Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Science and the Economic Crisis

The previously mentioned conference “The Economic Crisis and its Implications for The Science of Economics,” to take place at PI May 1-4, meanwhile has a list of invited speakers to offer. It includes Nouriel Roubini, a Prof. for Economics at NYU, who you might know from his blog, Brian Arthur from the Santa Fe Institute and PARC, and Eric Weinstein who smiles at you from a photo in Dennis Overbye's recent NYT article “They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street.”

For a somewhat different take on the economic crisis and its implications for science: The NYT recently featured an article “Doctoral Candidates Anticipate Hard Times” and reported

“Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.”

The Globe and Mail today offers a similarly depressing piece “Black days for those dreaming of the ivory tower - Graduate students hoping for tenure-track positions face bleak prospects as universities cut budgets and freeze hiring” which cites Mr. Burgoyne, president of McGill's postgraduate student society with saying “People are very worried. People are scared. Jobs, they are just disappearing.”

Meanwhile, the APS is conducting a survey How is the economic downturn affecting your organization?, that I encourage you to fill out if you are a physicist presently working in the USA.


  1. I believe the job-vacancy shortage at many universities in the west is driven by demographics, not economics. In Canada for example, universities expanded rapidly in the 1960s, which meant that many faculty members were roughly the same age throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. This meant very few retirements and very little room for new blood - until this cohort retired en masse around 2000. I was at McMaster University for about five years in the early 1990s and not one new faculty member was hired. But then the hiring floodgates opened and now I don't recognize half of the physics faculty. I'm guessing that things are going to be tough for Canadian academics until about 2035!

    Hamish Johnston

  2. Hi Hamish,

    You are probably right with this, yet I would say also that Canada hasn’t kept pace in terms of the educational infrastructure in regards to our rise in population. I also think if one wants to pursue academia, that it should also be considered that one must export themselves to places that are more in need of academics, even though the remuneration and life style might not be what was anticipated. For that matter I feel that as part of the plan as say initiatives like the Bill Gates foundation they should help fund some of this along with funds from the richer nations. Bill Gates philosophy is if you give someone a fish they eat for a day, yet if you teach them to fish they eat for a lifetime. I acknowledge as a wise plan, yet it can’t be enacted without the teachers.



  3. The Dow-Jones fell 5000 points. Who - economists, academics, soothsayers, Wall Street hucksters - made a fortune? Those skimming vigorish! Centralized process always fubars product, and for good reason.

    Education is business. Tuition, fees, grants are income. Students are process fluid, young faculty are slaves. Nobody cares about admission (unless it plays sports) or graduation: "Everybody goes to college!" When "all the market will bear" hits bad times, goo and dribble leak away. Refill the tanks afterward.

    Rather than foster brilliance we allocate for its suppression. The Severely Gifted are discarded for the diverse. Young science faculty are insubordination personified. Starve them for funding, break their wills carrot and sticks. Do you believe what you see or what you are told?

  4. @Uncle Al - You're absolutely right, education is nothing but business these days. Nobody cares about the quality but how to make more money. I wish the educational system would be free like in some European countries, it seems to be working fine for them. Plus, no need to worry about some people not being able to afford college.

    Take care, Jay

  5. Hi Hamish,

    It does of course have a demographic component, and there are always annual fluctuations, thus I am not really sure it is presently possible to pin down what the reason is for this job shortage. The real problem I think actually has very little to do with the financial crisis but just generally with the available jobs at universities. There are usually plenty of opportunities during the PhD time, and shortly thereafter, but the longer one stays the fewer positions there are. This is worse in some fields than in others, physics is particularly bad. This is convenient in some ways because of the overabundance of young people that can be easily and cheaply used for projects here and there, but altogether is a situation that damages scientific progress in the long run.

    Either way, a different issue that I've been wondering about is whether all of these layoffs that were reported in the newspapers during the last months were actually necessary or whether the global financial mess was used as an excuse by some companies to get rid of people. Best,


  6. Information is the key?

    Some might understand the use of the word "master" in it's proper relation to the endocrinology.

