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Europe becomes a magnet for brain power

by Magnifico Fri Sep 12th, 2008 at 07:05:56 PM EST

Update [2008-9-13 4:8:49 by Magnifico]: I revised this essay to tighten its focus by moving a long subsection into a separate essay: Jason, Reagan, and Climate Change.

 

MSNBC has been examining the impact of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and a recent article explores how the LHC has become an international magnet for brain power. The international "brain drain" is no longer flowing toward the United States in the field of particle physics, but rather the bright minds are being attracted to Europe. Or, more simply put — thus begins American "brain drain".

The buzz of activity at CERN's Swiss campus dramatically illustrates a changing of the guard on the frontier of physics, with Europe taking over from the United States. For the past 14 years, Europeans have taken the lead role in building and financing the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider, which was started up on Wednesday. The U.S. federal government kicked in $531 million for construction.

The LHC is just this week's most obvious example of Eurocentrism in science: Less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) away, an even costlier international physics project, the $13 billion ITER fusion research center, is just getting started in southern France. And European officials are currently considering how to move forward with yet another fusion project, the $1 billion HiPER laser-fusion facility.

Meanwhile, in the United States, physicists were shocked last December to see Congress pull back on research spending, to the tune of $94 million. Financial support for ITER was virtually wiped out. It took months for some of that money to be restored in a supplemental funding bill -- and while Congress dithered, scores of research positions were lost.



Much has been made about the United States falling behind in science over the past eight years due to the Bush administration's hostility toward science, but America's anti-science culture is deeply rooted. The United States has been able to slide by being anti-science, because the U.S. has benefited greatly from an international "brain drain" flowing into the country.

For decades, American know-how has benefited mightily from a "brain drain" of talent from Europe. It started in earnest when German physicist Albert Einstein and many of his colleagues fled the Nazi threat in Europe in the 1930s and relocated in the United States. That flow of expertise continued right through the space effort of the 1960s and '70s as well as the telecommunications revolution of the '80s and '90s.

Today, the United States still ranks No. 1 in most science and engineering indicators, but recent figures from the National Science Foundation indicate that the U.S. lead is eroding. And it doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that when it comes to cutting-edge physics, all roads are currently leading to Europe.

The launch of Sputnik in 1957, "created both paranoia and concern that the Soviets had beaten Americans into space." Part of America's response was to create a new science curriculum and spend more than a billion dollars to fund science education in the United States in the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and create the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Perhaps more importantly, science was made sexy for America. NASA trotted out handsome men with the "Right Stuff" — a combination of brawn and brains.

But once the Moon had been reached and the Soviets beat, America's interest in science drifted. Roughly at the time the moon program was being abandoned, ARPA was building the first links of the ARPANET. The goal of the ARPANET was to provide researchers remote access to powerful computers (see ISOC: A Brief History of the Internet). It survived to grow up to become the Internet, while the more visible Apollo space program was disingenuously attacked as competing for tax dollars with social programs, when in actuality the U.S. was mired with paying for its war in Vietnam (see NASA: Living and Working in Space: A History of Skylab, Chapter 4: A Science Program for Manned Spaceflight).

For decades, the United States has been anti-science and, I believe, anti-intellectual. The momentum the U.S. received by Europeans fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe has now long since dissipated. The boost that was given to the U.S. by increased science and education funding in the 1960s has now coasted to a halt. Anti-genetic research policies (see The Guardian: US faces science brain drain after Europe backs stem cell funding) and anti-immigrant laws (see ABC News: 1 Million Skilled Workers Stuck in 'Immigration Limbo') have effectively made the U.S. less desirable a place to live and work for some of the world's brightest minds.

And as the MSNBC story notes:

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, a widely known author and theoretical physicist at the City College of New York, traces the reversal of fortunes back to the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider project in Texas.

