Monday, April 26, 2004

Friedman on Science Here's an excellent column from Thomas Friedman, published on April 22 in the New York Times. In it he argues that several recent trends are compromising America's ability to compete in the scientific marketplace. Among other points, he argues that the government's investment is basic scientific research has been flagging recently. Additionally, post-9/11 immigration restrictions are making it much more difficult for talented, non-American scientists to work in this country. Here's an excerpt:


Several executives explained to me that they were opening new plants in Asia — not because of cheaper labor. Labor is a small component now in an automated high-tech manufacturing plant. It is because governments in these countries are so eager for employment and the transfer of technology to their young populations that they are offering huge tax holidays for U.S. manufacturers who will set up shop. Because most of these countries also offer some form of national health insurance, U.S. companies shed that huge open liability as well.

Other executives complained bitterly that the Department of Homeland Security is making it so hard for legitimate foreigners to get visas to study or work in America that many have given up the age-old dream of coming here. Instead, they are studying in England and other Western European nations, and even China. This is leading to a twofold disaster.

First, one of America's greatest assets — its ability to skim the cream off the first-round intellectual draft choices from around the world and bring them to our shores to innovate — will be diminished, and that in turn will shrink our talent pool. And second, we could lose a whole generation of foreigners who would normally come here to study, and then would take American ideas and American relationships back home. In a decade we will feel that loss in America's standing around the world.

Still others pointed out that the percentage of Americans graduating with bachelor's degrees in science and engineering is less than half of the comparable percentage in China and Japan, and that U.S. government investments are flagging in basic research in physics, chemistry and engineering. Anyone who thinks that all the Indian and Chinese techies are doing is answering call-center phones or solving tech problems for Dell customers is sadly mistaken. U.S. firms are moving serious research and development to India and China.

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