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Sallie Krawcheck will bring Wall Street work culture to the SEC

Sallie Krawcheck of Bank of America, being shopped around DC for head of the SEC

Sallie Krawcheck of Bank of America, being shopped around DC for head of the SEC

Yesterday, I read a post by DDay on Firedoglake about how the totally uneccessary “fiscal cliff” talks are going and I felt a tiny, teensy ember of hopefulness.  But it was quickly dashed when I read in the NYTimes about how the Obama administration is considering Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck for the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Never turn your back on the Obama administration or its backers.

It’s not just the fact that Krawcheck is a Wall Street executive who will be regulating one of the worst bunch of cheaters, liars and thieves in the history of the world. It’s more about the other things she brings to the table that the movers and shakers think are important.  For example, she is “known for her independent streak and consumer advocacy efforts”.  I don’t know what that means and the New York Times does not go into details.  Does her independence extend to not calling consumers of Wall Street products “muppets”?  I guess that would be a step in the right direction.  But something about the vagueness of this sentence reminds me of the slick, tailored dude from the major 401K management firm who I will not name who came to our site to describe all the new financial products they were rolling out.  He gave his presentation to a bunch of sciencey types but the numbers on the brochures were all based on estimates of salaries and 401K balances of the executives up the street.  Then he went on to say that these were our choices, there are no guarantees we’ll make any money from any of them, but, hey, where’re you going to go?  There’s not going to be any Social Security.  (Oh, yes, he really did say that.  I kept wondering where he was getting his information in 2009)

So, that’s the first thing that bothers me.  Making the financial products easier to understand and transparent for the consumer doesn’t get rid of their risks.  It doesn’t give you something solid and guaranteed to fall back on like Social Security.  And if everyone on Wall Street is offering products where the House is guaranteed to win no matter what but where consumers could lose everything they have because there are no company pensions anymore and we’re all shoved into 401Ks against our better judgements, then consumer advocacy means very little.  I don’t like the premise to start with that we all have to be playing at the global craps table.  Some of us want other, more secure, boring, plodding choices.  No, we really don’t care if we never own our own yacht.

But it’s more than that.  It’s Krawcheck’s crappy attitude towards work that is characteristic of Wall Street culture as described by anthropologist  Karen Ho in her book Liquidated, An Ethnography of Wall Street.  Here’s what Krawcheck had to say:

One [LinkdIn] recent dispatch, titled “What I Learned When I Got Fired (The First Time),” offered career guidance from her own rocky periods.

“If you haven’t been fired at least once, you’re not trying hard enough,” she wrote. “As the pace of change in business increases, the chances of having a placid career are receding. And if in this period of rapid change, you’re not making some notable mistakes along the way, you’re certainly not taking enough business and career chances.”

This is where she becomes completely unacceptable.  Here’s the problem: she acts like a “placid career” is a bad thing and a thing of the past.  (How does she know that?? What information does she have that we don’t? What schemes have the bankers been up to?)  Well, it might be a bad thing for people who suffer from ADHD and pernicious greed well into their adulthoods but to the rest of us out here, our placid careers are what makes us consumers in the first place.  You can’t buy anything if you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from.  I have seen this attitude creep into the pharmaceutical research industry and ruin it.  Around 2000, many of the pharmas started employing Jack Welch management and rewards systems on the research community.  But Welch was trying to motivate salesmen.  His method doesn’t work in science.  Research people are about as far away from sales people in temperament as it is possible to get.  But suddenly, we were all supposed to act like salesmen, become super competitive and cutthroat and be prepared to lose our jobs at any moment.  You can’t do science under those circumstances.  Research takes continuity and patience and collaboration.

I’m pretty sure that science is not the only industry that doesn’t adapt well to the Wall Street work style where everyone is ready at any moment to be laid off.  It’s not practical for hundreds of millions of Americans to become instant precariats.  For one thing, many Americans live paycheck to paycheck.  Challenging the status quo and getting fired isn’t an option for them, much less getting things wrong just for the sake of shaking things up.  For another, you can’t plan for the future if you’re always worried about your present.  It’s impossible to put down roots, buy a house or even rent one, purchase a new car or computer.  You can’t have a family.  Well, you *could* have one but you’d better be prepared to not see them.  That’s what has happened to a lot of ex-pharma people.  Their families live in one state while they work in another. Think of South African diamond miners in Soweto.  And no job is secure for very long, which makes relocation a constant problem.

