ons out of work while increasing our research budgets by $3b. Perhaps such evidence exists, but I get the sense that belief in E&PO is one of those things that is "too good to check". What few studies I have seen (like the one linked above) have been negative.

Permalink to Comment

54. GuyCocoa on May 22, 2013 9:14 PM writes...

There are two primary reasons there is a supposed lack of qualified STEM workers:

1. In the 2000's through tax and accounting rule changes Congress made it unprofitable for companies to offer stock options. In the 80's and 90's stock options were the golden ticket that propelled the tech boom. The best and the brightest went into technical fields because that was where the money was at. Best of all they were essentially free to the companies offering the options. They only had worth when the stock price went up. When the price went up everyone was happy and made a lot of money.

2. Corporate organizations make it almost impossible for companies to pay competitive wages to the best and the brightest in a technical field. A new graduate coming into a company starts at the bottom. She is paid less than someone who has been there more than a couple of years. That person is paid less than their manager, who is paid less than his manager and so on. In order to pay the techie new hire wages that would compete with financial or law firms everyone up the corporate chain would have to get their wages boosted to maintain the hierarchy, and that's not going to happen. Thus the new hire is going to get "market wages" which are based on the salaries of those in the same field, not the best and the brightest in other fields. The smart kids have figured out that tech jobs in which they would be stuck in a corporate hierarchy and have to compete with talent from "best cost countries" (that's what our company calls them) is not where the money is at. Stock options used to make up for that and offer the path to real wealth, but no more. The smart kids go where the money is, and it no longer is in STEM.

Permalink to Comment

55. GuyCocoa on May 22, 2013 9:24 PM writes...

There are two primary reasons there is a supposed lack of qualified STEM workers:

1. In the 2000's through tax and accounting rule changes Congress made it unprofitable for companies to offer stock options. In the 80's and 90's stock options were the golden ticket that propelled the tech boom. The best and the brightest went into technical fields because that was where the money was at. Best of all they were essentially free to the companies offering the options. They only had worth when the stock price went up. When the price went up everyone was happy and made a lot of money.

2. Corporate organizations make it almost impossible for companies to pay competitive wages to the best and the brightest in a technical field. A new graduate coming into a company starts at the bottom. She is paid less than someone who has been there more than a couple of years. That person is paid less than their manager, who is paid less than his manager and so on. In order to pay the techie new hire wages that would compete with financial or law firms everyone up the corporate chain would have to get their wages boosted to maintain the hierarchy, and that's not going to happen. Thus the new hire is going to get "market wages" which are based on the salaries of those in the same field, not the best and the brightest in other fields. The smart kids have figured out that tech jobs in which they would be stuck in a corporate hierarchy and have to compete with talent from "best cost countries" (that's what our company calls them) is not where the money is at. Stock options used to make up for that and offer the path to real wealth, but no more. The smart kids go where the money is, and it no longer is in STEM.

Permalink to Comment

56. Wes on May 22, 2013 9:26 PM writes...

Whipping and driving people into science careers doesn't seem like a very good way to produce good scientists. In fact, it seems like an excellent way to produce a larger cohort of indifferent ones, which is exactly what we don't need.

-----

This is indisputably true, after a certain point. The number of people who are cut out for real, hard-core "science careers" is limited. If people aren't cut out for it, forcing them to sit in a science class where they're in over their heads isn't going to change that, but it WILL lead to pressure to keep lowering the standards to allow more and more people to get STEM degrees.

This is how we ended up with so many useless liberal arts graduates: Stacking the pipeline with people who weren't prepared for college-level work, then watering down standards to make it look like everybody was doing great. There was a time when getting ANY college degree in any field was ass-kickingly hard. Now, not so much.

While it's great to encourage more people to go the STEM route, we've also got pretty convincing evidence that it's possible to overdo it. Push too hard and we could end up with a world where those folks who believe the earth is 5,000 years old will be walking around with PhD's in geology.

Permalink to Comment

57. GuyCocoa on May 22, 2013 9:26 PM writes...

There are two primary reasons there is a supposed lack of qualified STEM workers:

1. In the 2000's through tax and accounting rule changes Congress made it unprofitable for companies to offer stock options. In the 80's and 90's stock options were the golden ticket that propelled the tech boom. The best and the brightest went into technical fields because that was where the money was at. Best of all they were essentially free to the companies offering the options. They only had worth when the stock price went up. When the price went up everyone was happy and made a lot of money.

