Friday, July 8, 2011

Another sad day for science in USA

Depending on the weather, today is likely the last time for a space shuttle launch.  Even though I have been something of a space junkie since that night in 1957 when we kids huddled outside on a cold autumn night to watch Sputnik cross the night sky, I view this event with mixed emotions.  On one hand, I never regained the excitement I had during the Apollo years when this country was actually figuring out how to go to the moon.  The Shuttle is a big space truck that delivered goods into low earth orbit--not exactly bouncing around on the surface of the moon in a high-tech moon buggy, huh?

On the other hand, this launch is another sign that the days when science can command the respect, imagination, and big budgets of the country are over.  And I, for one, am going to miss the days when the label "rocket scientist" was the ultimate synonym for a smart person.

Could NASA be on the chopping block? 
By Robert Hendin
As NASA prepares for the final launch of the space shuttle, it finds itself in a potentially troubling spot. As Washington works to cut spending, without a storied space vehicle, one could ask: is the space program worth it?
NASA has an annual budget of some $18 billion. That spending includes $4.5 billion on "science"; $3.7 billion on "exploration"; $3 billion on "cross-agency support" and $6.1 billion on "space operations."
The agency has no replacement for the shuttle, so to continue manned space operations, including trips to the International Space Station, NASA will rely on its partnership with Russia to ferry astronauts into space, and potentially on commercial spacecraft. NASA predicts it will save over $2 billion by not operating the Space Shuttle, though that money will be allocated to other programs, including working with the private sector toward development of a shuttle replacement.
At a time when the government faces annual deficits over a trillion dollars and a debt at $14 trillion and rising, should NASA's nearly $20 billion be on the chopping block? No, says Tea Party backed freshmen Senator Marco Rubio, who's home state of Florida is home to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, the birthplace and launching point of the space shuttle.
"The impact of our space program is a global phenomenon," said Rubio speaking on the Senate floor today. "Our space program inspired young generations of Americans to pursue careers in the aerospace industry and other related fields. Satellite technologies developed and improved by NASA now connect the world in unprecedented ways and support our military reconnaissance missions and facilitate travel through G.P.S. devices. For others, it got them hooked on math and science and let them to other fields whose innovations make our lives better every single day." more
Of course, NASA's not the only place where the role of science is on the decline.
America's vanishing science jobs
June 24, 2011
The folks at Scientific American have launched "1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days" -- a program to bring together scientists, teachers and students to improve America's "dismal" showing among wealthy countries (27th out of 29) in graduating college students with degrees in science or engineering. I'm sure they mean well -- but, at least as it applies to the field of chemistry, "1,000 Unemployed Scientists Living With Their Parents at Age 35 While Working at the Gap" would be a better name.
After earning my PhD, in chemistry, I worked in drug-discovery research for more than 20 years. Aside from being a fascinating profession, it was pretty secure -- until the last decade. Then it became anything but.
Why the change? Well, it costs about $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. Blockbuster drugs that bring in multiple billions in profits, such as Lipitor, are needed to support the R&D costs of all other drugs -- ones that don't pan out, and ones that just can't help enough people to justify the investment before the patent expires. And the patents of almost all current blockbusters are expiring about now, cutting drug companies' revenues drastically.
Adding to the problem is the Food and Drug Administration, which has become overly restrictive and risk-averse, has made it very difficult (and even more expensive) for companies to bring replacement drugs to market.
To trim expenses, companies began to outsource research to India and China. It started as a trickle, but soon became a tsunami, leaving many thousands of highly intelligent and well-trained professionals with nothing to do -- a shameful waste of talent.
My colleagues and I at Wyeth watched helplessly as one company after another shed employees in huge numbers -- 300,000 since 2000. When Pfizer -- facing the looming expiration of its Lipitor patent and a poor research pipeline -- bought Wyeth for its portfolio of products in 2009, it cut about 25,000 jobs, with more to come.
Most of the combined company's research sites have either closed or are in the process of doing so. Before long, the world's largest pharmaceutical company will be conducting very little research in the US.
