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Trickle Up Charity

10:51 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion



It is easy to point at the very rich, the 1%, as recipients of unnecessary charity.  Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, offended many when he compared taxpayer complaints about bonuses paid while his company was receiving a federal bailout to “pitchforks and their hangman nooses.”  Today, Yves Smith writes that Jaimie Dimon had a private audience with US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss various prosecution activities about JPMorgan and Jaimie Dimon’s role.  By contrast, consider this item about preparing for jail following a peaceful protest.  The posting has special warnings that it may be nearly impossible to obtain critical medications like insulin once in jail.

Privilege for the rich also occurs at lower income levels.  ABCNew publishes that colleges are using funds from children of poor parents to lower costs for more children of more affluent parents through a “shift from need-based aid to merit-based.”  I doubt that there are many merit-based scholarships for hard-working, deserving students from inner-city Detroit or rural South Dakota.  A recent episode of PBS’s “Frontline” called “Football High” about injuries and pressure to perform told about the son of a very successful businessman.  The family could easily afford to send the son to any college or university.  Yet, the son was deeply eager for a football scholarship.

Leaders in the community for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are concerned about future careers in this area.  Some leaders are wringing their hands or here about scores from the latest SAT college entrances test.  The mathematics and statistics leaders are promoting careers by press release, yet a similar argument based on increasing enrollments asks “Why Haven’t Humanities Ph.D. Programs Collapsed?

US Senator Tammy Baldwin recently held a Google Hangout about “The Next Generation Research Act…to improve opportunities for the next generation of researchers.”  The idea is to help young researchers have a better chance of obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at this difficult time.  Sounds good, doesn’t it!  Maybe it is.  The NIH already instituted programs years ago to enhance research funding opportunities for first-time grant applicants.  First, chances of funding are extremely difficult now from any federal agency even with excellent publication records, so is it fair to lure young researchers into what may be a dead end?  Also, is this funding for “the best and the brightest” going to benefit only the areas of science most likely to benefit corporations?  The STEM and university community is very good at advertising research 1) with expensive equipment 2) that studies processes likely to result in drugs or other patentable products.  I don’t see this glossy advertising for preventive health work in nutrition, social work, or nursing.  Here’s one good example and another of public benefit research.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin is on the senate budget committee and is a strong supporter of austerity for science (with loopholes for certain expensive types of research) and H-1B visas.  US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Patty Murray share her positions on these issues.  Why encourage “The Best and The Brightest” into an austere future career where any rich person can use the “skills gap” argument to undercut salaries?  Even economist Milton Friedman admitted that H-1B visas were an unnecessary subsidy to US corporations (Hedrick Smith, 2012, Who Stole The American Dream?).
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Disinformation Campaign in Progress

11:42 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Remember back when the George W. Bush White House leaked statements about Iraq to the New York Times, and then quoted the same New York Times for White House Press Statements? Maybe the same disinformation is happening right now in regard to high skilled jobs (and H-1B visas in the background).

Binary Art

What future in big data?

Predicting job hiring trends is tricky business. It is also easy to mislead and confuse the reader.  The American Statistical Association recently published a press release on jobs in statistics. There is now a lot of back-and-forth on which degrees have good potential for well paying jobs. This press release argues that a consistent and sizable increase in students pursuing a major in statistics means there are a lot of jobs. I hope you paused at that jump in logic because lots of students does not mean lots of jobs.

Next the press release cites an imposing report from 2011 by an economics firm (The McKinsey Global Institute). This report is not really about jobs; the report is a marketing campaign for “big data,” indicating what it is and how many businesses are interested. Big Data is all that personal stuff aggregated by our healthcare providers, by the National Security Agency (NSA), by marketers who monitor our internet searches and which websites we read. So, this report claims there will be a lot of use of this technology. I wonder who paid for this report and what influence that money had on the outcome.

The statistics press release also cites “A recent CareerBuilder survey” claiming that companies were hiring a lot of people for jobs in Big Data. This is an industry survey. Federal agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsor snapshot surveys for recent BS and MS graduates and long-term studies that follow other graduates for decades. These surveys are generally more reliable than job surveys by industry. I especially like when outside academics like Prof. Norman Matloff and Prof. Paula Stephan analyze these government-sponsored datasets.