2. Corporate organizations make it almost impossible for companies to pay competitive wages to the best and the brightest in a technical field. A new graduate coming into a company starts at the bottom. She is paid less than someone who has been there more than a couple of years. That person is paid less than their manager, who is paid less than his manager and so on. In order to pay the techie new hire wages that would compete with financial or law firms everyone up the corporate chain would have to get their wages boosted to maintain the hierarchy, and that's not going to happen. Thus the new hire is going to get "market wages" which are based on the salaries of those in the same field, not the best and the brightest in other fields. The smart kids have figured out that tech jobs in which they would be stuck in a corporate hierarchy and have to compete with talent from "best cost countries" (that's what our company calls them) is not where the money is at. Stock options used to make up for that and offer the path to real wealth, but no more. The smart kids go where the money is, and it no longer is in STEM.

Permalink to Comment

58. TMLutas on May 22, 2013 10:31 PM writes...

The world is full of countries who have overinvested in STEM education and produced more graduates than they know what to do with and thus have cratered wages.

If you want to fix this, identify the countries that are doing it and educate the parents to not feed their children into this broken system.

If you want to increase STEM wages, identify the legal changes necessary to increase company formation so that there are more people hiring STEM graduates. Perhaps encouraging universities to teach some entrepreneurship to their STEM students might help.

This is simple economics. If the current market clearing price is not to your liking as it is too low identify how to increase demand and reduce supply.

Permalink to Comment

59. julie on May 22, 2013 10:49 PM writes...

I am not a scientist, but I have always had more than a passing interest in the sciences. I am now homeschooling two boys, ages 8 and 4, who are very interested in science. In my opinion, it is in fact much easier to interest young children in science than in probably any other subject. Most children do very naturally want to nderstand how the world around them works. For most of them, the interest starts with very simple things such as the observable life cycles of plants and animals, the workings of their own bodies, and ever- fascinating rocks and minerals, then a bit later they want to know more about chemical reactions and how forces work. The problem I see is that the interest starts before school, and parents are generally either unwiling or unable to. answer the questions as they arise. Observing nature as a first inroad to the sciences takes time. Starting kids on the road to understanding the idea of experiments andvchecking hypotheses takes a lot of time and some organization, because it needs to bedone systematically. It also makes a mess of the house in my experience, especially because most kids need to do a lot of hands-on work tovlearn and stay interested. These things require parents who understand the basic concepts annd are willing to take the time to go for very long observational nature walks, set up several iterations of simple experiments, and then clean up the mess. If the child gets the idea from his parents that asking a lot of questions about these things is tiresome and pointless (e.g., because those questions are never met with so much as a "goid question! Let's find out!"), the child will lose interest long before school starts. It is just as well since elementary schools in general do not spend much time on science, and so gradually most children will lose interest, and it is very difgicult to rekindle it once they are older. I hasten to add that it is primarily necessary that the parent be willing and have some sense of how to find things out. For example, I did not know that a pillbug is not really a bug at all until my then 4-year-old son started asking why they look so different from other bugs. I told him I didn't know but we immediately consulted books and the internet to find out. I first started teaching them about the scientific method when they were each 3 or 4 years old, and at that age it takes time and much repetition to get the idea to stick. We tend to think that teaching a concept like that is better left until they're older, but it isn't if you leave it until they lose nterest altogether.

Please forgive the typos. I'm on my phone, and I can't edit it well.

Permalink to Comment

60. Anon Grad on May 22, 2013 10:55 PM writes...

As someone who did a 4.5yr PhD, got good publication, left my lab with data for spin off projects, and independently came up with projects for other labs outside of my scope, I would consider myself one of the more talented students. IMO, not the best (I know of a couple students successfully who wrote their PI's R01s) and I have left research. All of the top students from the school I left are trying to do the same. I push paper at a 9-5 and do pretty darn well...I make money, I'm respected, I have no regrets on leaving the bench...and I REALLY doubt my school (a top 10) is alone. You can talk about "love of science" all you want but people have bills and people don't like being taken advantage of.

Permalink to Comment

61. Tomt on May 23, 2013 6:36 AM writes...

Many of the commentators on this site have cited not believing in evolution as some sort of proof that our fellow Americans lack the critical thinking skills necessary to advance our society. Critical thinking would actually require the person to demonstrate how believing in creationism has a negative impact on our standard of living or way of life through the thwarting of scientific advancement. There are many atheists who do not accept Darwinism in its totality. The greatest advances of man occurred under a creationism believing population. My basic premise states that believing in creationism does not have a negative impact on society or science as claimed by many of the comments on this site.
The real luddites in our society are the liberal environmentalist. They rally against anything which helps man pull himself out of poverty. DDT, GMOs, nuclear power, carbon based energy, vaccines, and plenty of other truly amazing scientific advances. Their opposition and support of regulations has had a significant impact on our lives and well being. I would contend that these impacts our negative.
How does believing in Creationism have a negative impact on scientific advances today? Does somebody have the ability to go back a mold the past to their beliefs? I haven't seen a link between belief in Creationism and impacts on scientific advancements. I have often seen the statement about Creationism used negatively without any supporting evidence. I guess we are to assume that everything wrong with scientific discovery today is caused by the belief in Creationism. I would contend that it can't be demonstrated.
Even the claim that more science education would remove these "evil" beliefs is not supported by the evidence. What about all the Engineers and Scientist who believe in Creationism? Do they need more education? Contrary to the unverified claims of many of the "critical thinkers", belief in creationism does not have negative effect on science and advancement.
Critical thinking requires you to question your basic premises and biases and provide evidence. I don't see that from the people who are constantly bringing up Creationism. Maybe they missed the course on critical thinking and the scientific method.