So, what do thousands of unemployed chemists do? Good question. The employment section of the latest (June 13) issue of our trade magazine, Chemical and Engineering News, is hardly promising. It lists a total of one industrial position and two college tenure-track faculty openings in the US. (Of course, there are online sites with more jobs, but the situation there is still bleak).
And good luck finding a high-school teaching job. Last year, one of my old colleagues decided he wanted to teach science in New Jersey -- but found out that not a single position was available in the entire state. Previous industry casualties had probably filled the few openings. more
Of course, science is just another victim of the greed and associated madness on Wall Street.  To the Predators, a rocket scientist is another Producer to rip off--like a migrant farm worker only with more assets to steal.
Jeff Madrick on How Wall Street Won and America Lost
In his latest book, Age of Greed, former New York Times economic columnist Jeff Madrick tells how Wall Street triumphed and America paid the price. It's the story of how, starting in the 1970s, right-wing economics – a mystical cult centered on small government, low taxes and financial deregulation – and human greed teamed up to produce not shared prosperity but obscene economic inequality and financial instability, through the ideas and doings of a bipartisan roster of politicians, financiers, and economists, some obscure, others prominent (hello, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers!). We recently got him on the phone to talk about the triumph of finance and the decline of America in our age of greed.
In the book you say the roots of our economic troubles are in the 1970s. What happened in those years?
The American people turned against government, and the catalyst was the confusing and painful period of high unemployment and high inflation that struck harshly in 1973 and didn't really subside until 1980-81.
And right-wing politicians and economists blamed government.
The right wing claimed the government had become too big, that deficits caused the problem, and that the Federal Reserve had allowed the money supply to run amok. And this idea got ingrained in the public imagination and in the media. America began to doubt government, and that opened the door for business to abuse regulation and change regulation, a chance for right-wing politicians to get more power.
But you point out in the book that government wasn’t all that large at the time.
Government wasn’t very big, and federal budget deficits were much smaller, as a proportion of GDP, under Carter than they were under Ronald Reagan, when inflation was falling.
But the idea took hold anyway that government was the problem and deregulated markets the solution. And Milton Friedman was the big intellectual force behind this view.
Yes. He started out as something of a New Dealer but became a right-wing advocate of the idea that the free market will solve almost all social problems. He thought all you had to do was control money, and there was no way you could really affect the unemployment rate. He was very articulate, especially in journalism and in debates, and his simplistic way of thinking captured minds and hearts at a time of enormous confusion, in the 1970s.
And meanwhile, the financial industry was starting to develop new kinds of securities, derivatives and so on, that would change the nature of investing.
Right. And nobody in Washington started talking about regulating these derivatives. On the contrary, Jimmy Carter - the first really conservative Democrat in economic matters - was very much in favor of deregulation.
Reagan and Bush continued the trend toward deregulation, obviously, but so did Clinton.
Clinton played the game and made matters even worse. His treasury secretaries, Lloyd Bentsen and then Robert Rubin, really believed that Wall Street had the answers – that if we give them their head they will create prosperity in America. They also knew that Wall Street is a place Democrats can get campaign financing. Republicans had lots of other areas of business sewn up, and the Democrats went for entertainment, Silicon Valley, and finance.
So let's turn to the consequences.
The consequence was a misallocation of capital for 40 years. In the 1980s, the S&Ls were deregulated. They made absurd investments for which they had to be bailed out. That's when the corporate takeover movement got crazy, financed by banks and junk bonds, which in turn received tax benefits because the interest was deductible. I think the evidence shows the takeovers mostly wasted money. And then the high-tech fantasies of the 1990s, the WorldComs and Enrons, the enormous accounting frauds, and finally all that wasted money in housing. more

1 comment:

  1. I read your whole post and I really I agree with you that Government wasn’t very big, and federal budget deficits were much smaller, as a proportion of GDP, under Carter than they were under Ronald Reagan, when inflation was falling.

    Careers in USA