That’s going to have a downstream effect on homeownership, the auto industry, consumer goods.  Has it ever occurred to people on Wall Street and the people from Wall Street who are now in the upper echelons of the Obama administration that this kind of attitude towards work may be prolonging the recession??

Oh, but Wall Street people will argue that it’s the survival of the smartest.  But the science researchers out here who have lost our jobs know this is bullshit.  What Wall Street values is status, not intelligence.  Spend a few months in a lab trying to discover something that no one has ever done before.  That’s intelligence.  Or do brain surgery or rocket science or green energy science.  Or try plumbing, or modern architecture with new materials.  Or fixing some young banker hotshot’s car.  There are many different professions that require intelligence.  Computational chemists have an inkling of what Wall Street professionals do because we work with complex mathematical models all the time.  Wall Street professionals *can* be replaced- easily.  It’s not so easy to replace someone who can interpret a new protein structure.  That takes practice.

And that’s another thing that flies out of the window in Krawcheck’s world.  In an environment where you can be fired for being bold and the safety net is weak to non-existent, no one is bold.  And with each firing, there’s less time to rehearse your skills.  You’re never on the job long enough to learn anything with proficiency.  There’s some study that says that to become truly proficient in an area, you need to have spent 10,000 hours practicing it.  In Krawcheck’s world, no one gets nearly that much time before the bean counters decide to subtract positions from the bottom line.  It’s even worse than that.  During Pharmageddon, it was the salesmen in the labs who survived the job cuts, not the people who actually did the work.  And there were plenty of people with excellent performance evaluations, merit awards and inventors of billion dollar block buster drugs who were let go.  One thing we science geeks have learned from Pharmageddon is that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how long you work, how dedicated you are to your job or any other factor that you’ve been told is crucial to your employment.  You are expendable whenever the executives need your salary to pay a shareholder or buy a new company.  The relationship between effort and reward becomes permanently broken and no amount of mean spirited insistence from the conservative Tea Party whip kissers will change that.  Kissing the whip doesn’t do you any good any more, no matter what level of education or profession you have achieved.

So, to recap, Wall Street’s idyllic work environment would result in more economic uncertainty, more stress on families, less consumer spending, less long term thinking, less expertise for businesses and a poorer, more demoralized, less motivated workforce.  It sounds like something straight out of Central America circa 1980.

It’s hard to believe that someone like Sallie Krawcheck or anyone with her attitude towards work, would seriously be considered for any governmental position during this Little Depression that was caused by so much short term thinking.  I hope that the New York Times is just trying to be provocative.  Consider me provoked.

The problem with prospective appointments like Krawcheck’s to the SEC, like Tim Geithner’s to the Treasury department, is that they bring with them a moral attitude and values system towards work and reward that is dangerous to the average American.

But the morality and values starts at the top.  I doubt that Krawcheck and Geithner would even be considered by a president who was thinking about the long term interests of the average American.  And that’s what worries me and snuffs out that little teensy ember of hope.  Obama’s actions have to match his rhetoric and just by considering someone like Krawcheck or anyone like her, the actions and rhetoric will be miles apart.

Trust no one.

Update: In a followup post at the NYTimes titled Dropping the Ball on Financial Regulation, Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario has similar misgivings about the Obama administrations prospective appointments, particularly with respect to Sallie Krawcheck to the SEC.

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Wednesday: Melange

A mixture of things from around the web:

1.) Charles Pierce writes that Obama’s press conference yesterday featuring Slutgate and contraception left him uneasy.  In Standing Up for Sex, Pierce writes:

Not a simple, mumbling word about the right to decent health-care, let alone the right to choose. Given a golden opportunity to say flatly that he and his administration were foursquare behind these rights, he gave the whole thing a pass. I’m sure he’s got poll numbers that tell him not to say “abortion” in public but, damn, this was disappointing.

