Posts about politics

Offering Residency to Foreign Engineers and Scientists

Rep. Lofgren wants residency for foreign engineers

Foreign-born engineering, science, and math students in the United States should be automatically granted legal residency when they get a job in this country, said California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

Lofgren, a Democrat, spoke to an audience Friday at the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley conference about threats to innovation in the area. She said that about 56 percent of the Ph.D. candidates at the finest schools in the United States are immigrants, and because of the government’s current immigration policy, many of those people leave the country.

I support such legislation. I also think it is only one, of many measure to take to encourage science and engineering excellence (which will in turn help the economy). I have no doubt that other countries are going to be successful establishing their own global centers of excellence and attract scientists and engineers from around the world: including from the USA. The Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog now includes a tag cloud on the right side of our home page, tags for this post include: government and economy.

Related: Brain Drain Benefits to the USA Less Than They Could Beeconomic benefits of science and engineering excellenceUSA Losing Brain Drain Benefits

China’s Technology Savvy Leadership

China’s Sci-Tech Savvy Leadership by Jocelyn Ford

Until last year, the top nine members of China’s politburo were ALL trained engineers! And guess what? The Communist Party made innovation and global leadership in science and technology national goals.

Ancient China is famous for its early scientific advances, some of which predated western developments by centuries. Its inventions include paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass.

Leadership does matter, but so does the system. It seems to me it should take a lot longer for China to build a sci-tech friendly system than for the U.S. to bring in sci-tech friendly leadership. That’s where you come in Ira & co.

If I may make one final comment: in my ideal world, borders shouldn’t matter. Victory by the best system, with the best leaders, will hopefully be a victory for all earthlings.

CHINA’S POLITBURO (2007): Decline of the engineer. Last fall China introduced a new top lineup that included two law graduates, as well as an economist, and graduates in history, journalism, management and business administration.

I agree that the increase in science and engineering investment around the globe is a positive development. But the USA faces loses that it has enjoyed due to past technology leadership.

China benefits greatly from such scientific knowledge at the highest level of government. The top 9 leaders in China are know as the “Politburo Standing Committee,” the new additions in 2007 were:

Xi Jinping, 54, studied chemical engineering at the Qinghua University and later earned a doctorate in law.

Li Keqiang, 52, obtained MA and doctorate of Economics after attending the on-the-job postgraduate program on Economics at the School of Economics of Peking University.

He Guoqiang, 63, B.S. Beijing Institute of Chemical Engineering.

Zhou Yongkang, 64 “Graduated from the Exploration Department, Beijing Petroleum Institute, majoring in geophysical exploration. With a university education. Senior engineer with a rank equivalent to professor. ” Funny, I don’t remember any U.S. politician exalting their experience as “equivalent to a professor.”

They joined the nine-member echelon with the five remaining members of the previous standing committee, namely Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin and Li Changchun.

Related: Science Investment, Diplomacy and EconomicsAsia: Rising Stars of Science and EngineeringChina’s Engineering Innovation PlanOnce Again Engineering Graduates Lead Ranks of S&P 500 CEOsAuthors of Scientific Articles by CountryBest Research University Rankings (2007)

Scientists on Changing Their Minds

When the world’s great scientific thinkers change their minds

The obligation of a scientist to do science by Leon Lederman, Nobel Laureate in Physics (author of The God Particle)

I have always believed that the scientist’s most sacred obligation is to continue to do science. Now I know that I was dead wrong. I am driven to the ultimately wise advice of my Columbia mentor, I.I. Rabi, who, in our many corridor bull sessions, urged his students to run for public office and get elected. He insisted that to be an advisor (he was an advisor to Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, later to Eisenhower and to the AEC) was ultimately an exercise in futility and that the power belonged to those who are elected. Then, we thought the old man was bonkers. But today… A Congress which is overwhelmingly dominated by lawyers and MBAs makes no sense in this 21st century in which almost all issues have a science and technology aspect.

It is important for some scientists to take on other important rolls in society – political leaders, popular authors, business leaders, government officials (regulators etc.), political commentators…

Related: Science and Engineering in PoliticsThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in ScienceDiplomacy and Science ResearchProposed Legislation on Science and EducationGlobal Scientific LeadershipOpen Access Journal Wars

Science and Engineering in Politics

Politics of engineering by Patrick Mannion, EE Times:

Engineering interests historically haven’t been at the forefront of the political debate, at least not compared with those of, say, farming, law or health care. But given the importance of the technological advances that engineers help effect and the need to maintain our competitive edge in a rapidly changing global environment, that situation needs to change, and fast.

