The Economic Consequences of Investing in Science Education

Posted on February 20, 2008 2 Comments

My comments on: National Association of High School Principals Takes Exception to Two Million Minutes

Thanks for saying what has to be said. I have talked on similar themes on my blog for awhile now. The USA is definitely losing its relative position as the clear leader for science and engineering excellence.

The debate now whether we are willing to invest more today to slow the decline or whether we are willing to risk the economic future where our centers of science and engineering excellence are eclipsed quickly.

There is a long lag time that has allowed us to coast for the last 30 or so years. The reality is that most Americans suffer under the illusion we are in the same position we were in 1970’s. We are not and it is obvious to me that the economic impacts are starting to have dramatic effects now and it will only increase.

It might be more pleasant to explain why the USA is fine the way it is but that is a mistake. For more on my thoughts see two categories of the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog: Economics and primary science education and 2 posts: The Future is Engineering and the Political Impact of Global Technology Excellence.

PISA Science Education Results Show Singapore, Japan and Estonia Leading

Posted on December 14, 2016 2 Comments

The most comprehensive comparison of student achievement in math and science around the globe is completed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The 2015 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on science understanding of 15 year olds (the 2012 report focused on math).

2015 results for the science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Singapore – 556
  • 2 – Japan – 538
  • 3 – Estonia – 534
  • 4 – Taiwan – 532
  • 5 – Finland – 531
  • 6 – Canada – 528
  • 7 – Vietnam – 525
  • 8 – China – 520*
  • 9 – Korea – 516
  • 13 – Germany – 509
  • 13 – UK – 509
  • 23 – USA – 496
  • 26 – Sweden – 493 (this is also the OECD average)
  • 56 – Mexico – 416
  • 61 – Brazil – 401

* I am merging several distinct Chinese locations reported in the official report.

The 2015 PISA include 72 participating countries and economies. From the PISA report:

On average across OECD countries, 25% of boys and 24% of girls reported that they expect to work in a science-related occupation. But boys and girls tend to think of working in different fields of science: girls envisage themselves as health professionals more than boys do; and in almost all countries, boys see themselves as becoming information and communications technologies (ICT) professionals, scientists or engineers more than girls do.

Related: 2009 results of science education student achievement around the globe2012 results for the science portion (math was the focus in 2012)The Economic Consequences of Investing in Science EducationCountry H-index Ranking for Science Publications

Highest Paying Fields at Mid Career in USA: Engineering, Science and Math

Posted on September 20, 2015 1 Comment

Payscale has again provided details on average salaries by major for various fields. Once again engineering, math and science dominate. For this data they define mid-career as those with 10+ years of experience.

The top 15 bachelor degrees by mid-career salary were all from those 3 fields. And the median salary was $168,000 for petroleum engineering degrees (at the top) to $107,000 for Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science and Mathematics (tied for 14th).

The starting salaries for those with these degrees ranged from $58,000 for Actuarial Mathematics (though by mid-career salary they were in 3rd place at $119,000) to $101,000 for petroleum engineering. My guess is petroleum engineering salaries will decline from their current highs (as they have done in previous oil price busts). The second highest paying bachelor degree starting salary was for mining engineering at $71,500 – with most of the other fairly close to that amount.

Nuclear engineering pay started at a median of $68,200 before rising to the 2nd highest mid-career level of $121,000.

Payscale also provided data based on master’s degree field. Again petroleum engineering was in first place by mid-career ($173,000). Nurse anesthesia was in second at $159,000 and held the first spot for starting median salary ($139,000).

Taxation is the only filed that is obviously not STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related which had the lowest initial median salary of $60,700 but was tied for 5th for mid career salary at $126,000. Technology management and operations research are also not STEM fields though are a bit related to the STEM area.

PhD degree’s with the highest mid-career median earning are again all STEM fields. Economics is one many people probably don’t think of as STEM but it is (as a social science) and really it is largely mathematics at this point.

Many of the PhD starting salaries are at $100,000 (or close). The disciplines with the highest mid-career median salaries are: Electrical and Computer Engineering $142,000; Computer Engineering $139,000; Chemical Engineering $138,000; Biomedical Engineering, $137,000; and Economics $134,000.