"Let's be blunt about this: There could be a brain drain of some of our finest minds to Europe, because that's where the action is," Kaku said. "We had our chance, but Congress canceled our supercollider back in 1994. We're out of the picture. We can basically tag along after the Europeans, begging them for time on their machine -- but really, the action is in Europe now."

The Superconducting Super Collider was canceled by the U.S. Congress in the early 1990s, even though President Bill Clinton wrote "Abandoning the SSC at this point would signal that the United States is compromising its position of leadership in basic science - a position unquestioned for generations." Americans, of course, we have ourselves to thank for this event, but I do not expect any fingers of blame to point inwards.

So, as the world celebrates the beginning of the work for the LHC at CERN, the mantle of scientific leadership in basic science is being passed to Europe. While the the mouse click heard 'round the world marked an important milestone in this transfer, the handoff has been decades in the making.

America's Cold War defense research endeavor that grew up to become the Internet would be unrecognizable to most people without the addition of World Wide Web on top of it that we use to communicate with today. The Web was invented in Europe in 1989 at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee to help scientists share and collaborate on research. And like the American space program fifty years earlier, with the help of the LHC, CERN has helped make science sexy again (see xkcd: Turn on).

With the public's enthusiasm for and interest in science once again rekindled, good things will come from the research. Yes, even young people across Europe and, perhaps, the entire of the world are excited about science once again.

Shortly after the LHC switch-on... a reporter in Renfrewshire asked a schoolgirl why she was so excited by it. She said that in 20 years' time people would still be talking about the LHC, and she was here, now, witnessing the start of its journey.

Let's hope she's right and that, enthused by this week's flirtation with the cosmos, the public will stay in love with big science.

Congratulations Europe! Open your doors to the world's best and brightest and don't look back.

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American anti-intellectualism at its finest - the biggest problem with Obama is that he's too smart, according to a recent article at Salon.com

Gary Ball, a former coal miner and editor of the firebrand Mountain Citizen newspaper that is published in Inez, points to an authenticity gap for Obama. "People around here see Obama as being privileged," he said. Never mind McCain -- with his seven houses -- or recent blue blood candidates George W. Bush, John Kerry and Al Gore. "We know Obama's plenty book-smart ... but I liked Harry Truman, the last president to have a simple high school education."

While George W. Bush received the same Harvard benediction as Obama, Bush never identified as an intellectual. Obama's modest, single-mom upbringing does not overcome his evident intellectualism, according to Ball; for rural whites, he says, Obama remains on the losing end of this authenticity test.

On a further note, the smartest young people in America can plainly see where a career in engineering or science will lead them - absolutely nowhere.  A lifetime of semi-poverty, a career whose primary job skill is begging and obfuscation in the pursuit of begging, research demands making it difficult for those inclined to teach to do so, teaching demands making it difficult for those inclined to research to do so, the inability to choose where one will live, or how long one will live there, etc.  Lives controlled by ignorant be-suited know-nothings, on whose money everything depends.  Downsizing and layoffs around every corner, regardless of one's success or failure in the lab.

That's the American Dream, right there.  It's obvious right at the start, and all but the most dedicated and driven look elsewhere - and situations like these cause many of those most dedicated and driven to burn out before they were able to contribute whatever they may or may not have had to contribute to the scientific community.

by Zwackus on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 04:17:35 AM EST
Well, at least in France it's hardly better. There are very few state employment positions available, and private companies aren't all that interested in hiring PhDs...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 05:14:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only finance hires PhDs...

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 05:20:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In France, only for the most theoretical Quants positions... A lot of the managers consider that going for a PhD shows lack of motivation for "real" private employment.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:22:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
France is also a country where PhDs are definitely not seen as the top diploma... In my case, my own PhD i essentially worthless and was even viewed with suspicion ("were you trying to avoid going to work?" "if I want an X, I'll take a normal one"...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:20:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because the academic track is presumed to be below the Grandes Ecoles and the Grandes Ecoles don't award PhDs...

Why did you get a PhD?

