02.17.14

Americans don’t know science: Don’t blame me

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 5:03 pm by George Smith

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 related the experience here:

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.

So Americans are fools — how astonishing — when it comes to science:

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?

Wow.

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.

3 Comments

  1. Tom Paterson said,

    February 18, 2014 at 10:57 am

    http://www.marco-learningsystems.com/pages/sawyer/modmath.htm

  2. Ted Jr. said,

    February 18, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    When cynicism is cultured as a result of experience, then it is healthy.

    Regardless of circumstances it is better to be healthy than unhealthy.

    I had a friend who did post grad work for at least 8 years because he
    couldn’t find anything in his field. He finally ended up as a methodist
    minister. It was just a job to him, a way to make a living. Can’t say
    I blame him, but can’t say I credit him either.

  3. George Smith said,

    February 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I had a friend who did post grad work for at least 8 years because he
    couldn’t find anything in his field.

    Another reader wrote privately that, as noted, this experience has been widely shared. Years ago the National Science Foundation issued a report that warned that importing a glut of foreign grad students in the sciences would result in a glut and hurt the domestic labor force. It did.

    The reader also pointed to academic Norman Matloff at UC Davis and his fight against the constant meme promoting immigrant work visas for computer programmers.

    https://www.google.com/#q=norman+matloff+science

    He rather convincingly argues regularly that this has really hurt American computer programmers. It surely looks like predatory practice by US corporations to keep labor costs undeservedly low. While much of the search results shows his opinion with regards to computer programming jobs it can be extended to general research science work, too.

    I’m going to excerpt from James Galbraith’s “The Predator State” for something germane here. He writes on the “small beer” of early education in improving the lives and opportunities for people, something you always see Democrats, and Obama, latch onto. In his book, which is now years old, he uses the example of a pre-school education experiment in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

    “Suppose every child in Michigan, beginning 42 years ago, had enjoyed the same beneficial preschool experience as the fortunate 60 or so in the Ypsilanti study. Suppose further that the series of economic catastrophes visited on Michigan — and especially on its African American labor force — had been exactly the same, the rising challenge of Japanese competition in the automobile industry in the 1970s, the near collapse of the Chrysler Corporation in 1979, the devastating Rust Belt recessions of the early 80s …
    Under those conditions what would the Ypsilanti study, capturing a fair sample of preschoolers have shown? The answer is clear: economic outcomes for the African American community would have been exactly what they actually were. But now every job, every case of joblessness, and every prison cell would be filled by someone who went through preschool. Thus the perfect match of liberal puff and conservative rule: better-educated people, with no more hope for the future than they would have without the education … Life experiences are not governed by what happens at the age of four; even the best preschool experience is likely to be washed out by recession, depression, unemployment, and war.”

    I grew up where preschool/kindergarten was common. Today, the economy there is terrible.

    Galbraith was dealing with argument for preschool. But in its explanation of conditions as an overwhelming force, you can say a lot about the American economy.

    You have this national propaganda that science, particularly a science education, means greater opportunity and an advancing nation. And this goes hand in hand with how so many American students do allegedly poorly in math and science versus international competitors.

    And I’ve always taken this to be mostly bull. There were and are plenty of Americans with good science educations. The economy did not create opportunity for many of them; there weren’t enough places to go.
    This was convenient for those who wished to extend postdoctoral very-low-pay work out until someone was entering their mid-30s. I had an acquaintance who did post-doc positions for 12 years. Twelve years! What then is the point of a doctorate? You’ve spent more time in poverty level labor in science than you spent in your entire time in college and grad school.

    Of course, I got my science education in one of those cities that went through “the devastating Rust Belt recessions of the early 80s.”

    So the last time I looked, the region was trying to build a professional hockey rink.

    From the 40 Year Slump post
    http://dickdestiny.com/blog1/?p=16936

    “Did you know that downtown Allentown is changing? A hockey arena is being built, with buildings around it for offices and restaurants. Leases are being signed. I just can’t picture it, but who knows, it just might work.”