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Business ruined science in this country

These two posts go together:

Engineers See a Path out of Green Card Limbo at the NYTimes

and

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly at In the Pipeline by Derek Lowe

Here’s the bottom line as Derek spells it out:

And that takes us back to the subject of these two posts, on the oft-heard complaints of employers that they just can’t seem to find qualified people any more. To which add, all too often, “. . .not at the salaries we’d prefer to pay them, anyway”. Colin Macilwain, the author of this Nature piece I’m quoting from, seems to agree:

“But the main backing for government intervention in STEM education has come from the business lobby. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a businessman stand up and bemoan the alleged failure of the education system to produce the science and technology ‘skills’ that his company requires, I’d be a very rich man.

 I have always struggled to recognize the picture these detractors paint. I find most recent science graduates to be positively bursting with both technical knowledge and enthusiasm.

If business people want to harness that enthusiasm, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and pay and train newly graduated scientists and engineers properly. It is much easier, of course, for the US National Association of Manufacturers and the British Confederation of British Industry to keep bleating that the state-run school- and university-education systems are ‘failing’.”

This position, which was not my original one on this issue, is not universally loved. (The standard take on this issue, by contrast, has the advantage of both flattering and advancing the interests of employers and educators alike, and it’s thus very politically attractive). I don’t even have much affection for my own position on this, even though I’ve come to think it’s accurate. As I’ve said before, it does feel odd for me, as a scientist, as someone who values education greatly, and as someone who’s broadly pro-immigration, to be making these points. But there they are.

Anyone who thinks that all you need to make  good science is cheap, well educated labor should really give it a whirl sometime.  Let me know how you’re doing after a decade of lab work and half a dozen restructurings.

The idea that we need to import more foreign engineers when American engineers can’t get work here and have to go work in Canada and Japan is just beyond cruel and stupid.

As Colin McIlwain says, the idea that there is a shortage of well educated, technically proficient and experienced American scientists is something the business community conjured up in order to push wages down.  Congress is either willfully ignorant or completely bamboozled if it seriously thinks that we need more foreign STEM graduates.  I recommend that the coastal Senators and Reps take a good look at their states’ unemployment statistics to see what Pharmageddon has done to the R&D industry.  It’s a hemorrhage of good jobs and tax revenue and if they pass this immigration measure, they’re only going to make the problem worse.

Good science is hard work and should be paid accordingly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known scientists who have been here for years and had difficulty getting a Green Card and I have great sympathy for them.  They paid their dues and deserved the card.  But we don’t need more foreign math and science students here until we can clear the backlog of the hundreds of thousands un and underemployed scientists that are struggling to get by since the bonus class decided it didn’t really need research after all.  In any case, they’re smart enough to figure it out.  When low wages make living in the US a losing proposition after 10 years of undergraduate and graduate school, they’ll stop coming here.

They might try France instead.  Here’s an article from the WSJ about how R&D employees got the aid of the French government on its side to keep the research facilities open when the Bonus Class at Sanofi tried to shut them down.  The secret?  UNIONS.

Want to know where the next great discoveries are going to come from?  Europe.

If American STEM workers don’t start fighting back, we all lose:

Still busy doing stuff work and house related.  It’s perfect gardening weather here in Pittsburgh.  I’m having a couple of cubic yards of mulch and top soil mix dropped off here later and I have a ton of weeding to do.  Now, where are my secateurs?

The foreign STEM worker’s revenge

Note: Corrente is having an end-of-year fundraiser!  Check it out.  They are some really decent people over at Corrente including Lambert, DCBlogger, Letsgetitdone and CoyoteCreek.  There are some people who make me think, “bloggers, you can’t live without them and you can’t give them a wedgie.”.  But that’s all good, right?  How much fun would blogging be if it was all just one big echo chamber and no one disagreed or raised their voices?  It would be like spending eternity with a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  So, keep your blogosphere JW free and contribute to Corrente today!

*********************************************

Avedon Carol posted this today:

Congress Betrays The U.S. STEM Worker Once Again: “The House of Representatives is out to destroy the American Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Professional. Republicans passed H.R. 6429 with the oxymoron title, STEM Jobs Act of 2012. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and this bill gives 55,000 foreigners a year who graduate from an American university with a Masters or PhD in these fields an employment sponsored green card. ” They’d rather have guest workers rather than Americans in jobs.