There are good reasons to question whether basing decisions on Big Data is worth the enthusiasm. My immediate concern is whether jobs really exist as claimed in this press release. The science and math community has predicted for decades a shortage of scientists, a shortage of women scientists, a shortage of minority scientists and also here. The problem with this press release is no solid data about actual hiring, career longevity, and pay.  It is very easy to encounter bias in these salary surveys. Age discrimination, jobs designed to exclude US citizens, confusion about classroom training vs. job-specific skills, and simple employer greed obscure the issues.

The professional association for electrical engineering and computer science and the professional association for chemists both acknowledge there is no general shortage of trained scientists and express concern over about the need for more foreign researchers during a time of large corporate layoffs.

Everyday, we encounter these disinformation campaigns. It is rare to catch one in development. PRWatch and FAIR specialize in watching aspects of this disinformation. Big money promotes charter schools and high stakes testing, an urgent war in Syria, fear over Obamacare.  Peter G. Peterson promoted fear over the national deficit, and this propaganda may have helped with the skirmish in a couple weeks over the national debt limit. It is not easy to spot the flaws when skilled professionals manufacture the arguments.

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Admitting the Skills Gap Is a Myth

11:35 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

All Washington, DC is consumed now with using the events in Syria to re-enact some combination of “Wag the Dog” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but I prefer to discuss jobs.

I start from the assumption that reasonable investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can contribute to good STEM jobs as well as good jobs and good quality of life throughout the country. The path is not perfect, but “making stuff” from growing food to improving hospital gurneys is a pillar of our economy and our society.  “Making stuff” is a better enterprise for society than pushing paper through creative banking.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science who publish the journal Science have a specialized periodical Science Careers about the job market ( Recent articles present a science job market that is not so rosy as we might hear from universities, colleges, and our leaders in Washington, DC.

After the LHC, the Deluge

We heard lots of interesting news in the past few months about the search for the long-sought Higgs boson, what some called the ‘God Particle.’ The European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, runs the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and produced 327 master’s and Ph.D. theses last year.  “In contrast, the INSPIRE Web site, a database for particle physics, currently lists 124 postdocs worldwide in experimental high-energy physics, the sort of work LHC grads have trained for.” Postdocs are temporary positions of typically 1-3 years that were not required 30 years ago, but are required for new PhDs throughout most sciences now in their career path toward more long-term employment. One of the recent physics PhDs says what might come from any recent STEM graduate at any degree level “I think the senior people, they actually think that if you work very hard, you’ll make it, because they made it.”

The ‘S’ in STEM is Oversold

A report on the employment experience of college graduates in five U.S. states observed that employers are far more selective than we thought.  Some biology graduates are now paid less than English majors, a group that is historically very poorly paid. Chemistry majors make a bit more, but not as much as other STEM graduates such as engineers.

So, how do the professional societies view the situation?

Robert N. Charette writes in IEEE Spectrum, an important news periodical for electrical engineers and computer scientists, “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth: Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.” “Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.”

The Government & Policy Department at Chemical & Engineering News from the American Chemical Society writes “Unemployment among U.S. scientists raises new doubts about the need for more foreign researchers.”

The Mathematical Association of American and the American Statistical Association are engaged in strong advocacy for training more students to pursue “careers” in mathematics and statistics. The American Statistical Association thinks the path to more jobs for statisticians is through Big Data.

The difference between the statements from the IEEE and American Chemical Association vs. the American Statistical Association and Mathematics Association of America is a combination of actual job market analysis compared to senior professionals worrying about the supply of students in their classes and maintaining cheap labor such as graduate students and postdocs. It is interesting that the statisticians who support Big Data (such as market surveillance and Hollywood analytical mistakes tend to view the market for statisticians by looking at the size of their classes instead of studying salaries that haven’t risen in a decade or other measures that better measure how truly desperate are the US corporations that keep chanting they cannot find enough qualified job applicants.