Related: No Surprise, Engineering Graduates Pay Continue to Reign Supreme (2012)The Time to Payback the Investment in a College Education in the USA Today is Nearly as Low as Ever, Surprisingly (2014)Engineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree Programs (2011)Earnings by College Major” Engineers and Scientists at the Top (2013)Looking at the Value of Different College Degrees

Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications

Posted on January 9, 2014 2 Comments

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database (this site also lets you look at these ranking by very specific categories (I think 313 categories), for example biotechnology #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK, #4 Japan, #9 China or Theoretical Computer Science #1 USA, #2 UK, #3 Canada, #6 China). I posted about this previously (in 2008 and 2011) and take a look at the updated picture in this post.

I like looking at data and country comparisons but in doing so it is wise to remember this is the results of a calculation that is interesting but hardly definative. We don’t have the ability to have exact numbers on haw the true scientific knowledge output by countries are. I think you can draw the conclusion that the USA is very influential, and along with other data make the case even that the USA is the leading scientific publication center.

The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list.

Country h-index 2007
% of World
% of World GDP total cites
USA 1,389 793     4.4%   22.4% 129,540,193
United Kingdom 851 465  0.9  3.4 31,393,290
Germany 740 408  1.2  4.7  25,848,738
France 681 376  0.9  3.6  5,795,531
Canada 658 370  0.5  2.5 15,696,168
Japan 635 372  1.8  8.2 20,343,377
Additional countries of interest
16) China 385 161  19.2  11.3  11,253,119
19) South Korea 343 161    .7  1.8  4,640,390
22) Brazil 305 148  2.8  3.1 3,362,480
24) India 301 146  17.6  2.5 4,528,302

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Nobel Prize Winner Criticizes Role of Popular Science Journals in the Scientific Process

Posted on December 10, 2013 2 Comments

Randy Schekman, 2013 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine has written another critique of the mainstream, closed-science journals. How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science

Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives. The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best. Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational – I have followed them myself – but we do not always best serve our profession’s interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.

There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations. As I know from my editorship of eLife, an open access journal funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society, they are publishing world-class science every week.

Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of the bonus culture, which drives risk-taking that is rational for individuals but damaging to the financial system, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals. The result will be better research that better serves science and society.

Very well said. The closed access journal culture is damaging science in numerous ways. We need to stop supporting those organizations and instead support organizations focused more on promoting great scientific work for the good of society.

Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science CartelScience Journal Publishers Stay StupidHarvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal PublishersThe Future of Scholarly Publication (2005)The Trouble with Incentives: They WorkWhen Performance-related Pay BackfiresRewarding Risky Behavior

Science PhD Job Market in 2012

Posted on July 10, 2012 2 Comments

The too-big-to-fail-bank crisis continues to produce huge economic pain throughout the economy. Science PhDs are not immune, though they are faring much better than others.

U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there

Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs, according to an analysis by consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In the latest closure, Roche last month announced it is shuttering its storied Nutley, N.J., campus — where Valium was invented — and shedding another 1,000 research jobs.

Largely because of drug industry cuts, the unemployment rate among chemists now stands at its highest mark in 40 years, at 4.6 percent, according to the American Chemical Society, which has 164,000 members. For young chemists, the picture is much worse. Just 38 percent of new PhD chemists were employed in 2011, according to a recent ACS survey.

Two groups seem to be doing better than other scientists: physicists and physicians. The unemployment rate among those two groups hovers around 1 to 2 percent, according to surveys from NSF and other groups. Physicists end up working in many technical fields — and some go to Wall Street — while the demand for doctors continues to climb as the U.S. population grows and ages.

But for the much larger pool of biologists and chemists, “It’s a particularly difficult time right now,” Stephan said.

From 1998 to 2003, the budget of the National Institutes of Health doubled to $30 billion per year. That boost — much of which flows to universities — drew in new, young scientists. The number of new PhDs in the medical and life sciences boomed, nearly doubling from 2003 to 2007, according to the NSF.

The current overall USA unemployment rate is 8.2%.

The current economy doesn’t provide for nearly guaranteed success. The 1960’s, in the USA, might have come close; but that was a very rare situation where the richest country ever was at the prime of economic might (and even added on top of that science was seen as key to promote continued economic success). Today, like everyone else (except trust fund babies), scientists and engineers have to make their way in the difficult economy: and that should be expected to be the case in the coming decades.

Right now, physicians continue to do very well but the huge problems in the USA health system (we pay double what other rich countries do for not better outcomes) make that a far from a certain career. They likely will continue to do very well, financially, just not as well as they have been used to.

Science and engineering education prepare people well for economic success but it is not sufficient to guarantee the easy life. Just like everyone else, the ability to adapt to current market conditions is important in the current economic climate – and will likely continue to be hugely important going forward.