This is what I mean when I say that this issue can only be a political winner for the Democrats if they go out and make it one. How hard would it have been for him to say, “Look, it’s probably not a good time in history to be using the war metaphor, but there’s no question that the Republican party is a vehicle in an organized campaigh to roll back women’s rights in the most personal sphere of their lives, and, as long as I’m president, that won’t happen.”?

I’m glad he called Sandra Fluke. I just wish he’d show that he appreciates the incredible political gift she gave him.

Obama thinks his party affiliation speaks for itself and we should read into his statements what his real thoughts and intentions are.  And this worked so well in 2008.  Everyone thought he was a liberal even though he didn’t embrace liberal or even Democratic or New Deal principles.  Everyone thought he was an anti-war candidate even though this was all premised upon what he *might* have done had he actually been present at the IWR vote.  Everyone thought he was a feminist, which flew in the face of hard evidence that we watched and heard with our very own senses.  In the past four years, he has shown himself to be none of the things he was assumed to be so, and, as far as I’m concerned, we should not assume or presume that he is onboard with sex being guilt free for adult women.  More likely, he has no natural empathy for women in this regard so he’s more inclined to do what’s good for him politically and not for women socially.  And right now, he thinks it is good for him politically to reach out to evangelicals and the women’s vote will just flock to him because women are assuming he is not as bad as the Republicans.

I think he is just as bad, if not worse, because his attitude encourages complacency.  It will all be taken care of, don’t you worry.  A year from now, women are going to be kicking themselves for not being more demanding of him.  You’re only going to get a commitment from him under duress and until you hear him choke it out in a high squeaky voice, don’t assume anything.

2.) Speaking of beliefs that may or may not have any basis in fact, have you checked out the Richard Dawkins Belief Scale?  Unlike women’s rights, you don’t have to commit to a god or atheism.  It’s perfectly Ok to land somewhere along the scale.  I’m a 5.78324.  Some people might round that up.  Here it is:

  1. Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
  2. De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
  3. Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
  4. Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
  5. Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
  6. De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
  7. Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

Assuming that there are not as many 1’s out there as the Beanie Boys would have you think, why should we allow the 1’s to run the country based on judeo-christian biblical principles?

3.) More on belief.  Pat Robertson may have exceeded his stupidity quota.  When asked on the 700 Club about why God kills people with tornados, he had this to say:

There ya’ go, tornado victims.  Let this be a lesson to you.  Don’t buy a farm in the middle of tornado alley.  Don’t be a person who earns a living in tornado alley either.  And woe to you on the west coast in the earthquake zone.  The kinfolk say, move away from there!  Californy is NOT the place you want to be.  Also, if you are anywhere where you could be swept away by a flash flood, get caught up in a hurricane or Nor’easter, burnt to a cinder in a wildfire, trapped in a heat wave, engulfed in a blizzard, frozen in a cold snap, eaten by wild animals or poisoned by insects and plants, or irradiated by a particularly unusual and strong solar flare, well, it’s your own damn fault.  Did God promise you a rose garden?  You should have bought one of the time shares in Glenn Beck’s underground bunker cities and retreated to it with your 6 months supply of dried ravioli and Tang.

I guess Stephanie Decker, who protected her kids from the tornados with her own body and lost her legs as a result, should be thankful that God didn’t demand more of a sacrifice for living in the wrong place.  But I have faith that with the help of doctors, physical therapists and prosthesis engineers, Stephanie *will* walk again.  Hang in there Stephanie.

4.) A couple of days ago, a PR person for Chris Viehbacher tried to do a What Chris Really Meant response to Chris’s insensitive and clueless presentation of the reasons why his company was getting rid of its own scientists and turning to cheap and desperate small company scientists for potential blockbuster drugs.

Now, Viehbacher’s point seems to be that small biotechs and mid sized companies are more nimble and innovative than big behemoth pharma companies so, and here’s the logic of the bonus class in all it’s glory, big pharma scientists just aren’t as good as those in smaller biotechs and therefore deserve to have their jobs eliminated.

