November 6, 2007

Why is science no longer interesting to Westerners?

President Eisenhower brought physicist I.I. Rabi with him from his stint as president of Columbia U. and had Rabi bring in more scientific advisers for him, such as the prodigious John von Neumann. In contrast, President Bush's official science adviser is a Democrat, which shows the current administration's level of interest in science.

But disrespect for science is hardly a Republican failing these days, as the remarkable lack of defense for James Watson (a lifelong Democrat, by the way) showed.

In the 1950s, Americans respected scientists. Why? Probably because they had shown they could build a Really Big Bomb. I'm wondering if the lack of respect for science shown today in the Watson Brouhaha stems from the commercialization of the fruits of science. I mean, really, did Watson ever do an IPO? Is he a billionaire? He doesn't even own the land under the house he built at Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

The more science is seen as a prop in making the big bucks, the less respect there will be for honest scientists who tell unpopular truth, and the more money will be showered on lecturers like Malcolm Gladwell.

During the Watson Denunciations, a reader attended an event at the famously intellectual 92nd Street Y featuring the prototypical scientist-entrepreneur of our era, Craig Venter of the Human Genome Project:

I don’t know if Venter is really a giant of science, but they had him “interviewed” by some NPR ninny (at the 92nd st y) who did 70% of the talking. Ridiculous. Not many questions, and those that were asked were asinine, like asking about when we will find the genes for consciousness...

It seems pretty clear that the average person’s knowledge of this field is pathetic. The crowd seemed to be most excited about how genetic engineering would solve … global warming. No kidding. And they say New Yorkers are intelligent.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

26 comments:

Bill said...

Come on -- it's obvious. Little boys used to dream about spaceships and flying cars, but that's all been tossed by the wayside in universities, which are now focused more on menopausal hot flashes than rocket science. The feminization of education is directly responsible for the decreasing interest in science.

Guys comprise something like 45% of college student bodies, and if you break it down to just white americans it's probably closer to 40% male.

One thing that really ticks me off is when some older IQ theorists assume that all guys with high IQs will automatically get a degree. That is not the case! Lots of intelligent young men are opting out because it sucks in college for men. Why don't you go audit a class and read the material? Give it a shot. You go sit through a few of these required classes and then get back to us. I can't even count how many times I had to bite my own tongue in class. It all seems like a huge waste of time and money in retrospect.

It is not a cultural thing. Boys love innovation and the only way to stop it is to stomp on their dreams, which is what is currently being done on a massive scale. I'm an adult non-scientist and I still indulge my imagination with dreams of moon bases and space stations before I fall asleep. The death of science is a deliberate, calculated move on the part of policy makers. I can't see any other explanation for this travesty.

Anonymous said...

Amen, bill. The only thing college taught me (at enormous expense in time and money), is that the humanities are worthless. If only I'd known that going in...

dumb-dumb said...

I don't know bill. It seems that many of the dot com boys are starting their own rocket companies and other folks like that hotel guy are going to build the space stations. Pretty exciting to me and my dumb friends and their kids.

Then there are the DARPA challenges and stuff, and I think there is still plenty of interest left.

Lots of your burning man type people are still carrying the torch.

Also, I'm starting to see more interest in electric drag cars and stuff.

Maybe not exactly the kind of Science that Steve was thinking about, but stuff is happening.

dumb-dumb said...

Thinking some more, I guess that these X-prize and DARPA Challenge type competitions are going to help revive some interest in science on an academic as well as general level.

The DARPA Challenge was not limited to schools I think, but they took the top several spots in the event that just finished the other day.

Maybe it is more engineering, but lots of the technology requires real science.

Plus, once the Chinese decide to go back to the moon, it might be deja vu all over again.

Or, maybe we will be just too dumb, but I doubt it. ;-)

Evil Neocon said...

Bill is partially right, but it's more than that. VDARE's recent column about H1-B fever among IT CEOs is also to blame. Promising young men who see the writing on the wall -- outsourced Science and Technology and Engineering jobs to the cheapest and perceived "better" places in India and China means at best low pay. Or competing with indentured servants which is what the H1-B system amounts to.

Add to it the perception that being good at Science and Math = no women ever (which is fairly accurate -- on the whole women detest science and math and anything associated with it -- see Whoopi and friends on the View) and you get the picture.

