Sunday, September 23, 2007

Science Education

Shit like this pisses me off. But not for the reasons you might expect...

Creationism/"Intelligent Design"/"Teach the controversy" is nothing more than a ruse to get Christianity into schools. That's not a revelation. It's a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state and should be defeated on that grounds, but that's not the reason this really gets under my skin.

Whenever society faces serious problems, politicians love to point to new technologies to solve all our problems, from biofuels, to immigration, etc.

Politicians have good reason to trust in technology. Science has come to the rescue many times before. Look at Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution. Everyone was predicting global catastrophe, mass starvation, and a massive "die-off" of humanity. Thomas Malthus couldn't have written more dire warnings. But none of it transpired because science rode to the rescue. Science fed the world. With current technology, you could probably feed 7 billion people (although distribution would be problematic).

I have a feeling in the not too distant future, we'll have serious challenges on the order of the Great Depression. Exactly what it will be, I'm not quite sure, but it's coming. I do know that people will look to science. There have been numerous calls for a "Manhattan Project" to solve America's dependence on foreign oil.

I've got a dirty little secret for anyone out there: there's a nation-wide shortage of engineers. We don't have enough engineers to keep our current infrastructure going, much less expand or evolve. Currently, the US aerospace, nuclear, oil and gas, mining, and US manufacturing (or at least what's left) sectors are all running full-bore and they can't hire enough engineers to do the projects they want. Also, companies are just starting to get hit by a wave of retiring baby-boomers, which will only accelerate this trend.

Want coastal restoration? There's no way the Corps will be able to tackle coastal restoration without a massive infusion of talent. They don't have enough engineers to do all the project on their plate. I was talking with 5 employees from the Corps at a party and I mentioned I just graduated from Tulane in Mechanical Engineering and they fell over each other to ask me if I had a job yet and wanted to work for the Corps (sorry guys, too late).

What's happening to all the engineers? In the past, the US could import engineers from Eastern Europe and India, but that isn't happening this time for 2 reasons: 9/11 and visa problems and growing prosperity abroad. While there was a surge in enrollment in computer science during the .Com boom, American-born students aren't enrolling in engineering in large enough numbers. Engineering curriculum is, by and large, harder than business or law [put on helmet and prepared to be bombarded by bricks from lawyers]. We have lawyers and MBA's out the wazoo, but not enough engineers. Business and law also have the draw of quick money, while engineers make good money, there is a glass ceiling and engineers rarely strike it rich.

Houston is getting hit especially hard. I know a few engineers over there and what they've told me is people are taking advantage of the shortage by moving from firm to firm to ratchet up their salaries and companies, flush with cash, desperate to keep projects going, are all to happy to ante up. Every month or so, some engineers move on for a dollar or two more per hour.

Who is addressing the shortage? To date I have not seen one meaningful plan to address the problem. Nobody in local industry put up a fight when Tulane eliminated engineering. No local leader called Cowen on his bullshit. I was a student then and it was depressing.

When we really, really need engineers, we're going to find the cupboard bare. That's what scares me. And that's why Vitter and creationists must be defeated.

UPDATE- Importing Science Talent. From CNN Money talking about H1B Visas. Anyone got any experience and opinions on H1B's? The only expertise on this sort of stuff are the foreign workers offshore.

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