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Survival of the fittest
jhankwitz   12/5/2011 11:58:46 AM
Why does every college and university in the US need to support a Physics program?  The cost of redundancy is exreme, and taxpayers get left holding the bag again, and again, and again.  Survival of the fittest is natural, so those with the best programs will survive.  This is how the planet has continually improved over the past 14 billion years. 

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Re: Reverse Take
Ratsky   12/5/2011 11:24:34 AM
There's a lot of truth in what you say.  Some of us recognized a long time ago that Economics was NOT (and never will be) a true "hard" science.  Way back in the begiining of the '60s, as an MIT undergraduate, there was a required course for all majors, Economics 14.01.  The lecturer was Paul Samuelson, when he wasn't busy being Kennedy's chief economic advisor.  The primary focus was macroeconomic models, particularly his favorite, Keynsian.  I got an "F" in this course TWICE because I insisted on pointing out that the entire model worked only if the much-vaunted "multiplier effect" worked only for government expenditures, not private sector spending.  This was not only contrary to all common sense, it was also not supported by ANY scientific analysis: it was essentially stated as an axiom!  Thus, my recognition of the unscientific nature of at least this particular brand of socio-politco-economics came at age 18!

I have long advocated the necessity for a solid background in Physics and Mathematics for true success in any scientific or engineering field; it's a shame that even our top-rated schools have watered down those requirements in favor of "trendy" "modern" courses instead.

The real problem is that so few of our "best and brightest" are willing to take on the task of studying these difficult and unromantic (and also relatively unprofitable!) subjects.  If technical careers could be seen as more rewarding AND interesting, the laws of supply and demand (so conveniently ignored by Prof. Samuelson and his disciples) would attract more of those potential teachers of the fundamentals.

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Econ; A hard "Science"?
Island_Al   12/5/2011 11:18:16 AM
As our economy continues to fail I would think that it should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that modern mainstream economics is a miserable failure.  Mainstream economics poster boy is John Menard Keynes and the resultant School of Keynesian Economics.  One of his biggest turnoffs for me was he blamed recessions/depressions on “animal spirits” overtaking those who were in business.  If I were to say the reaction between two inductors were caused by something akin to “animal spirits” no one could possibly take me serious.  Well then again perhaps someone in government may!  The strongly competitive economics is the Austrian School who explain econ in terms of human action (see the writings of von Mises).  Humans do not respond like atoms or electrons in a perfectly foreseeable way, thus the math of physics cannot be applied.  All engineers should be able to understand this.

But Keynesian economics is favored by government as Keynes preached only government could fix problems by injection of money.  He did so in 1930 and our government followed his prescription.  The Great Depression followed.  Oops, not enough spending!!!!  Fast forward 80 years.  Huge spending programs, yet terrible employment numbers and soon to pass terrible price inflation.  We as a society have pushed everyone into universities to get a any type of degree.  A lady in Occupy Wall Street complained she had a Masters in Lesbian Studies, yet could not get a job!!! I couldn’t make stuff up like this even if I tried!

I believe engineers and scientists cannot be trained.  The “gift” is within us, probably since birth, and it is not blocked by racial, nor economic reasons.  Most of us have worked with EEs who really knew their stuff in math and electronics, but who could not come up with a new design or product if their lives depended on it.  Educated; yes, intelligent; not very.  With others, the vision is clear.

The last thing we need is more politicians, or lawyers making more decisions, such as Congressmen trying to design cars and mandating flush toilets.  The free market works while central planning has a very long history of failure.


User Rank
Re: Pay it forward
jelectron   12/5/2011 10:25:04 AM
You are totally right, I am a volunteer at local public school and caused a huge interest into science and engineering since we built a solar powered water fall, a noise meter for classrooms, and now building a wind turbine 3 phase electrical generator..I work with 4 to 8 grade kids, I can tell you, we can make a huge difference and I am doing it.

My self I am not from the US, but I have to pay back to it since I love this country, we need more American kids into STEM, many of them just dream of been a football player, lawyer, hip hop star or to work at mcdonals, also is part culture as mentioned too.

