Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Are You Loosing Your Edge?

Two weeks late I finally wrote the referee report I mentioned previously. For a change, it was a manuscript written in understandable English and the report was a very positive (though the paper was extremely boring). While doing so, I found the letter I wrote to the TIME article "Are we loosing our edge?", which I mentioned in a previous post. In this article, the necessity of Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative was emphasized. Though I believe that there is lots of stuff going wrong in science (not only in the US), the whole article is pretty short sighted.

Anyway, here is the letter:

    One of the most attractive factor for me to come to the US for research was that my work would be appreciated. People in the US have a genuine interest and pride in their national research programs. The flip side of this is a lacking ability for self-criticism which severely worsens when funding drops. Who points out own shortcomings when fearing to loose financial support? Instead, the own achievements are overemphasized, which then misleads future decisions on funding.

    I had to experience that the tolerance and open-mindedness foreign scientists are welcomed with is contrasted by an sometimes unbelievable arrogance and ignorance for the achievements of other countries. It surprises me every day anew that most US citizens really believe their "standard of living is far higher than that of any other nation". What the US needs is certainly not more competitiveness! What it needs is to acknowledge that there is intelligent life outside the US. What it needs is worldwide cooperation, in a world where progress is made most efficiently by exchanging - and not buying - knowledge and people. You conveniently forget to mention that the www, as we use it today, was invented by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, and 'went public' at CERN, an international research organization in high energy physics, located in Geneva, Switzerland.


For those who did not read the article, the latter remark referred to a listing of innovations by US scientists, among other the internet


    Internet:

    After the Soviet Union beat the U.S. into space with the launch of Sputnik I, the first satellite, in 1957, the Department of Defense created the Advanced Research Projects Agency to kick-start innovation. It named Joseph Licklider to find ways to protec the U.S. against a space-based nuclear attack, and he believed a communucations network was key to those efforts. The first Net went live in Oct. 1969 with the University of California, Los Angeles, talking to the Stanford Research Institute. In 1990 the National Science Foundation expanded the system connecting university networks. It reached the public in 1992.


Had that been the whole story, you would not be reading this blog right now.

4 comments:

Eurogirl said...

Hello Bee,

I could not agree more with what you said and really hope that the right people will read your letter and your blog.

Your post summarizes all the various impressions I had here in the US so far - and I couldn't really point out what was bothering me in such clarity.

This openmindedness and on the same time with the ignorance completely confuses me and I can't really understand how this came about. I guess I can't really imagine that if this were really a true openmindedness, that there would be such a big ignorance at the same time. I'm utterly confused.

Bee said...

Hey Eurogirl,

well, I have also lots of nice things to say about the US. Maybe I should write about that at some point. I guess, its typically German to always complain ;-)


However, what really upsets me is that most of the people are completely unaware of their arrogance.

E.g. I was speaking to some postdoc (Princeton) lately who was here for a visit. He asked me where I made my PhD (Frankfurt?!?) and told me that the education in Europe is not as good as in the US.

Turned out, he had never even been in Europe.

It's a completely ridiculous statement anyway. As in the US, there are good and not so good places. Just because you have never heard of them, doesn't mean the people are stupid. And how many people in Europe know what quality the physics department, at, say, the University of Minnesota has?

Eurogirl said...

Hi Bee,

well, allways complaining is one thing - but thinking everything is just great is not the right choice either I guess ;-)

I think Europeans are also quite ignorant. Supposedly you asked someone in Germany if there are any good Universities in India.

Okay, Europeans are aware of the fact that there are also well educated people in North America - but beyond that - are we really that different?

The only bonus we have is the knowledge that there is at least one subcontinent that has good education. And therefore it might not seem that absurd that it could be possible in other parts of the world as well.

Bee said...

Hi Eurogirl,

nope, you ask me, Europe is far worse than the US, at least concerning the scientific research, and the flexibility to try something new. After all, there is a reason why I went to the US.

Anyway, as you might now, I am not going back to Europe either. I talked to Giorgio at the SQM, and asked him "How is life in Canada". His answer:"Take the better part of Europe, plus the better part of the US, then subtract the temperature."

At least I will have something left to complain about ;-)