Then came word of the $25 billion being handed to farmers in yet another subsidy, loudly denounced by some as welfare for the wealthy. I’m not going to get into the right or wrong of the subsidies–but I am amazed at the ability of agribusiness to get them at all. It shows the power of the farm lobby. Ditto for pharmaceuticals, HMOs, lawyers, “big oil” and so on. It underscores the relative political weakness of the engineering community.

If the science and engineering community are not well represented to our representatives the interests of the science and engineering community will get short changed. Especially since so few politicians in the USA have even a basic understanding of science and the scientific method. And a very small percentage have any advanced degrees in science and engineering fields or work experience in them. That being said the political arena is much like a tar pit: that is it is difficult to interact with without becoming entangled in a big mess. And it is not as though the scientific and engineering community are even close to unified but still the impact of political decisions is very significant and science and engineering leaders need to be heard.

China’s Economic Science Experiment – China’s 9 most senior government official are all engineers (in 2006 – I am not sure now):

When China’s leaders meet with Hu each week in Beijing’s government district, Zhongnanhai, they could spend hours discussing cables, switches, tool-making machines and control devices. That’s because every one of them has a degree in engineering. The president himself, the son of a tea merchant from Jiangsu Province, trained to build hydroelectric power stations, while the others hold degrees in electrical engineering, metallurgy and geology.

Related: Larry Page on Marketing ScienceThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in ScienceDiplomacy and Science ResearchOpen Access LegislationProposal to Triple NSF Graduate Research Fellowship AwardsScience Interview with John EdwardsProposed Legislation on Science and EducationHouse Testimony on Engineering EducationGermany’s Science ChancellorNanotechnology Investment as Strategic National Economic PolicySingapore Supporting Science ResearchersFarming Without Subsidies in New Zealand

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act

I agree with restricting the use of genetic information for things like insurance – US to outlaw corporate prejudice based on genes:

Soon it will be illegal to deny US citizens jobs or insurance simply because they have an inherited illness, or a genetic predisposition to a particular disease.

On 25 April, the House of Representatives voted 420 to 3 to pass the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The Senate is expected to endorse the act within a few weeks, which is also supported by President Bush. “I am so stunned by the majority,” says Sharon Terry, president of the Genetic Alliance, a charity lobbying for the rights of people with inherited illnesses.

Genetic information can provide valuable information about risks. It is not often that I am for saying people should be prohibited from using information that would aid them in making better decisions. However it can be the best public policy to require insurance companies to be prohibited from using information that would allow them to better access risks and price insurance accordingly. So those that know they have such genetic risks will be paying less than they would if the insurance companies were allowed to use that information and everyone else will pay more (to cover for those with the increased risk). I think that is the best policy for the society. However it is not really about outlawing corporate prejudice it is about saying that we will have everyone is society share the cost of risks rather than those that can be identified as greater health risks.

Thinking this is about preventing bad corporate behavior seems to me an attempt to change the focus of the real issue. And that is not a good idea because this is a complex area that we are going to have to make a wide number of decisions about as a society. Pretending the issue is simple does society a disservice. This is an large economic issue and what choices various societies decided to make will be debated extensively for quite some time I believe..

Related: Improving the heath care system posts (from our management blog) – post about health care (from this blog)

The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

The United States government bears great responsibility for keeping our environment clean and Americans healthy and safe. And while science is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should be objective and impartial.

In recent years, however, scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information. To document this abuse, the Union of Concerned Scientists has created the A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science.

In 2004, 62 renowned scientists and science advisors signed a scientist statement on scientific integrity, denouncing political interference in science and calling for reform. On December 9, 2006, UCS released the names of more than 10,000 scientists of all backgrounds from all 50 states—including 52 Nobel Laureates—who have since joined their colleagues on this statement.

It is important for the public to have access to type of information. There will always be areas of intersection between science and politics. And there is a role for politicians in science policy. However, covering up data and attempts to promote unscientific conclusions from data, in order to serve political ends, is something that should be condemned. Certainly many will seek to turn political disagreements into condemnation of the opposition, so the mere accusation is not the important factor – the important factor is the evidence of wrongdoing. Then the facts should be debated.
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Fishy Future?