Permalink to Comment

62. Design Monkey on May 23, 2013 10:19 AM writes...

@RKN

Whatever. If you prefer.

At well developed level of doublethink certain alternatively gifted persons may search for oil, without thinking, how it got there.

Mr. God just created a puzzle for them, stuffing oil in various places and seeding it with isotopes in funny proportions according to his wishes. No other theories needed.

Permalink to Comment

63. Hap on May 23, 2013 10:22 AM writes...

@48: "You know, if you'd tell us what we wanted to hear, you'd be much more popular and acceptable." Who knew?

Science(or the nature it's supposed to attempt to understand) doesn't really care what answers flatter your intelligence, worldview, or political opinions - it is supposed to represent what can be observed by others and correlated with physical experience. It may not be everything, but it is a lot, and it governs in most cases what we can do with other things and other people. If we don't get the answers we want, it is not science's job to give them to us. It's our job to make sure we actually have answers and not just our opinions repeated back to us, but that's what data is supposed to help us to do.

Politics in lots of cases is dominated by people who figure if they yell loudly enough (or repeat themselves often enough and with constancy) that undesirable facts will cease to exist, probably because we keep electing them. Physical reality doesn't require anyone's permission to impose itself on them - it just is, and one ignores it at his peril.

Permalink to Comment

64. HTSguy on May 23, 2013 10:24 AM writes...

Evolution doesn't just relate to the history of biology/chemistry/geology on the Earth. It is necessary to understand the development of drug resistance by bacteria, virus, and cancers.

Permalink to Comment

65. DH on May 23, 2013 11:13 AM writes...

@53: "On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones."

This supports the claim that AGW alarmism is not based on science but on ideology. Those more capable of evaluating the evidence first-hand, rather than simply parroting an alleged "scientific consensus," appear to see the flimsiness of the empirical support for catastrophic AGW.

So IMO the Kahan et al. paper is consistent with the hypothesis that more widespread STEM education would lead to better political decision making. (I'm not sure I agree with the hypothesis, but the paper's findings do not refute it.)

@59: Yes! Finding out that pill bugs are in fact crustaceans (with gills!) is one of the coolest things I have discovered in the process of helping my young son learn about the world.

Permalink to Comment

66. NJBiologist on May 23, 2013 11:51 AM writes...

@64 HTSguy: "It is necessary to understand the development of drug resistance by bacteria, virus, and cancers."

How? Does evolution suggest which bacteria will express transporters vs. mutated target proteins?

I spend most of my day answering the question "does it work", a bit answering "is it safe", and a little bit looking for something that might work better while not giving up safety. I can't think of a situation where this was helped by having read Darwin.

Permalink to Comment

67. RKN on May 23, 2013 1:55 PM writes...

@Design Monkey

You may be interested to know that the largest oil field on the North American continent was found by serendipity, in a formation where the prevailing "geologic theory" at the time predicted oil would not be found.

There are many other examples of that phenomenon around the world.

Permalink to Comment

68. RKN on May 23, 2013 2:12 PM writes...

NJBiologist makes a good point. Another is that there are modes of drug resistance that have nothing to do with evolution. Tachyphylaxis comes to mind.

Regarding the so-called "necessity" of evolution to understand drug resistance, I often present the following thought experiment: Suppose tomorrow the theory of evolution was irrefutably proven to be wrong. Would all research at drug companies necessarily fold? I don't think so.

Permalink to Comment

69. HTSguy on May 23, 2013 2:52 PM writes...

@66 So how did the mutated target protein come to be expressed throughout that bacterial population in your example?

Permalink to Comment

70. Hap on May 23, 2013 3:08 PM writes...

No, but it would sure change. Phenomena are facts - they don't change, but explanations do. Explanations (theories) organize facts into a coherent worldview that makes it easier to understand phenomena (although sometimes it helps us to blind to things that don't fit). So, the bio part of things would probably slow down a lot while the chemistry and medical parts, not as much. It would matter whether evolution had been falsified with or without a replacement, though - good explanations allow you to ask questions you wouldn't have otherwise, while no explanation gives you no good idea about what questions to ask.