This ignores two things that Viehbacher is either denying or completely ignorant of.  The first is that those of us who up until recently worked in big pharma until we were dumped for working in big pharma, did not start our careers in big pharma.  Nooooo, we were in medium pharma.  The first pharma I worked at only had 3 research sites and the one I worked at in Princeton was relatively small having about 400 people total working on about 5 different therapeutic areas.  It was all self contained with chemistry, biology, animal facilities, structural biology, analytical, scale up, everything in one building.  But then came the mergers and more mergers and we added more facilities and companies and satellite research centers in different companies and then we got consultants to come in every couple of years and rejigger everyone, just to keep it light and breezy.  Every time there was a merger, work would come to a screeching halt for two years so the managers could play musical chairs and find a department headship position, usually by doing a real Julius Caesar meets Brutus in the Senate scene.  So, big was never OUR idea.  It was the bright idea of the finance guys, the consultant guys and the Viehbacher guys who got big bonuses from every merger they made.

The second thing that undermines Viehbacher’s argument is that all of those big pharma scientists that he thought were no good are now working for the small companies and acedemic groups that Viehbacher is planning to rape.  Now that they’ve been liberated from the shackles of big pharma wage slavery, they are working more nimbly and innovatively at small biotechs and university labs with vastly reduced salaries and benefits.  And this must warm the cockles of Viehbacher’s heart enormously.

5.) Finally, Titli Nihaan, my new favorite internet chef (until #1 child gets her own show), shows us how to make a Cassoulet and gives us some French lessons as a bonus!  This is the halal version.  I tried it the other night but made some even leaner substitutions.  Delicious. Er, Magnifique!

Over 1000 comments on the NYTimes article on science majors dropping out

Typical lab stuff.

This goes back to the article posted in the Times yesterday about Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (it’s just so darn hard). Typical of the Times, the editor has chosen to highlight a lot of educator comments that go something like, “Well, of course it’s hard.  You have to study and stop whining and then you will get a BIG reward with a generous salary!!”

The *reader* recommend comments prefer comments like this one from someone I probably know (she lists her location as NJ.  No, it isn’t me):

To be a scientist, one has to have an employer. For many reasons, it’s not possible to do science out of your garage or house.

There aren’t a lot of openings for scientist. Or in other language, there aren’t enough jobs for scientists, compared to the people who have science degrees and wish to be employed.

It’s hard for these students who get through the STEM program and realize they won’t get a job in science, because there really aren’t a lot of jobs. They have degrees in science, but no jobs.

I’m saying this many ways because while it’s a simple concept, the people who publish articles like this one don’t seem to understand the simple concept.

No jobs in science. No jobs (or very few) for for people who want to be scientists.

And yet, ome people still do not understand what she is trying to say for some reason. To be fair, the top comment for both highlight lists is this one from a person who has obviously been there:

Even when students do stick with science degrees, what are their career opportunities? I have a PhD in biology, I’m working on my third post-doc, and i have multiple publications in high profile journals. I’m currently on the job market for tenure-track professor positions, and the situation is bleak! This is a horrible job market, and it is made worse by the compression of leftover PhD’s who couldn’t find jobs during their last 1-4 years of searching. At this rate, the US is going to lose a large chunk of an entire generation of scientists. And I’m not talking about undergrads, I’m talking about highly trained scientists with PhD’s! For the most part, our training has been paid for by US tax dollars, which are going to waste when these scientists drop out of science and choose other careers. When state governments slash education funding in response to the current economic climate, this has a huge ripple effect throughout academia. In addition, NSF funding has been stagnate for years, which further reduces levels of science hiring at Universities. While I agree with the goals/aims of STEM, these programs are diverting NSF money away from research, which only makes the problem worse. I think that the biggest issue isn’t a lack of students ‘sticking with’ science degrees, but the lousy job prospects available when they graduate

Yup, pretty much.  That one has 837 recommendations.

I love the ones from people who have apparently never had to get a job by giving a 45 minute presentation on their entire life’s work  that say that scientists should stop focussing so much on money.  We should just do it for the love of it.

