Americans don’t know science and as I enter the last quarter of my life I don’t care. I tried to fight the battle for years, starting long ago, and lost.
It’s not entirely the fault of the citizenry or education. It’s because, quite frequently, the American economy and system didn’t actually want a lot of scientists, despite all the propaganda to the opposite you’ve heard through the decades.
I graduated from Albright College in Reading in ’74 with a B.S. in biochemistry, a very new profession. I easily sent out a hundred resumes. I got three interviews, none of them serious. The rest of it came back with the famous line, “our current needs are not commensurate with your [fill in the blank].”
Commensurate was the big word then.
So, a bachelor’s isn’t worth much in science and the country was in a recession.
I went on to grad school at Lehigh and finished a Ph.D. program in good standing. I even published original research that mattered, on a pathogen, a species of flesh-eating bacteria, that’s notoriously well known today. The work was well ahead of its time, what pure science is supposed to be.
Upon graduation I sent out another bushel basket of resumes, now retitled, curriculum vitae.
I had one interview, just as lousy as the three when I was at Albright.
It was at Merck, if my memory holds, and before I gave the customary seminar the person who was my point of contact, a man in his sixties, now probably dead, someone who had a good laugh over the idea of a microbial chemist from Lehigh in Bethlehem doing research on an organism from the ocean. If I’d been a few years older I would’ve walked and skipped the rest of the day at the place entirely.
I was eventually able to get a part-time job teaching substitute chemistry at Pine Grove High School. The full-time instructor was out on leave. He was a wood shop teacher, actually. And that did not last because it was concluded I would damage his credibility with students, as someone with a Ph.D. in the subject, if I was allowed to continue teaching it until he returned. Giving students the best wasn’t really on the menu. It never is.
I was moved to the middle school where I was permitted to substitute as an algebra teacher for a couple weeks.
I eventually took a post-doctoral position at the Penn State School of Medicine at Hershey in the Dept. of Biological Chemistry. I published a little and it lasted for about three years, furnishing a poverty level stipend, until grant money ran out. The man I worked for suggested I continue doing the lab research pro bono until I published more.
I actually took his advice for a month until one day I just had had enough and left. By that time, everyone, a lab assistant, a student intern, and a grad student working on his doctorate (I wrote recommendations for the latter two), had also abandoned the lab. When I departed it was just another empty room.
Going back to live in the Lehigh Valley I was able to teach one semester of introductory microbiology lab to students in the mortuary/funeral home track at Northampton Community College. When that ended, (you should have seen the student reviews that went into my record, one young lady gave me bad marks for having boring clothes) the only thing I was able to get was tutoring a high school student who was doing poorly in chemistry.
I remember his father saying, “Times must be pretty hard when someone like you can only find work doing this.”
Next I looked into going back to school to add an education credential.
I had been teaching a lab course in microbiology at Northampton Community College in period of around ‘89-91, not long after leaving Lehigh University. It was suggested to me, by an old Lehigh advisor, that I might pick up an educational certification at Moravian College in Bethlehem. So I inquired and was given a list of courses I would have to take. I had a Ph.D. in chemistry from across town, and was told I would have to take introductory microbiology, a course I had been teaching, as well as other basic chemistry courses, which I also had taught as part of paying the freight for the doctorate.
I already had three degrees in chemistry and you can only imagine how shocking and infuriating it was to hear, as a young person who had recently graduated with the highest qualification one could get in chemistry, that one would have to take beginner’s courses again.
I asked the benighted woman who was talking with me, surely this could not be true, that the school would not honor any degreed credit from other very well known places. She just froze up and said I’d have to take the things again.
Maybe she was incompetent or crazy or something was really wrong that day. It brought everything to a bad halt. There was no point in having a conversation or to make plans on continuing education.
After that I just didn’t give a shit. You can only take so much nonsensical crap and rejection letters explaining in a sentence how your skills are or were not commensurate with the needs of the employer.
This was my conclusion:
Schools and businesses stopped honoring any type of credentials and experience when and wherever it was convenient, which was usually when you walked in their door …
American business and schooling has made it their business to just deny people what they have learned as part of a racket to force many out of the workforce. It is a convenience, one to push desperate people into spending more and more money on “retraining.” Anything that will discredit labor and ability is thrown at you.
Another feature of the American scientific establishment that took over while I was in my development years was the settling in of the system in which newly graduated doctorates were side-tracked into teaching undergraduate science courses as second-class citizens. Tenured professors were, in this burgeoning system, freed to perform glorious research while a poorly paid but highly trained workforce with no benefits and no job security was retained to teach undergraduate students.
As higher education priced itself more and more out of reach of average Americans (unless they were willing to incur heavy debt burdens upon graduation), it worked to guarantee there really wasn’t much of a demand for scientists. Unless they wanted to spend a lot of time, perhaps all their careers, working as second and third class citizens in the academic community.
Americans are enthusiastic about the promise of science but lack basic knowledge of it, with one in four unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun, said a poll out Friday.
The survey included more than 2,200 people in the United States and was conducted by the National Science Foundation.
Nine questions about physical and biological science were on the quiz, and the average score — 6.5 correct — was barely a passing grade.
Just 74 percent of respondents knew that the Earth revolved around the Sun, according to the results released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.
Fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals.
The result of the survey, which is conducted every two years, will be included in a National Science Foundation report to President Barack Obama and US lawmakers.
The Culture of Lickspittle gets what it deserves.
Americans are “enthusiastic” about science? I call bullshit.
That’s one of those things you can expect people to say when asked because they feel it’s what they ought to sound like as a proper person in public. Indifferent to science would have been a more believable result.
And such results will be included in a “a report” to “US lawmakers,” half or maybe more who believe global warming is a hoax and don’t believe in the theory of evolution?
I had nothing to do with this sorry mess. Don’t blame me. I cared once. Now I don’t.
If you’d gone through it you wouldn’t either.
Note: I am sure my experience was not that unique. Nationally, I’m betting the system simply rejected a lot of people in similar ways.
So maybe ya think blowtorch-strength cynicism isn’t warranted?
This is one answer. Really.