People can compartmentalize, and in general most scientists don't deal with the edges where philosophy comes into play, so they can function just fine not believing in things irrelevant to their work. Problems come when you can't avoid things you don't want to believe in - it requires a more significant level of compartmentalization, which some people can do but not all. It happens often enough elsewhere (*cough* politics *cough*) where it can't really be compartmentalized out of relevance, and where your future depends in some degree on how well you can face things you don't like.

As evolution versus God/gods/etc. - given that lots of religious ideas have changed as well as scientific ones in recent history, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the religious ideas of God and not the science of creation need to be changed. We have to deal with what is, and not what we want to be, and if God is what we believe, well, then if something needs to change it will have to be us.

Permalink to Comment

71. NJBiologist on May 24, 2013 11:46 AM writes...

@69 HTSguy: The hypermutation fairy could have sprinkled pixie dust on them for all the difference it makes to the eventual success or failure of a development program.

Permalink to Comment

72. anu gupta on May 29, 2013 11:14 AM writes...

As evolution versus God/gods/etc. - given that lots of religious ideas have changed as well as scientific ones in recent history, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the religious ideas of God and not the science of creation need to be changed. We have to deal with what is

Permalink to Comment

73. exGlaxoid on May 30, 2013 12:49 PM writes...

There are a few debates here. First, I think most people will agree that the general education of the masses needs improvement. I don't fault the schools as much as the parents, socioeconomics, culture, and politicians. If everyone had parents that cared about their education, valued it, and knew how to encourage it, we would all be better off.

But broken families, 12 year old parents, poorly educated parents, socialist welfare policies, and a culture that demeans education has created an America where a large number of children are actively discouraged from learning. (I read that some families try to keep their kids from learning to read so that they get SSI benefits, and yes, I know that it is only a small fraction, but any number is abhorrent.)

I view a basic education as a necessary basis for any science education. But students and children now are subjected to lectures on memorizing facts, watching videos of experiments, and having teachers who are often not interested or allowed to teach well. I had both good and bad teachers, I know there is a huge difference, but we could have more good teachers if we paid the good ones and got rid of the bad ones, but politics makes that hard. If children were allowed to do more hands on experiments, parents encouraged them to look at nature and ask questions, and schools were not just teaching to tests, we would do far better.

And I agree that many STEM jobs are going away do to better technology and automation, outsourcing to other countries, and a lack of desire to invest in new technology/companies/pharma, which is due to regulatory/financial/medical issues. But educating more scientists while allowing more foreign visas will not create more jobs, any more than training more farmers will create more farm jobs when there are machines that can plant and harvest 32 rows of corn at a time, and are guided by GPS, automation, artificial intelligence, and using GMO crops.

The book on the Economics Laws of Science Research by Terrance Kealey (mentioned a while back on here) is a great read for those interested in science research, education, government funding and economics. It is not an easy read, but I would recommend it strongly for anyone who is interested in this area.

Permalink to Comment

74. Anon on May 31, 2013 10:38 PM writes...

Two words: intelligent voters

Permalink to Comment

75. Anon on June 14, 2013 12:46 AM writes...

In @27, Curious Wavefunction suggests scientific literacy can only help. This seems a popular hypothesis. But also an unlikely one.

@53 points out one negative effect.

@65 unintentionally illustrates another: a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. As when novices, unable to judge the limits of their own competence, believe they can disregard experts. As with teenagers, wet-behind-the-ears lieutenants, politicians, etc.

A paper I can't now find, suggests another. People both hold non-scientific beliefs, and hold science and scientists in high esteem. And then resolve the dissonance, by thinking their beliefs aren't in conflict with science, but only in conflict with a few bad-apple scientists. If science were better communicated, it appears an open question which, beliefs and/or esteem, would give. As around AGW.

And it's not clear there's a safety margin to play with. Some politician is always running an anti-science platform. "Wasteful silly research", or "fraud", or "let's do earmarks instead of peer review", or "climate scientist conspiracy". If these gain additional traction, build momentum, and broaden... big negative effects seem possible.

And all that is in a context of larger uncertainties. Like colleges hitting an economic model failure "newspaper moment".

So certainly we should pursue outreach, and science literacy, and less broken education. But a positive outcome seems more likely, if we recognize that negative outcomes are possible.

Permalink to Comment

76. Dorene Menzel on November 6, 2013 1:42 AM writes...

I really like the dress but know you would appearance fab in both! I cannot believe anything in the store will probably be 1/2 off! WOW, wish I lived closer because I really like The Limited.

Permalink to Comment

POST A COMMENT




Remember Me?



EMAIL THIS ENTRY TO A FRIEND

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):




RELATED ENTRIES
One and Done
The Latest Protein-Protein Compounds
Professor Fukuyama's Solvent Peaks
Novartis Gets Out of RNAi
Total Synthesis in Flow
Sweet Reason Lands On Its Face
More on the Science Chemogenomic Signatures Paper
Biology Maybe Right, Chemistry Ridiculously Wrong