Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Science Can Stimulate U.S. Economy

This news report describes the meeting between the President of Princeton University with various Democratic members of the US Congress, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The meeting obviously centered on the need for investments in science research by the US Government and how that translates into the economic growth of the country.

An increase in American innovation could reduce the rate of unemployment, Augustine said. Though only a minority of American citizens are engineers and scientists, their efforts affect the lives and the jobs of millions, he explained.

The nation should take advantage of the “opportunity that we have now to improve peoples’ lives and peoples’ well-being,” Holt said, adding that it’s “important to get leaders in science, science policy [and] academia to look at the role of research.”

While I don't doubt that these are true, I've often criticize politicians and mass media reports that skimp on the details. Whenever we read reports like this, a lot of things are stated without any justification or support. I some time wish they would say "...go to such-and-such website where there are many description on what we discover from basic science research that have translated into jobs, advances in our lives, and how we understand more about many parts of our world...". It gives people the evidence they need to be convinced, rather than just simply stating something as facts without any support, which is what many politicians and charlatans like to do.

And if you do want to find support on how basic physics research has produced jobs and improve your lives, go to the American Institute of Physics website and look around.



Anonymous said...

Academic research physicists do not create jobs, except postdocs which are bridges to nowhere. Academic institutions don't pay property taxes: a permanent bailout. Many academic Professors don't lift a finger after they get tenure.

As a Ph.D. physicist, I believe in putting money into science (== high tech *businesses*), but not into the medieval intitutions of entitlement that we call academia

ZapperZ said...

Aren't you making too huge of a generalization? I mean, tell Albert Fert that his work at an academician actually didn't create any jobs. Where would your computer hard drive be without his discovery? Or do you think Charles Townes didn't lift a finger after his tenure and found a laser under a rock?

People like Bill Spicer were active almost until they die, and many of what they have accomplished have definitely contributed to many advances in modern electronics, which created jobs. A quick look at, for example, Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Applied Physics shows many academic institutions that are contributing to a lot of applied research that you have benefited from, and will in the future.


Anonymous said...

ZapperZ, Academia has Infinite potential, as proven by your rare examples. But that potential is squandered 99% of the time

ZapperZ said...

How do you know? Where do you get such numbers?

Stanford didn't squander running SLAC and SSRC with all that money. Neither did Cornell with CHESS. The NSF Center for Sciences being awarded to many universities are starting to produce a lot of dividends to the public.

Again, open APJ and JAP and see what percentage of those applied work came out of universities. I don't think these are the exceptions.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm not aware of any evidence the discovery of GMR created any jobs. What it did was increase the size of magnetic storage devices.

The argument that this created jobs usually centers around iPods (probably because ipods are reasonably sexy), but in fact huge segments of the mp3 player market don't use hard drives and are largely unaffected by the discovery. Even in those that do, it's hard to imagine that ipods succeeded because of their access to small 20GB harddrives and would have failed if they had been 8GB instead.

If anything, without the discovery of GMR, hard drives would be smaller and many more would be required to store the same information, creating jobs.

So I guess you could say that Fert uncreated jobs. . .

Of course I don't think that we should limit research because of the jobs it can eliminate. But you're making the exact same mistake you complain about in your post - your assertion has no data to back it up, and there's no real reason to think it's true.

Please pardon the criticism though, your blog is very well done and I appreciate the work you put into it.


ZapperZ said...

Er.. no. The fact that you can make something more compact CREATED two different consequences: (i)more products that people would want (ii) greater storage capacity.

Without those two, many new products and many new avenues in modern electronics would not have been open. Saying that it would have been better not to have such a thing is like saying we shouldn't have invented anything, because having us chisel stuff onto rocks would have kept many more employed, or not having any machinery would have kept many more employed to build that pyramid that I wanted as my next home. That's silly.

The whole sector of modern electronics came out of basic physics research. That in itself is clear evidence of a sector of the economy that would not have existed. So I was not simply blabbing something without any support. There are enough other documents that indicated as such. I don't believe anyone other than you is arguing this fact.

The issue at hand here is whether many of these came out of academics. I would argue they are, especially when one looks at the affiliation of the majority of the publication in journals such as JAP and APL.