What’s love got to do with it?  Sure, we love it.  We were the ones who stuck it out didn’t we?  But most of us didn’t sign up for anorexia and the life of a monk on some barren skellig.  We have to eat and prefer a family life.  When was the last time we told an accountant to prepare tax returns and balance company accounts for the love of it?  Or how about teaching?  Yes, you say you love teaching and developing little minds and everything.  But if you don’t do it for below poverty wages and give up any hope of providing for your own children, how can we really evaluate your commitment?   See how that works?  Take what ever your profession is and ask yourself if you would do it for a temporary post doc salary for 3 or 4 years after your 5-7 years in graduate school.  Would you do your work for $37,000/year if you had a PhD in your subject?  For how long?  Now add three years of calculus, two semesters of calculus based physics, molecular biology, organic chemistry, microbiology, biolchemistry and hours and hours of labs where failure is the norm, not the exception.

Didn’t think so.

That’s what it’s like for the science major right now.  And those are the ones who are lucky enough to get jobs.  The ones who have the years of experience it takes to actually do the research are getting laid off in droves.  It’s really bad in the Northeast because scientists tend to gravitate to other scientists as spouses and when both parents are getting laid off…

Did you ever get the feeling that there is a small evil group to which no one we know belongs who is sitting on a giant mountain of money and would rather strangle innovation in its infancy rather than spend even one shilling more than they think the whiny peons in the labs are worth?  The money for research in both industry and academia has dried up so thoroughly that it can’t possibly be an accident or coincidence.  There is plenty of work to do on some very challenging and difficult projects.  And there are plenty of people who would be more than willing to do them.  The problem is that there is no money.  Anywhere.  Why is that and why is the Obama administration letting them get away with that?  It’s not like when the spigots get turned back on that everyone will suddenly be able to catch up really quickly with the work.  Biology and nature doesn’t work like that.  A cessation in research means a real gap in the flow, one that can’t be made up quickly.  And by the time the money comes back in, the more experienced among us will have learned our lesson, downsized, and gotten new jobs making a lot less money in another field while the new scientists who come after will have to reinvent the wheels and work for a lot less money in a field that no one appreciates.

{{sigh}}

The only thing worse is not having an opportunity to do what you love.  In the 21st century, we have reverted back to the days when only the wealthy and self-funded can afford to dabble in science.  The joy of discovery for those of us who are not independently wealthy is becoming a dream:

Yes, it really can be this fun.  S%^&, maybe the problem is we’re not supposed to be having fun at work.  It should be dreary, miserable and for low pay or it’s not the American way.

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

Speaking of Occupy events, what is it about the midwest that makes them have the cleverest stunts?  These guys really go out of their way to piss people off.  Chicago is particularly good at this.  Is it because they don’t really have a place to hang out that they have turned to infiltration?  It would make a good research topic.  What makes occupier stunts successful?  Is it leadership or invention born of necessity?  Anyway, if you haven’t seen this one yet, check it out (H/T Susie Madrak):

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

Atrios points to a Reuters articles that  reports that Corzine’s brokerage firm, MF Global, sent out snail mail checks to depositors who requested their money when they heard rumors that the firm was in trouble.  The checks went out after MF Global went into bankruptcy.  Anyone want to guess why the checks were mailed instead of wired?  Anyone want to guess what the “MF” in MF Global really stands for?

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

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, check out Nate Silver’s recent deconstruction of the 2012 election using some updated models.  The bottom line is that if Romney is the nominee for the GOP, Obama looks like toast.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise because next year looks like another change election.  Since there isn’t much difference between Romney and Obama, it’s not that hard to change presidential parties while sending a message to the Democrats that voters expect more from them.  Keeping that in mind, the Democrats *could* get out in front of voter sentiment for change and Change! their own nominee.  Oh sure, it seems unthinkable now (although the rest of the electorate has been thinking it for about a year now) but give them a couple of months and a nice double dip to the recession and they may think that Obama doesn’t look nearly as shiny as he once did.

