Friday, October 14, 2005

Panel offers ways to keep U.S. edge in science

Submitted by Craig Fulton:

Doug, I thought blog readers might find this of interest, especially the
second key recommendation that is noted in the article...

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Panel offers ways to keep U.S. edge in science
- Emma Vaughn
Los Angeles Times
Friday, October 14, 2005

Washington -- The U.S. government must take immediate action to enhance
science education from kindergarten onward to secure the country's economic
and technological leadership, according to a National Academies panel of
scientists, educators and business leaders.

With so much knowledge and low-cost labor available around the world, U.S.
advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to
erode, the panel said. To preserve what the panel called our "strategic and
economic security," a coordinated federal effort is needed to create new
industries offering higher-wage jobs.

The National Academies comprises several independent agencies that provide
advice to the government on scientific, engineering and medical issues. The
panel's report, released this week, was compiled at the request of Congress.

"We are still the largest research-oriented economy in the world," said
panel member P. Roy Vagelos, former chairman of Merck & Co. "But we're
aging. Our technical infrastructure is aging."

The panel attributed U.S. global leadership in the 20th century to
scientific achievement, saying that 85 percent of the increase in per-capita
growth could be attributed to advances in technology. With countries such as
India and China taking active measures to increase scientific education and
research, the panel fears that the U.S. advantage will diminish drastically.

"These other countries have studied the long-term success of the U.S.
economy and have recognized that we have great universities," Vagelos said.
"They're copying what they think we did to succeed."

Other nations will "continue to have the competitive advantage of a low-wage
structure," the panel said, making it even more critical that the United
States invest in preventing a possible sharp loss in the U.S. lead in
science and technology.

It called for a series of actions, costing as much as $10 billion a year,
including doubling the federal government's research budget in fixed
increases over the next seven years.

The panel warned that if immediate action was not taken, the United States
could find itself forfeiting many high-skill jobs to other countries. For
example, the report notes, in 2004, U.S. universities graduated about 70,000
engineers. By contrast, India produced about 350,000 engineers, and China
graduated 600,000.

Identifying the nation's need for high-quality jobs and reliable and
affordable energy as the two primary challenges facing the United States,
the panel structured its summary around four key recommendations:

-- Improve science and math education in elementary and secondary schools by
annually recruiting 10,000 teachers in those areas with four-year college
scholarships.

-- Sustain and strengthen the federal commitment to basic research by, among
other things, increasing funding, awarding new research grants to young
scientists and creating within the Energy Department a new agency for
"out-of-the-box" thinking on energy research.

-- Make the United States the most attractive place for research by funding
scholarships and fellowships in the sciences for U.S. citizens and
facilitating visa processing and residence permits for talented foreign
scholars who want to work in the United States.

-- Ensure that the United States becomes the best place in the world for
innovation by modernizing the patent system, rewriting tax policies to
foster innovation and assuring affordable broadband Internet access.

Where to learn more

The report is online at books.nap.edu/catalog/11463.html

Comments:
All I see is discussion about the current supply of engineers and scientists being generated in various cuntries and suggestions for increasing the supply in the US, but nothing about demand. Did I miss something?
 
-- Sustain and strengthen the federal commitment to basic research by, among other things, increasing funding, awarding new research grants to young
scientists and creating within the Energy Department a new agency for "out-of-the-box" thinking on energy research.


-- Make the United States the most attractive place for research by funding scholarships and fellowships in the sciences for U.S. citizens and facilitating visa processing and residence permits for talented foreign scholars who want to work in the United States.

Sounds sensible and simple, doesn't it? Even the communist government of China understands it! Except that it appears that the new management is going to do precisely the opposite here, by eliminating science-for-science's sake as useless.

Seriously, we have not received an answer from Paul Robinson about what he means by "aligning science with the mission", and this is becoming very troubling. Doug, have you checked with him lately?

