Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Scientists are Producers too

At least the good ones are.  But sometimes, it takes them extra-long to realize that as far as a Predator is concerned, a top-notch scientist is mostly just like an immigrant farm worker—someone who exists to be ripped off.  I remember when my brother-in-law was walking picket lines on cold, rainy, dark, winter, Seattle nights during the 2000 SPEEA strike.  The fact that the strikers were literally the top rocket scientists in the world did not help much.  They were still wet and cold.  Boeing still had management types who did not have a clue why they needed their skills.  And they would have lost their strike, badly, if the local Teamsters hadn't shown up to help—and remind them that the Predators who screw with truckers will screw with rocket scientists and not lose a second of sleep over it.

So it is with some satisfaction that I notice that there are a few scientists in Baltimore who who have joined the #OWS movement and that Scientific American is actually covering it.  After all, the scientific community has everything to lose when banksters make off with the public purse, but meaningful lives if the society can finance the infrastructure upgrades we so desperately need.  In some ways, they should be LEADING the #OWS movements.  (What am I saying? Didn't Veblen die hoping his idealized engineers would create the rational social movement? —sigh—)

Hungry for Jobs and for Change, Scientists Join the Occupy Movement
By Marc Kuchner | October 24, 2011  
Traffic backed up along Baltimore’s inner harbor last week as protestors from the “Occupy” movement waved signs and shouted at the passing drivers. And among the protestors were scientists and science students, unhappy with their job prospects, their funding prospects, and the way science is viewed in America. 
I had heard about the protests on the news, and hadn’t paid too much attention. But as I drove by the crowd, a sign held by one of the protesters caught my eye: 
That’s a shorthand way of saying what has become all too familiar to us scientists: lengthy training and academic credentials no longer suffice to launch a career in science. 
This message is a new tone in the Occupy movement’s chord. 
Brandie Cross held the sign. She in the 5th year of a PhD program in biochemistry at The Johns Hopkins University. Her specialty is breast cancer, a traditionally well-funded specialty. But she’s sure her job prospects are dim. “I’d like to start my own biotech company. I have tons of inventions, and I want to be funded by NIH. But there’s no money.” 
I also spoke with Dr. Troy Rubin, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins who also showed up at the protest, and I heard a different angle; Rubin was more worried about the long-term future of America. I asked him why he was participating and he said, “We live in a society where wisdom is less appreciated than money. An economically driven society is fundamentally unsustainable.” 
The Occupy protestors view corporate greed and the disproportionate power of the wealthiest 1% of Americans as the causes of a wide range of problems in America. Since September, protests have sprung up in more than one hundred cities around the country. Baltimore is a small city with many institutions of research and higher learning, so perhaps it makes sense that Baltimore’s version of the Occupy movement would involve scientists. 
And scientists have certainly had much cause to protest during the last decade. With the sidelining of the American Competes act, the failure of Congress to pass climate change legislation, and the nationwide crisis afflicting science, technology and math (STEM) education, many of us are feeling helpless and angry, not just Cross and Rubin. 
As an astrophysicist, I’ve watched funding sources in my field wither and my own students struggle to stay employed. Studies show that only half of U.S. adults can correctly answer the basic question: How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? This statistic disheartens me. And the recently threatened closing of physics departments in Texas and Florida would not help the situation. I’m almost ready to protest too. 
Even so, I was still surprised to see scientists engaged in the Occupy protest. We’re generally a quiet bunch, more comfortable with armchair discussions than rabble rousing. more
Note: This post 1000.  And even though it smacks of cheap numerology, it is probably a good thing to note such milestones.  So I am especially glad that this post is on my favorite topic—the Producers who have done more to change the world than all the Leisure Class philosophers, clergymen, and revolutionaries combined.  It's fun to revel in the accomplishments of the Producer superstars.

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