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:22:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For top diplomas, French companies go along the signal theory of education : what matters is not what you learned but where you went. And the signal associated with a PhD is one of "not wanting to see the real world" : Grandes Ecoles do award PhDs.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:30:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In my case, I got it jointly from EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)(where I actually did it) and Polytechnique (because they paid for it). It was officially in economics, but it was a strange hybrid, being really about game theory, international relations and political philosophy.

Funnily enough, the topic gives me a lot of credibility today, givne how history seems to hiccup. And yes, I need to get it translated...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:35:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That Gary Ball guy is a racist, and that article is poorly researched.

Bush never went to Harvard.

by Upstate NY on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:36:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Willful ignorance is his topic, and he is himself an exemplar.  

For this fool to call it authenticity is just icing on the cake.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:02:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't he get his MBA from Harvard?  Pretty sure.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 02:10:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The smartest academics go where they get the best pay and facilities. The academic world is not particularly different around the globe given that it is integrated.

American universities, public and private, get an enormous amount of money from private donors. As a result they can better deal with recessions (with attendant decline in government support) and shifts in budget priorities than can primary and secondary schools who rely exclusively on public support. The Universities will be in good shape for decades. The primary and secondary public school system is in for a lot of trouble.

The killer for the US is the decline in academic related immigration, due entirely to the security hysteria post 9-11. Everything else is a sideshow, whether it's the LHC, stem cell research, or the idea that the US has been anti-science for decades.

In terms of pay for engineers like myself with bachelor degrees working in industry, the UK pays significantly less; France and Germany are on par, probably a bit higher given the exchange rate. I'm shut out of the European labor market, but looking to get into the alternative energy industry, my outlook here in the US doesn't look any different from what I've studied.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 01:08:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The killer for the US is the decline in academic related immigration, due entirely to the security hysteria post 9-11. Everything else is a sideshow, whether it's the LHC, stem cell research, or the idea that the US has been anti-science for decades.

Hear, hear.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 02:59:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Came across this one with some more numbers:

globeandmail.com: Collider's launch may spell end to U.S. lead in science

It was an especially great start for European governments, which have funded the project for two decades, at enormous expense, with little knowledge of what scientific fruits it might yield.

The largest contributor, at 20 per cent of the budget, has been Germany. Britain comes next, at 17 per cent, and France 14 per cent. The United States has contributed $531-million, only 5 per cent of the tab, and only five times more than Bulgaria. Canada has contributed $31-million and about 150 scientists.

More than 1,200 U.S. scientists worked on the project, and there is a sense that a great many of them will stay here. The American scientists were loath to comment on the record lest they jeopardize their grants, but most felt strongly that the United States is no longer a place to practise massive-scale experiments.

Some U.S. science officials have begun to speak openly of the threat posed by Europe's funding lead.

"In terms of bringing the world to the US, enabling the world to work with us to explore this physics, we certainly have taken a step back," Pier Oddone, the head of Fermilab, told a reporter yesterday.

bold by me.

by Fran on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 06:48:17 AM EST
The US is not a CERN member state... The fact that they contribute 5% to the building of the experiment buys them access to the research facilities.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 07:02:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Congratulations Europe! Open your doors to the world's best and brightest and don't look back.

Funding is still inadequate except if we want to maintain a very very very small amount of "the world's best and brightest" people.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:42:24 AM EST
Eh, they'd probably just get in the way.
by Zwackus on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:02:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed. I'm also sort of confused as to why this is. Or at least to the extent that it is so.

I know "budgets are tight" is the refrain of government and neo-libs everywhere, but research spending really doesn't seem to have many downsides. And whilst you can argue that making a leap to US levels of spending is not realistic, it seems strange that we are not at least spending more than we are.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:50:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Budgets are tight because we want them to be.

The other day someone was discussing some hypothetical disaster scenario where there was not enough money to pay for NHS doctors and nurses. There is no reason why there shouldn't be enough money to pay for doctors and nurses for a basic standard of care. If the NHS could be afforded immediately after WWII it could be afforded today.