It is interesting to watch the current tragic spectacle about Syria where legislators and the mainstream media desperately ignore the calls and email messages from their constituents that run sometimes 100:1 against a new war in Syria because the public realizes that the discussion about chemical weapons is tragic, but also misdirection. We’ve just spent several months being misdirected about immigration reform because the topic of H-1B visas was carefully excluded from the news, while legitimately sympathetic stories about DREAMers and exploited workers who crossed the Arizona desert are used to distract us from the H-1B payload. It all gets messy. Read the rest of this entry →

Sequestration and Science

7:25 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

NASA Goddard Science Jamboree 20Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote a piece about the effects of sequestration on science in the USA. The article has interviews with leaders of several science research groups that have promising new ideas and technologies. Most of the examples are from basic research in health sciences.

The concerns are real. The examples are real. Yet, this sort of article typically cherry-picks a few examples most likely to result in products. Research is also about better nursing so that patients comply with long-term treatment strategies and will benefit from the shiny new surgical operation. Research is about a health survey to canvas a state with personal contacts to provide better guidance for policy makers. Research is about how to reduce childhood obesity when the main decision-maker is a homeless single mother working at low-wage jobs with irregular schedules needing a car because there is no public transportation to the available employment. Research is about better methods of inspecting bridges to maintain safety; this research itself may be relatively inexpensive so the university has little enthusiasm, but the research could save large amounts of money for repair and planning budgets. The article by Sam Stein is helpful, but only grabs the most shiny toys with the best profit potential.

Paula Stephan wrote How Economics Shapes Science (2012, Harvard University Press) based on her 30 years of studying science funding. One reviewer summarizes an important section:

Perhaps the most interesting story in this story-packed book is the tale of the years 1998-2002, when the NIH budget doubled. This vast influx of funding had many unanticipated and some unproductive outcomes:

  • Success rates for R01 grant applications didn’t rise, and in fact fell significantly by 2009
  • Universities used the funding to justify a building binge, partly to lure prime faculty and partly to create capacity for the anticipated grants
  • Grants grew in size, and absorbed more costs, like graduate student tuitions and other overheads
  • The short-term nature of the doubling, combined with the long-term nature of the resulting grant commitments, created a dearth of money in subsequent years, as funding fell yet remained tied to previous commitments
  • The NIH took monies away from R01 grant-making during the expansion to pursue other, larger initiatives
  • Younger researchers suffered more, as renewing grants did better overall during both the funding boom and the subsequent cuts
  • The number of papers resulting from the doubling of NIH funding remained stubbornly unaffected — as one study put it, “Wherever the funds went, they left no clear scientific record.”

So, where do we go? Democrats want us to blame the Sequester on the Republicans, but budget cuts are a major feature of the budget passed out of the Democratic-led US Senate. The budget committee in the US Senate is led by so-called progressives like US Senators Patty Murray and Tammy Baldwin. Yet their budget makes cuts throughout with no guarantees for traditional Democratic priorities like Social Security and Medicare, or science.

Sam Stein writes:

The problem, Antonsen said, was not just how the lack of funding would impact graybeards like himself, but also the newcomers to the field. Young scientists who had spent 12 years studying for their PhDs would find the climate inhospitable, and future generations would look elsewhere.

“We used to be able to tell people that there was some kind of job security,” he said. “That would be a compensation for not being paid as much. Now, if you are taking a big risk in investing 12 years of your life to learn how to do the science, people will think twice.”

Remember how Senator Patty Murray holds hearings about the impact of budget cuts on ordinary US citizens, but only after championing an austerity budget for President Obama? US Senator Amy Klobuchar held a hearing on long-term unemployment after she introduced a tsunami of H-1B visas for high tech jobs which strongly promotes age discrimination and increases job competition in an already difficult market for scientists. US Senator Tammy Baldwin is their close colleague in all these decisions. H-1B visas are their gift to the science community to hold down wages for junior scientists which were never very high. Holding down wages makes it easier to continue science with little money, but it really doesn’t encourage anyone to pursue a career.

Our leaders in science and business claim a shortage of students entering science degree programs. Sam Stein quotes a researcher in his article.

“I wouldn’t advise people to go into science,” he said. “I think it’s a tough career to follow. It’s not the career that I thought it was, or that it was for me a couple of years ago.”

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