The money is not the problem, there is everything in some schools but no one knows or is afraid to use, I this specific school I was amazed to see an entire cnc wood workshop machinery hidden in storage, new!!!, no ones know how to operate..so here I am, I know part of it and we are working to get that out and create some handy kids...

We all know the lack of good skilled tech workers, I mean one that handles electrical, instrumentation, control, electro-mecanical and more..how will we create those if not many encourage their students into.

Clearly the country needs the highly technical skilled workforce, as well engineers, but also great teachers..who of us wants our kids to be teachers?? none...but we want the best teachers...


Unfortunately for many people, this is a mix of things including hate against immigrants, instead of taking advantage... many say we educate them here then they go abroad to manufacture and sell chinese goods to the US, but, are your Ipads or Ipods made in the US? why not? you know the answer to it...it is all about productivity, do we have it here? train those thousands into tech jobs and will see...but are they willing to go into tech complexities?

At the end, we all need to contribute to this cause, please, volunteer, go to career days, you can change the future for good of many kids, families and this country...

User Rank
Re: Keeping international students
RadioGuy   12/5/2011 10:20:13 AM
This may be a short term benefit to the US, but is likely to have bad long term consequences to the countries of origin of the students. Returning graduates are needed for the economic development of poorer countries and are also valuable on seeding the leadership of these countries with young adults who have seen the benefits of an open, democratic society. That is portent for US, too.

User Rank
Absalom   12/5/2011 10:11:08 AM
There is nothing illogical or wrong with immigrants who bring motivation, knowledge and the skills we need.

Alexander Wolfe
User Rank
Reverse Take
Alexander Wolfe   12/4/2011 6:01:58 PM
In one sense, it's really economics that's under attack by physics. Economics is supposed to be a hard science, yet it can't make a correct risk-reward assessment vis a vis the dollars versus cutting STEM-related programs. So how hard of a science can it really be? These economist might as well be anthropologists; not to denegrate that latter, which as far as I can tell have made more positive contributions to the world in the past decade that those vaunted economics, who before the got around to cutting these STEM programs had a big hand in wrecking the U.S. economy.

Charles Murray
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No silver lining
Charles Murray   12/2/2011 3:54:07 PM
The silver lining to this dark cloud would be if the state looked at the paltry number of graduates and said: "Let's re-direct the funds to the elementary and high school levels in an effort to spur interest in physics among younger students, so we can later drive up the number of collegians who want to get undergrad degrees in physics. Then we can expand the college physics programs when we see more genuine interest in the subject." Somehow, though, I doubt this is happening.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Re: Keeping international students
Rob Spiegel   12/2/2011 2:58:54 PM
I agree completely, Dave. But I'm concerned about our ability to change our education system to produce students who are both capable and motivated to succeed in hard science. We've looked at everything to improve our education system -- more spending per student, cracking the teacher unions so we can improve teachers, uniforms, standardized testing, and on and on. 

I no longer think there's a key. I'm coming to think it's the culture, not the education system -- or, difficulties in the education system can't be corrected until there are changes in the culture.

By drawing on international students, we're drawing on the results of cultures that are more focused on the importance of education excellence. 

Yes, short term indeed. But it's something.

Dave Palmer
User Rank
Re: Keeping international students
Dave Palmer   12/2/2011 2:51:06 PM
@Rob Spiegel: Giving permanent resident status to international students who complete an advanced degree in the U.S. would certainly be a short term solution to increase the supply of science and engineering talent available to private industry in the U.S.  However, I suspect it would have a dirsuptive effect on university research.

Right now, many academic departments rely heavily on an essentially captive labor force of international students and postdocs to provide teaching assistants, research assistants, etc.  Many of these students would not be doing this work -- which is poorly paid, underappreciated, and often demands superhuman hours -- if they had the opportunity to work in private industry.

Of course, it could be argued that maybe universities ought to pay graduate research and teaching assistants at rates which are more competitive with private industry.  This is probably true, but seems that it would require major changes to the ways universities do things.

In any case, relying on developing countries to provide us with a science and engineering workforce is only a short term solution at best.  At some point, we need to train our own people.

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