A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 11:55:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Metatone:
Indeed. I'm also sort of confused as to why this is. Or at least to the extent that it is so.

I know "budgets are tight" is the refrain of government and neo-libs everywhere, but research spending really doesn't seem to have many downsides.

Some of it is hard to understand. And it's not being spent on useful things, like immediate profit.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:44:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As suggested, occurring across many domains and to many regions/countries, not just European Union.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:15:14 AM EST
You'll want to read this, if you haven't already:

Thoughts for an eleventh September: Alvin Toffler, Hirohito, Sarah Palin « Adam Greenfield's Speedbird

I think we actually had two paperback copies of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock floating around the house when I was a kid - at least, I can remember its "computerized" type running against both pale yellow and pale blue covers.

Between the ages of six and fourteen, roughly, you could have wrapped just about anything from Sunday-matinee dystopia to extra-farty prog rock in that particular typeface, and I would have at least given it a look-see; I was a future-oriented kid. So even though this Toffler book seemed conspicuously lacking in sentient starships, lunar bases and the like, I flipped it down from its place on the top shelf and spent a few days paging through it.

Most of it sailed over my head at that age. What I do remember sticking with me was the notion of accelerating change, an idea which did then and still does make the hairs at the back of my neck tingle. I also quite clearly remember Toffler's most succinct definition of the syndrome which gave the book its name, a definition which didn't even necessarily refer to anything technological: to suffer from future shock was simply to be paralyzed by "too much change experienced in too short a period of time."


(via)
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 07:53:40 PM EST
During the 50s to 70s there actually was a future to look towards. It was partly silly, with flying cars and saucer-shaped pointy houses made of glass, but it felt like something you could literally work towards in person by learning physics, electronics, comp sci or (in extreme cases) biology.

The first oil crisis started to kill off that vision, and Reagan/Thatcher ripped the guts out of it. With it went many things which weren't obvious, including a sense of shared participation, optimism, hands-on empiricism, curiosity, creativity and long-term thinking. The dot com bubble was probably its last watered down and bastardised public appearance for a while.

9/11 finally buried it, and tried hard to set a reactionary tone for the new century. I found it very hard to get to 2000 and feel 'Okay - now what?' There was an Internet, which was - and is - way beyond anything I'd imagined. Having the equivalent of a supercomputer under my desk was nice.

But the culture had gone in a reactionary direction. There were remnants of a hacker ethic in the open source world, but most of the money was being made by corporates, creativity had been co-opted and depersonalised by corporates, and the thing you were supposed to be a part of was now a monster of greed and viciously abusive dishonesty.

Obama's 'change' and 'hope' messages seem like weak tea in comparison. Even in Europe, science and engineering play fifth fiddle to finance. I can't see that changing for a while.

A progressive message needs something to look forward to and work towards. 'Do this right and we're not all going to die' isn't inspiring enough.

I'm not sure what would be. Whatever it is, it's probably going to come out of left field and surprise everyone.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 08:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Do this right and we're not all going to die' isn't inspiring enough.  

You are right, though I am not sure why.  I think the 1950s trained Americans in helplessness, and as the reaction against helplessness of the next two decades in turn failed--well here we are.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Sep 13th, 2008 at 09:10:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
'Do this right and we're not all going to die' isn't inspiring enough.

yup, because it's fear-based.

running from, not dancing to.

ThatBritGuy:

I'm not sure what would be. Whatever it is, it's probably going to come out of left field and surprise everyone.

i'm not sure either, but i do have some hunches.

some sum of parts that are already givens, re-combined into a whole that is singular, shocking in its apparent novelty, but when broken down into components, recognisable as perennial philosophy, same chords, different tune.

shades of mckenna and his fractal timeline theory...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 02:05:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
just can't stomach lipstick and pigs.  The dog and pony show that is Murikan politics is just to scary.
by Lasthorseman on Sun Sep 14th, 2008 at 05:55:53 PM EST


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