Incidentally, maybe you could also ask him to define the LANL mission, as he sees it. DOE has a bunch of science missions. Are they also our missions, or does he think that DOE should do its basic science elsewhere, and we should concentrate on been a pit factory?

Dr. Robinson, those of us doing basic research at the lab need to plan our lives. Either here at LANL, or elsewhere, but we need a clear and timely answer. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
 
Paul Robinson just got back from vacation. You should be hearing something soon regarding the issue you raised.

I'm not going to ask him anything, by the way: you are, as can anybody else who feels that there is an issue important enough to raise with him. Your question has already been asked and brought to his attention (this is not to say you can't ask another, naturally).

So, be patient. He is aware of the concerns you raised. Hopefully there will be some kind of response next week.
 
Mr Feynman,

What leads you suppose that the next management team is going to do precisely the opposite? Do you know something new or are we just recycling the tired anecdotes regarding how Sandia is NOT interested in science. I have just enough first hand knowledge to hold the opinion that Sandia's perfomance is merely spotty. Some groups have consistently done good science for years while other groups seem to excell at systematically killing anything that they can't license or patent.
 
Mr Addict,

Firstly, Dr Feynman please. Surely you know who I am. Anyone who's ever taken physics does. Google me, if in doubt.

Seriously, I do suggest that you (re)read the letter Paul Robinson sent to all LANL employees. The letter clearly says that the new management plans to "align science the missions". On the face of it, this means identifying "useless" science and shutting it down. Hope that answers your question.

Anyway, Doug said that Paul had been away all this time, which explains the silence, and I do want to wait for the answer before jumping to final conclusions (and possibly jumping the ship). Let me just note that if there is no plan to close basic research at LANL, it will extremely easy for Paul to state so. Just one quick sentence would suffice and we'll likely get it right away. Conversely, if there is indeed a plan along these lines, the answer might take longer... It's simple logic, really.


As for comparing the science outputs of LANL and Sandia, let's not go there. Please go look up the numbers for publications in prestigious journals that have been coming out of each lab. Sandia is an engineering lab, it cannot be compared to LANL. (And let's not delude ourselves with that "science doesn't equal papers" stuff. The rest of the scientific world laughs at these arguments.)

Cheers!
 
Dear Dr. Feynman's Ghost,

Yes, we all wonder what Dr. Robinson means by 'aligning science with the mission'.

I just grow a little weary with the doom-and-gloom from the onset before there has really been much action or discussion from the proposed players. The conventional wisdom is that when we talk about the possibility of LM being the next contractor, the inherent assumption is that the Sandia 'implementation' of LM is the one that would come here. Will Dr. Robinson 'Sandiatize' LANL anymore than he 'LANLmated' Sandia when he went there from here? I guess that he and his team will do their best to implement their vision ( what ever it is ) mostly with what structure is in place.

As in the benefits discussion going on another thread, some folks tend to view things as all or nothing. Will the new LLC kill science or only give extra encouragement to science that aligns itself with the mission? This could be like the current Weapons Research program that was started this last year. OR it could just be a redistributing of the weight factors used to judge proposals or it could be that LDRD will be restructured to not have the outcome tied so strongly to which division stacks the deck in the committees most efficiently.

Please lets all continue to push on the LLC's to make their positions known so we can start focusing energy on making the new 'system' work. Or if we don't like their answers, making alternative plans.

By the way, cutting edge science does not have to be unrelated to core requirements. Just ask anyone involved in studying the physical behavior of plutonium how much we really don't know about it. There is plenty left to do.
 
The article didn't didn't mention the
most important problem affecting U.S.
science: the ongoing disaster in
secondary schools in the U.S. There
is a simple reason why our colleges
are world class and our high schools
3rd rate. Customer choice. Parents
should be able to take their tax
money to the high school of their
choice. Just like they can do with
colleges. Until we start working in
that direction none of the other
reforms will matter.
 
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