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

Moving on…

Speaking of MoveOn, I am going to delete any comment that directs readers to a petition.  It has come to my attention recently that if you sign petitions like the one I did for an occupy event lately, you may start getting a lot of annoying spam email from MoveOn.  If you want spam from MoveOn, I assume you already know how to get on their mailing list.  I don’t like the idea that they are using petitions regarding occupy events to get your email address.  I’ll be paying close attention to the people who are doing this because it feels devious to me and I don’t like it.  If you’re using my blog as an email address collection bot, you will be moderated.

OccupyScience: More evidence that the bottom is falling out of research

 

Brandy Cross, brain the size of a small planet, no job in sight

Lambert and ralphb pointed me to a blog post, Hungry for Jobs and Change, Scientists Join the Occupy Movement in Scientific American reporting on the growing number of scientists at occupy events.  We’re always the ones that fly under the radar of the politicians and policy wonks so it is significant that we’re finally becoming visible.  Here are some of the money quotes:

Brandie Cross held the sign. She is in the 5th year of a PhD program in biochemistry at The Johns Hopkins University. Her specialty is breast cancer, a traditionally well-funded specialty. But she’s sure her job prospects are dim. “I’d like to start my own biotech company. I have tons of inventions, and I want to be funded by NIH. But there’s no money.”

I also spoke with Dr. Troy Rubin, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins who also showed up at the protest, and I heard a different angle; Rubin was more worried about the long-term future of America. I asked him why he was participating and he said, “We live in a society where wisdom is less appreciated than money. An economically driven society is fundamentally unsustainable.”

And scientists have certainly had much cause to protest during the last decade. With the sidelining of the American Competes act, the failure of Congress to pass climate change legislation, and the nationwide crisis afflicting science, technology and math (STEM) education, many of us are feeling helpless and angry, not just Cross and Rubin.

As one of the people in the accompanying video says, it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, we don’t fund science in this country anymore.  Too true.  Well, there’s just no immediate profit in it.  Just ask any Wall Street analyst.  If you can’t get your research to pay off in the next quarter, what good are you??  If you are a labrat going to an occupy event, wear your labcoat and goggles so we can recognize each other.

The video that accompanies the post starts with “Scientists aren’t mad, we’re PISSED!”.  That is an understatement.  Unfortunately, the video ends with a plug for a book.  That kind of dilutes the message.  Just sayin’.

Tuesday: There’s a shortage of scientists and engineers? Are you crazy??

Obama is pushing for education for high-tech jobs at a new jobs summit:

Cree and other businesses in the innovation hub of Research Triangle Park have a rich academic base to draw from for recruits with the University of North Carolina, Duke and North Carolina State University — the alma mater of Cree’s founders — so nearby, Obama said. As a whole, however, the country is not producing enough talent to fill the high-tech and highly skilled jobs that are available today. “Right now, there are more than four job-seekers for every job opening in America,” Obama said. “But when it comes to science and high-tech fields, the opposite is true. The businesses represented here tell me they’re having a hard time finding high-skilled workers to fill their job openings.”

Is this man *completely* out of touch??  It’s like a George Bush I trip to the supermarket where they have those scanner thingies.  If Research Triangle is having a hard time filling positions, I certainly haven’t heard about it.  Everyone I know, including myself, has either lost their job or is about to lose their job.  There are thousands of well trained, well educated, high-tech professional scientists and engineers out of work right now who could easily relocate.  Their jobs are going to China.  What do companies want more of them for?  They don’t seem willing to retain and pay the ones they already have.

Where has Obama been?

Amgen announces layoffs in Boulder, Colorado

Pfizer lays off 19,000 after merger with Wyeth

Astra-Zeneca plans to layoff 15,000 through 2013

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  How much more education do you want us to get?  We’re already overeducated.  We’re not allowed to get stale in this business.  And the cuts are not all in sales.  Now, they’re getting to the bone with thousands of high-tech jobs relocating to India and China.  What’s weird about that is that not even China and India with their billions of people have enough high-tech workers to do high-tech research but that isn’t stopping companies from sending our jobs there.  The bottom line is the bottom line.

Want to know where a scientist can make a decent living and do research and where their skills and educations will be valued and rewarded and their jobs protected?  Try countries where the government is willing to intervene or where labor unions are strong.  Like Germany and France.