The reason to get a undergraduate or graduate science or engineering education is because you are interested in science and engineering. The economic prospects are likely to continue to be above average (compared to other education choices) but those choosing this path should do so because they are interested. It makes sense to me to factor in how your economic prospects will be influenced by your choices but no matter what choices are made a career is going to take hard work and likely many frustrations and obstacles. But hopefully a career will provide much more joy than hardship.

Related: Career Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look PositiveAnother Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest PayThe Software Developer Labor Market

Stand with Science – Late is Better than Never

Posted on December 1, 2011 1 Comment

The USA public has made very bad decisions in who to send to Washington DC to spend our money (and the money of our children and grandchildren). We have wasted hundreds of billions that could have been spent more wisely. I happen to think investing in science and engineering is important for a societies economic health. The problem the USA has is we have chosen to waste lots of money for decades, at some point you run out of money (yes the USA government doesn’t really, as they can print it, but essentially they do – in practical terms).

I would certainly eliminate tax breaks for trust fund babies and trust fund grandchildren (while your grandchildren are going to be left holding the bag for the spending those elected by us, the grandchildren of the rich often get huge trust funds with no taxes being paid at all). But most of the people we have elected want to give trust fund babies huge payoffs. I would cut much spending in government – spending 5% less in 2020 than we did this year would be fine with me. But we don’t elect people that support that. I would support not adding new extensions to tax cuts sold with false claims and again supported by those we continue to elect. I wouldn’t allow the financial industry subverting of markets. But again we elect people that do allow that. And when the bill comes due for letting them take tens and hundreds of millions in individual profits in the good years, we can either let the economy go into a depression (maybe) or spend hundreds of billions to trillions bailing out those institutions our politicians let threaten the economy.

It might not seem fair, but there are consequences to allowing our political system to waste huge amounts of money paying of special interests for decades. And investing in science and engineering has been a casualty and will likely continue to be. Eventually you run out of money, even for the stuff that matters. Trying to fight for politicians that will put the interests of the country ahead of their donors is not something you can do effectively only when your interests are directly threatened. At that point things may already be too bad to be saved.

I have been writing about the failed political system for quite awhile now. I wrote awhile back that Hillary Clinton’s idea to tripple the number of GRFP awards was something I thought was very smart economically. But even then I questioned if we could afford it, if we refused to do anything else different (just adding new spending isn’t what the country needed).

Even in the state the politicians we continue to elect (we elect the same people election after election – there is no confusion about what they will do) we can debate what to cut and for something we spend so little on as investing science and engineering we can even easily increase that spending and not have any real impact on cutting overall spending. But those we have elected don’t show much interest in investing in science and engineering overall.

The USA continues to invest a good deal in science and engineering. But the difference in focus today versus the 1960’s is dramatic. The USA will continue to do well in the realm of science. The advantages gained over decades leave us in a hugely beneficial position – and one that takes other countries decades to catch up to. Now some countries have been working on that for decades now, and are doing very well. China, hasn’t been at it quite as long but has been making amazingly fast progress (similar to the amazing economic story).

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Eliminating NSF Program to Aid K-12 Science Education

Posted on October 24, 2011 2 Comments

Changing American science and engineering education

In exchange for funding for their graduate studies, Kahler and other fellows contribute to the science curriculum in local primary and secondary schools from kindergarten through grade 12. Kahler taught science at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham.

He also taught for two summers in India, and in Texas, as part of Duke TIP, the Talent Identification Program, which identifies academically gifted students and provides them with intellectually stimulating opportunities.

Through these teaching experiences in different locations and cultures, Kahler observed several factors that affect the quality of education in American schools. One important factor is the training of teachers. Unfortunately, teachers are sometimes expected to teach science without having received an adequate background in the subject.

STEM fellows helped to address this problem by contributing their expertise and by helping to increase the scientific literacy of students and their teachers.

Kahler says that NSF GK-12 has a strong, positive impact to change this because it simultaneously improves the educational experience of students in primary and secondary school and trains graduate students to communicate and teach effectively.

Unfortunately, the NSF GK-12 program is no longer in the NSF budget for 2012.

Sadly the USA is choosing to speed money on things that are likely much less worthwhile to our future economic well being. This has been a continuing trend for the last few decades so it is not a surprise that the USA is investing less and less in science and engineering education while other countries are adding substantially to their investments (China, Singapore, Korea, India…).

