Science: supply exceeds demand

How smart can one regard science majors to be when they aren’t intelligent enough to pay any attention to the law of supply and demand? Or when they can’t be bothered to pay attention when a science professor warns them not to waste their time by pursuing a science career.

Science is fun and exciting. The thrill of discovery is unique. If you are smart, ambitious and hard working you should major in science as an undergraduate. But that is as far as you should take it. After graduation, you will have to deal with the real world. That means that you should not even consider going to graduate school in science. Do something else instead: medical school, law school, computers or engineering, or something else which appeals to you.

Why am I (a tenured professor of physics) trying to discourage you from following a career path which was successful for me? Because times have changed (I received my Ph.D. in 1973, and tenure in 1976). American science no longer offers a reasonable career path. If you go to graduate school in science it is in the expectation of spending your working life doing scientific research, using your ingenuity and curiosity to solve important and interesting problems. You will almost certainly be disappointed, probably when it is too late to choose another career.

American universities train roughly twice as many Ph.D.s as there are jobs for them. When something, or someone, is a glut on the market, the price drops. In the case of Ph.D. scientists, the reduction in price takes the form of many years spent in “holding pattern” postdoctoral jobs.

No wonder the Pharyngulan crowd tends to be so bitter and nasty. Over-degreed, unemployable, and angry is no way to go through life. And it’s not exactly hard to figure out why they so often bang on about the desperate need for more government funding for scientists science. The truth is that very few scientists produce anything of value and the university degree bubble means there are far more science-credentialed individuals than are required by the American economy.

Before a science fetishist leaps in to confuse science and technology, it’s worth noting this timely quote from historians Will and Ariel Durant, sent in by EJ last week:

“The influence of science, strange to say, was least and last upon technology. Man’s ways of sowing and reaping, mining and manufacturing, building and transporting, had been formed through centuries of trial and error, and traditions and inertia only reluctantly accepted improvement suggested by laboratory experiments; not till the end of this era did science accelerate the Industrial Revolution.”
– The Age of Voltaire, p.584

How conservatives created Obama

VDH explains how conservatives created the pathway to the present situation and the administration that presides over it:

Conservatives created Barack Obama and his vision of the Europeanization of America, and so have themselves to blame for the current recessional, as the present as we have known it fades into the past….. The pillar of conservatism is fiscal responsibility. Why? Balancing budgets and saying no to always expanding government, first, is a moral issue. Just as the individual does not borrow from others to satisfy his own appetite, does not consume what he does not earn, so too government should not spend what the nation has not produced. The conservative, as the custodian of ancient morality, must remind the populace of the thriftiness of our ancestors that explains the bounty we inherited. If not he, who will say that life is not fair, that human nature is predictable and thus tragic, that in our brief corporal lives we can guarantee an equality of rough opportunity but hardly mandate an equality of absolute result—since we are mere mortals, not gods?

VDH’s case is damning indeed. Conservatives foolishly decided that the exigencies of the War on Terror justified their behaving like liberals; instead of guarding against the expansion of central state power, they joined forces with the liberals in growing it. Now, as libertarians like me have been predicting for years, they’re unhappy that the expanded power they helped create is in the hands of their political foes, as if that wasn’t predictable from the start.

Modern politicians didn’t cause the economic crisis, as the seeds for that were planted back when the 63rd Congress elected to turn monetary power over to the Federal Reserve. They merely helped determine the particular form it took. If the credit inflation hadn’t taken place in the tech and housing sectors, it would simply occurred in some other part of the economy. But in first choosing George W. Bush as their standard bearer, then lining up behind him in support of his wars and occupations, conservatives laid the groundwork to put Obama into office at this critical juncture. The insane selection of John McCain instead of Ron Paul as the 2008 Republican Party standard bearer was little more than the foul icing on an excremental cake. Paul might well have lost… but he certainly couldn’t have done any worse than McCain and the Republican Party would have far more credibility with regards to the present crisis than it does now.

Actions have consequences. It’s a genuine pity so many conservatives forgot such a conservative concept.