But don’t roll that old crap about how there aren’t enough of us to those of us in the trenches.  The last thing we need are more unpaid scientists on the job market.

The Elephant’s Child

we will now seriously devote ourselves to a little high tension

The day after the SOTU address, after the President of the United States pretty much told American scientists that we were not up to Chinese standards, it snowed in New Jersey.  I looked out the window at the snow falling thick and fast and gauged my chances of getting to work with my malfunctioning power steering.  Nah gah happen.  Sigh.  I hooked up my work computer, logged in with my SecureID, and checked my email…

And there, under five or six other messages, was an invitation from the local head honcho to meet him in the cafeteria at 10am.  Uh-oh.  That’s not good.  I stared at it.  WTF?  I clicked it again.  Reread the message.  It was unmistakeable but I didn’t want to believe it.  My supervisor was on vacation.  My director was unreachable.  Nobody in my department available.  In desperation, I called my previous supervisor.

“What?? You got the message to meet in the cafeteria?  It’s not good.  I’m sorry, it’s not a good sign.”

My blood froze.  I am the only employed person in my family with health insurance and steady income for Brooke.  I couldn’t think. So, I did the next logical thing.

I called Katiebird.  I asked her to stay with me until I knew what was going on. I  tried desperately to find someone in my department who was asked to the same meeting.  Unfortunately, I found someone.  It was my lab partner.  She couldn’t disguise the panic in her voice.  I called Katiebird again.  We waited.  Katiebird stayed with me.  My lab partner called back.  It was confirmed.  Our jobs were eliminated.

???

?

My department head finally called me at home.  The HR rep was with him.  They broke the news to me officially.  I was stunned.  My lab partner and I are beyond busy.  Dumping our workload onto the rest of our department seems incomprehensible.   I think there was an, “Oh, shit, what did we do?!” moment from some of the decision makers on our behalf.  But the problem with lay offs is that once the decision has been made to “separate” you, it’s hard to walk it back.  There have been some not insignificant efforts to figure out a way to keep us but they have all met a brick wall.  The bottom line was met, we were part of meeting the reduction goal, we are scheduled to go.  We have about a month and a half left.  It feels like a death sentence.

It’s times like these that tell you who your friends are.  I can tell you that Katiebird and DandyTiger immediately came to my emotional rescue.  I am eternally grateful to both of them.  They have checked in since that day and haven’t let me down.  They both came up with great ideas to see me through.  Right now, I am so busy at work, irony of ironies, I don’t have time to pursue them but I know that I will.  I’d recommend Katiebird to anyone who is getting laid off but in these times, her line would be constantly busy.

I know that the loss of our jobs was not performance related.  Both my lab partner and I had very good performance appraisals.  We busted our butts in the lab last year and it showed.  We solved a previously unknown structure and pushed ourselves to learn new things.  It was not unusual to find us in the lab at 9pm, waiting for a gel to finish so we could plan our work for the next day.  The weird thing is that in spite of all that has transpired since that day in January, I still love my job.  The loss of income is painful but the loss of doing the thing that has become like an addiction to me in the last year is even more painful.  It’s so frustrating to lose something just when it’s starting to get really interesting.  I will never ever have a job as good or as satisfying as this one.  I will never have a lab partner as amiable and hardworking and intelligent and generous as the one I have.  We both feel it deeply.  Separation means more than losing the tether to your income, it means losing a productive and valuable working relationship.

When I think back to that SOTU address, I’m beyond angry.  This president and this Congress have no idea what this country is losing.  I am one of thousands of American R&D professionals who have lost their jobs since the era of mergers and acquisitions went into overdrive in the 1990’s.  The reason you don’t find young Americans going into science, engineering and math is not because the Chinese are so much better than we are.  It’s because there is no future in it.  There’s no career path.  No steady income.  No security.  Just a pile of underwater stock options and a pink slip after years of study and extremely challenging work.  The suits will tell you we aren’t productive but those of us who have been there know the truth.  This generation of American scientists has been blighted by the endless pursuit of meeting the bottom line.  It’s no way to do research.  In fact, it is almost impossible to do research under these circumstances and it has been like this since I started working in the business two decades ago.   Free lancing or starting our own businesses in this area of research is not really an option.  We need the overhead of a corporation.  Yes, believe it or not, sometimes you just can’t get around the corporate model.  So, I join my colleagues, “experienced research professionals” all, in the oblivion of separation from what we love best- the wonder and delight of studying nature and the dedication to cure disease.