Will seafood nets be empty? Grim outlook draws skeptics:

The researchers found that harvests of nearly 30 percent of commercial seafood species already have collapsed. Without major changes in fisheries management, they say, the trend will accelerate.

“It looks grim, and the projections into the future are even grimmer,” said Boris Worm, a marine biologist and a lead author in the peer-reviewed study, which was published today in the journal Science.

But other scientists question that forecast. “It’s just mind-boggling stupid,” said Ray Hilborn, a University of Washington professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

The evidence seems pretty convincing overfishing has created serious problems and if unchecked those problems threaten to become even more serious. It also seems a stretch to claim those problems will be unchecked (that the checks will be less than they should be I think is a reasonable position). It seems to me the original stories talking about the end of fishing stocks in the next 40 years are alarmist to the point of being counterproductive.
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USA Governors Promote the Value of Science Education

National Governors Association – Science Education. On their web site the associates pledges to:

  • host regional learning labs and workshops to help states improve education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math; and
  • create new science and math academies to improve student achievement and grow a workforce in emerging occupations.

This is a very small step but at least they are discussing the topic. And some action is being taken, for example: Excellence in K-12 Mathematics and Science TeachingTexas Invests in Science Higher EducationR&D Spending in USA Universities. More, could, and should, be done.

The Future is Engineering

Do Great Engineering Schools Beget Entrepreneurism? by Brent Edwards provides two great links.

How to Kick Silicon Valley’s Butt by Guy Kawasaki:

Focus on educating engineers. The most important thing you can do is establish a world-class school of engineering. Engineering schools beget engineers. Engineers beget ideas. And ideas beget companies. End of discussion.

If I had to point to the single biggest reason for Silicon Valley’s existence, it would be Stanford University—specifically, the School of Engineering. Business schools are not of primary importance because MBAs seldom sit around discussing how to change the world with great products.

Why Startups Condense in America:

You need a great university to seed a silicon valley, and so far there are few outside the US. I asked a handful of American computer science professors which universities in Europe were most admired, and they all basically said “Cambridge” followed by a long pause while they tried to think of others. There don’t seem to be many universities elsewhere that compare with the best in America, at least in technology.

Both essays make many excellent points – read them! Continue reading

The Innovation Agenda

Democrat’s are proposing an Innovation Agenda, including:

Educate 100,000 new scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the next four years by proposing a new initiative, working with states, businesses, and universities, to provide scholarships to qualified students who commit to working in the fields of innovation.

Place a highly qualified teacher in every math and science K-12 classroom by offering upfront tuition assistance to talented undergraduates and by paying competitive salaries to established teachers working in the fields of math and science; institute a “call to action” to professional engineers and scientists, including those who have retired, to join the ranks of our nation’s teachers.

Create a special visa for the best and brightest international doctoral and postdoctoral scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Make college tuition tax-deductible for students studying math, science, technology, and engineering.

They also propose doubling the funding for the National Science Foundation. Making promises about what you will do is much different than actually doing something: lets see what actually happens.

Currently the United States has over $8,000,000,000,000 (that is over $8 trillion – see current count) in debt (increasing by over $400 Billion a year). That brings every person’s share to over $27,000. Given that, it seems reckless to just add spending without either cutting something else or increasing taxes and I don’t see those details in the innovation agenda. Of course, my opinion on that being reckless may not be shared by a majority choosing to spend more money – after all they have been adding to that debt at a record pace the last few years.

To me, the most realistic federal action, given the role of the federal government (k-12 education is primarily a state and local responsibility) is the scholarship proposal but lets see what actually happens. In July we posted about proposed Science and Engineering Fellowships Legislation (which also seems like a good idea). We have not been able to find out about any progress on that legislation. From the November AAAS S&T newsletter:

Meanwhile, across the Capitol, Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John Ensign (R-NV) are currently drafting bipartisan legislation to implement a series of policies based on the “National Innovation Initiative” report from the Council on Competitiveness. The legislation, which the senators originally planned to introduce in September, has reportedly been delayed by lack of agreement on its immigration provisions.

I am not certain whether the legislation being worked on includes the fellowships or not (though I would guess that it does).