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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

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May 21, 2013

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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?!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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...

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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”.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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".

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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.

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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.

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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 populati