    Of course the article is open to opinion for correction, and of course, was in sighted by the mechanics of derivatives and relationship of the conference Bee mentions.

    I do not like the word Golem but "robotic" yes this is more true to the meaning.

    We are all armchair in one form or another.:)


  7. Hi Bee,

    “Either way, a different issue that I've been wondering about is whether all of these layoffs that were reported in the newspapers during the last months were actually necessary or whether the global financial mess was used as an excuse by some companies to get rid of people.”

    Well I think a lot of entities within these past few months have seen this as an opportunity, not just to lay people off yet, use the threat of it as leverage to gain a general advantage. This of course is totally acceptable in what is known as the “free” market system. I’ve long wondered how Charles Darwiin would have thought about his discovery being used as the scientific basis to justify economic policy, especially in the way it’s presently interpreted, which is simply survival of the fittest, rather then part of the process by which an organism adapts to better suit its environment. It has long been evident to me that all many understand is what they perceive as being the sum total of the process, while totally ignoring the objective. That is I would ask if this process is preparing the organism to better suit its environment or rather that this organism has by means of will ignored the objective and as such be brought to fail?



  8. University of Michigan "Diversity Matters": 82 programs easing the pain of genetic, developmental, and behavioral trash; drug addicts, reproductive warriors, religious hind gut fermenters, Enviro-whiner Luddites; the stupid, the pathetic, and the Officially Sad. VICTIMS! every one of them.

    Number of U/M programs for Gifted matriculants: one (not included in the following list),


    Productive units are contracted or terminated outright as vermin ride in ever more gaudy golden palanquins. It is a rush to failure.

  9. Even scientist can be called a "mere foot soldier for an ideal," who is governed by a "thought process." What is your take on your scientific endeavour as a scientist and a robotic culture?

    So I look at information supplied by Bee which presents a point of view. I also present a method in which to control a computer. QUANTUM CHLOROPHYLL, yet, I would say this does not give a machine dominance over a truly empowered thinking human being?:)

    I would like to think that the moral questions that extended to a scientist and his ingenuity would have gone farther so as to provide a perspective that would have helped Einstein to counter any movement that propelled his caused for peace" against a tyranny which could have been debated ad provided other idea to think about, and an appropriate design implemented to thwart that agressive stance.

    I have updated article in link above, so as to give a much deeper understanding of the question a scientist may have morally to their convictions of invention and computerized version of what society shall be governed by?

    I do not belong to any group other then a "free thinker" and the one here that exchanges tidbits of information.


  10. Uncle Al:
    Amazing insights. You're 'out of the box'. Appreciate much.

  11. Just so you know what is happening at PI is very real and not some figment of somebodies imagination.

    The Crash Test Solution-Physicists try to predict Economy

    A small but growing cadre of scientists are arguing that our current crisis was in fact predictable and that the technology exists to make sure that it won’t happen again. The problem may be that we’ve used only economists to try to solve our economic predicaments. Instead, the solution may be found by physicists and other scientists accustomed to studying complex systems.

    To anticipate the next crisis and find our way out of this one, we may have to cast off economic and financial dogma and adopt ideas inspired by physics and other natural sciences, disciplines in which the notion of unstable and unpredictable systems is nothing new. For instance, the technology now exists to go beyond economics to build a massive, complete computer model of the modern economy, from the corner store to the city bank and the Federal Reserve.

    I mean if you were smart enough and you recognized what was inherent in the pursuit of science to emulate the perfect human being, what effect would this have on designs that a Kennedy may have come to realize?

    The question then becomes who is the designer.

    This is a moral question about what creation would most certainly rise to any science mind to ask , while it has been removed from any subjective state, what value would you place by "giving up to a more perfect model" that is impassioned and fair to all?

    While this is not a solution it is a question one might ask not to provoke fear or a resistance of a kind, but to challenge the age ole design of science to develop the perfect model. More arm chair economists or real solutions?



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