As I have stated before I think the USA is making a big mistake reducing the investment in science and engineering, especially when so many other countries have figured how how smart such investments are. The USA has enjoyed huge advantages economically from science and engineering leadership and will continue to. But the potential full economic advantages are being reduced by our decisions to turn away from science investment (in education and other ways).

Related: The Importance of Science EducationTop Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

The Politics of Anti-Science

Posted on August 30, 2011 7 Comments

In the 1960’s the USA had an unrealistic view of how much studying and learning about science and engineering could do. Investing is science and engineering is an extremely wise economic (and cultural) endeavor but it isn’t going to solve all the problems that exist. Somehow today we find ourselves with a large number of politically powerful people we take strong anti-science positions. These tactics reduce funding and support for beneficial research and are short sited approaches to public administration. This is an unfortunate turn of events that is damaging the American economy and will have huge damages going forward.

Thankfully other countries have seen how wise investing in science and engineering is and have more than taken up the slack created by the anti-science community. Two favorite tactics of the anti-science leaders is to try and create confusion where there is none and to turn the focus away from serious matters and instead playing silly political games. The silly games will draw donors and voters so if they care about those things more than the country and the future of the country it is a sound tactic. The damage it causes the country however I would hope would limit the use of such tactics however that has not been the case recently.

‘Shrimp On A Treadmill’: The Politics Of ‘Silly’ Studies

Take the case of the “shrimp on a treadmill.” Burnett says the senator’s report linked that work to a half-million-dollar research grant. But that money actually went to a lot of different research that he and his colleagues did on this economically important seafood species.

The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator’s report was misleading, says Burnett, “and it suggests that much money was spent on seeing how long a shrimp can run on a treadmill, which was totally out of context.”

John Hart, a Coburn spokesperson, said in an email that “our report never claimed all the money was spent on shrimp on a treadmill. The scientists doth protest too much. Receiving federal funds is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t want their funding scrutinized, don’t ask.”

What the politicians are doing is exactly what this spokesperson suggests – they are withdrawing from the anti-science culture created by some in Washington: they are moving their research to countries that support rather than attack science. That is a very bad thing for the USA. There are a number of very bad economic policies a government can take. Driving scientists and engineers into the arms of other countries is one of the worst.
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H-index Rank for Countries: for Science Publications

Posted on May 17, 2011 2 Comments

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators. As stated in previous posts, these types of rankings have limitations but they are also interesting. The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list (the top 6 repeat from my post in 2008 – Country H-index Rank for Science Publications). The h-index provides a numeric indication of scientific production and significance (by looking at the citations given papers by other papers). Read more about the h-index (Hirsh index).

Country h-index h-index (2007) % of World
total Cites

1,139 793     4.5% 87,296,701
United Kingdom

689 465     .9% 21,030,171

607 408     1.2% 17,576,464

554 376     1.0% 12,168,898

536 370     .5% 10,375,245

527 372     1.8% 14,341,252
Additional countries of interest
18) China

279 161 19.4% 5,614,294
21) South Korea

258 161     .7% 2,710,566
22) Brazil

239 148  2.8% 1,970,704
25) India

227 146 17.5% 2,590,791
31) Singapore

196 .01% 871,512

Related: Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data Top 15 Manufacturing Countries in 2009Science and Engineering Doctoral Degrees WorldwideRanking Universities Worldwide (2008)Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China…

Cuts for British Science

Posted on December 17, 2009 1 Comment

Cuts mark ‘sad day for British science’

Britain’s physics community is reeling from a “disastrous” day of funding cuts that will force scientists to withdraw from major research facilities and see PhD studentships fall by a quarter. Space missions and projects across astronomy, nuclear and particle physics are being cancelled to save at least £115m, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) said today.

Fellowships and student grants for PhD projects will be cut by 25% from next year. The announcement has appalled senior physicists who warn the cuts threaten Britain’s future as a leading player in science.

In February, Gordon Brown delivered his first speech on science in Oxford and stated: “The downturn is no time to slow down our investment in science but to build more vigorously for the future.”

Politicians like to talk about funding science investment. And they do so to some extent. However, they are more reluctant to actually spend money than to talk about the wonders of science. Several countries in Asia are not just talking, they continue to invest, large amounts of money. The USA seems to be willing to put some money (not the kind of funds paid to protect bankers bonuses but significant amounts). Still the amounts the USA is investing is, I believe, falling as a percentage of global investment.

Related: posts on funding investments in scienceBritain’s Doctors of InnovationEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsScience and Engineering Workforce IndicatorsThe value of investing in science and engineeringSaving FermilabNanotechnology Investment as Strategic National Economic Policy