I would like to say that I am grateful to my company for all of the years that I was able to learn and work for them.  The great majority of the people I have worked with are wonderful and talented professionals.  I wouldn’t call myself a “disgruntled employee”.  If anything, I am very gruntled and will milk my last days at work for all they are worth.  They are worth it.  Every last one of them.  I count the hours with anticipation and dread but mostly ” ‘satiable curtiosity”.

May you all be so lucky.

Chris Bowers opens mouth, inserts foot. Again.

We're not laughing *with* you, Chris

So, someone wrote an editorial at WaPo asking why liberals are so condescending and Chris Bowers wrote a post upholding the right of liberals to be condescending jerks.  He cites scientists as his models of excellence:

Less than 10% of scientists consider themselves Republicans or conservatives.  Why shouldn’t liberals consider their positions to be based on fact and reason, and see conservative views as largely illegitimate?

And the public largely praises the efforts of scientists, too.  Only 6% of Americans think science has had a negative effect on society.

Science is both the most popular, and the least conservative, institution in America.  What the public doesn’t know is that a very small percentage of scientists consider themselves to be conservatives.  But, it is something that should be pointed out whenever conservatives whine about how condescending and “fact-based” liberal positions are.  Without liberals, and their emphasis on science, reason and facts, conservatives couldn’t even use things like the internet, or even television, to continue their whining.  They would still be stuck in the frakking middle ages, which is maybe what they wanted all along.

Ok, I’ll handle this.

So, 9 out of 10 scientists do not consider themselves to be Republican or conservative, eh, Chris?  Let me tell you something about the scientists I know, since I am one and work with them all fricking day long.  Most of the scientists I know voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary of 2008.  Yeah, they used their abilities to reason and examine the facts to determine that when it came to a choice between Obama and Clinton, the choice was clear.  There was NO DATA TO SUPPORT OBAMA.  We looked and looked and looked and all we could find were missing data points.  He was tofu.  You and your creative class wannabes slapped some progressive special sauce on him and called him a savior.   We looked at his anti-war creds, which is all you guys seemed to care about, and there was no there there.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, states with a high number of extremely bright, scientific people, did not vote for Barack Obama in the primary of 2008.  Asian scientists, and they are the bulk of our scientific minds nowadays, went for Hillary by landslides.  And the ones I talked to told me the same damn thing: they thought he was a phony.  They knew in advance that he was a sweet talker because(and this is just my theory) English is not their native language.  So, they paid attention to body language and really spent time deciphering his words instead of being bowled over by his image.  I had colleagues stopping by my office throughout the primaries telling me the same thing.  They had concluded that Obama was a charlatan who was not in Hillary Clinton’s class.

It was all about presentation with us, Chris.  We spend our lives listening to our colleagues present their work and we know when they’ve actually got game and when they’re just bullshitting their way through their slides.  We ask questions about what presenters say.  We ask questions about what presenters *don’t* say.  We know when the data supports what they’re saying and when it doesn’t.  That’s why we didn’t vote for Obama.   You should have been paying better attention to us in 2008, Chris and you wouldn’t have made such a bone-headed mistake.

You are not a scientist, Chris, as your stupid pick of weakling president shows.  Please don’t try to be one of us.  And as for condescension, the country doesn’t venerate us or give a damn what happens to us.  We are losing jobs left and right.  Our scientific infrastructure is being decimated.  Pretty soon we will go the way of the dinosaurs as we wait for Democratic lawmakers to get their shit together and stop the hemorrhage of our jobs to India and China.  And the last thing we needed was for snotty, know nothing Chris Bowers types to act like we working class scientists are somehow above it all.  We are one with the rest of working class America, Chris. Get a clue.

And get off your frickin’ pedestal.