Avedon, thank you so much for being one of the first bloggers on the left who even acknowledges that there are about 100,000 unemployed, highly trained STEM professionals who are out of work right now.  I have been trying to get through to some of thick skulls on our side of the aisle for almost 4 years now and they have either been in denial or lifted their snooty liberal noses in the air because they don’t like what we do for a living, i.e. save their asses with our research.

But it’s not the Green Card holders I’m worried about.  It’s the people who come here on HIB visas who can only work here as long as their companies sponsor them.  I have known people who worked in research for years who couldn’t get a green card.  Once their companies laid them off, they had to go back to their country of origin even if they had settled down and bought houses and had excellent work records.  Even *with* a green card, a researcher is at risk of being sent home if the green card is narrowly restricted.  For example, a green card holder might be able to get one to work only in the particular position for which they were hired.  If their company lays them off, they have to find a similar position or they can’t work in this country. They can’t just become a greeter at Walmart. If they can’t find an almost identical job within a certain period of time, they have to start the application process all over again, which means going back home, going on parole, all kinds of unpleasant and economically disastrous things.

By the way, here is a word of warning to the visa holders out there who applied for a green card years ago but whose company bureaucracy seems to be sitting on the application.  If you can’t get them to move on your application it’s probably because the company isn’t planning to keep your site open.  But they can’t come right out and say that because that might induce panic at the site.  So, instead, your application sits in no-man’s land.  They’re planning to milk you for all you’re worth and then lay you off.  What happens to you after that is YOUR problem.  Get your affairs in order and don’t buy that house.

I don’t know whether Congress is going to fix this.  You’re absolutely right that we don’t need to further cripple the ability of American STEM workers to find jobs. Right now, there isn’t a shortage.  Nope, not even a little bit.  We are fairly bursting at the seams with over educated, technically proficient STEM professionals who are all dressed up with no place to go.  The companies whine about a skills gap that is non-existent.  What I and my fellow unemployed STEM professionals have found is that these companies want a person straight out of school with 25 years of experience.  In other words, they desperately need experienced people but they have no intention of paying for it.  So, they are assuming that cheap foreign grad students will be able to pick up the slack and if it doesn’t work out, well, it’s only a green card. Let them try to find work at another company.  That will keep them from getting notions of dignity above their station.  Right?  You know I am.

But here’s the thing, Avedon.  I know many, many foreign researchers who come here, get a Green Card and as quickly as possible, convert that to citizenship, which is how it should work.  We should welcome the people who intend to stay.  Then, they become ferocious tiger parents and their kids graduate at the top of their classes.  But those kids are just as likely to go compete for jobs – on Wall Street.

Yep.  In fact, those Chinese, Indian and Russian graduate students in molecular biology and physics could be the brand new recruits for Goldman Sachs.  It’s not unheard of.  I know several people who decided that research was unrewarding and economically unstable.  No one appreciates what we do. They decided to leave science to get into hedge funds.  And their kids are going to go where the money is. I already know many Asian parents who are steering their children in that direction. The “Jahb creators” might think of them stereotypically as hard working, no drama Chinese (they greatly underestimate them) but they are not naive pushovers.

And why shouldn’t Lloyd Blankfein replace his little group of overpaid WASPs to work the front office when he’ll have more than enough brilliant, aggressive recruits who not only speak perfectly unaccented English but a fair bit of Mandarin too?  Talk about asymmetric information, you have no idea how much you’re missing until you’re surrounded by the Chinese underground every day.

So, while I’m not happy about this bill, because the premise upon which it is built, that we need more STEM workers, is absolutely not true.  But if they’re coming, I’d rather give them a green card with zero restrictions than a visa.  And then, I’m just going to sit back and watch them take over the world.

Bwahahahahahahhhhhh!

As for the Congresspeople and Senators who voted for this stupid bill that will keep many Americans, including naturalized Asian American researchers, out of work permanently, I think we STEM workers should compile a list of names.  Maybe some of us should run against you or at least point our fingers in your direction and proclaim loudly to everyone we know and our children that you put us out of work and killed American science by giving in to the greedy lobbyists who have no appreciation for what it means to do actual research.

Now, can we talk about who clueless twit Marcia Angell is working for?

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