We also have gloom-doom Leftism that makes technology and Western Society the villain and idolizes primitive peoples. So that also works against us culturally. That's been a consistent strain since 1965 at least. Forty plus years of anti-Science Leftism mixed with "Dances with Wolves" worship of the primitive will help kill science.

Bill also hit on something telling. Men like women. Why are not young men flocking to Colleges just to pick up women? Why are they not flocking to pick up women in NYC where young single women outnumber them significantly?

Answer: because they know well that they have absent a fairly good build and even more important, high status and social position, zilch of a chance with the young women. Spending the money to go to college or live in NYC merely gets them the opportunity to watch the girls cluster around the few high-status men. On the whole they'd rather play XBox I guess.

We live in the feminists dream, a defacto polygamist society now, and will have to deal with that in years to come.

Anonymous said...

Amen Steve, amen Bill, and amen Evil. All three of you are stating aspects of this.

I'll add to this the disasterous aftermath of egalitarianism.

Ever since the idiotic idea that we can all be smart and wonderful by just pondering "deep" thoughts (like, err, the "Dances with Wolves" kinda stuff), we can all be kinda sorta "scientists," if you know what I mean.

If, as demonstrated even with an Oxford study, the lesser your talents are, the higher an opinion you have of yourself, and if democratism makes you believe you, too, can be god, why respect that dorky-looking "scientist" nerd over there? Screw him! Had he gotten laid a bit more, he wouldn't obsess with stuff like ion engines or gene loci or lambda calculus, etc.



JD

mnuez said...

I'm with Steve. America has become corrupted by greed. Greed is neither good nor God but nowadays it's treated as such at practically all levels of society. Children are raised in its virtues, college majors are decided based on it, book stores burn through invoices as they can't restock "win in business!" books and adults suffer the pangs of what they consider Abject Human Failure when they fail to make it rich - to "Win in Business!".

This chase after wealth has stunted scientific innovation to a degree both tragic and immense. It used to be that discovery would make you famous. You would be honored, appreciated and listened to wherever you went. Everyone knew - AND STILL KNOWS! - the names of Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk. Had these men lived today they'd only be known if they were business savvy enough to strike it rich. Today we know Gates, Buffet and the Google twins.

I propose that we could move to a single-payer health system and lose nothing in the way of innovation if we were to reinstill in the common people an admiration for brilliant scientists, particularly Healing scientists as we remove all of the corrupting influences of death-causing monetary greed from the public's education.

Let's go back to admiring the Thomas Edisons, Teddy Roosevelts, Mohandas Gandhis and Mark Twains of the world in place of the Donald Trumps and Kelly Clarksons.

Imagine...

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

planetary archon said...

what the hell are you guys talking about? before you get all spenglerian keep in mind that more than half of all patents filed in THE ENTIRE WORLD are filed by americans. and it's been like this for years. sure, idiots with brain fungus attack watson but political (or religious) correctness has always caused people to attack scientists with unpopular views. i don't see what's changed.

Hal K said...

I studied mathematics in graduate school and found that probably more than half of the math faculty was foreign. The math and science departments overproduce PhDs for the number of academic jobs opening up. When hiring, they pay top dollar for the best talent (usually foreign) and then drive down costs by using grad students to teach. Nowadays, science is something we hire foreigners to do. We drive Americans away from these fields and then justify it after the fact by noting how the best talent is foreign.

Anonymous said...

Women used to have more respect for science as well, as it affected the domestic sphere. If you read women's magazines from the 50s and earlier, they communicate a better understanding of germ theory to an audience that might not have had a high school diploma than your average college graduate has now. I have found that even women with degrees in microbiology can't be relied on to apply their book and lab knowledge to the rest of their lives. Women with degree in the humanities are hopeless. They don't understand disease vectors, cross-contamination, or basic nutrition, unless it was communicated to them by an older female relative.

Mark said...

Had these men lived today they'd only be known if they were business savvy enough to strike it rich. - mnuez

Nice post, except for the giant non sequitur about socialized medicine.

The market determines the media coverage today and the market's mostly chosen Lindsay Lohan, (pantyless) Britney Spears, and SoCal car chases over accomplished scientists. I turned on Fox News one day not long ago to hear the top story: "High School Musical Star, Nude!"

Yippee.

To add to all of that you have to consider that America is such an economically dynamic place that you can't afford to get left behind, and that means chasing whatever's the most remunerative, meaning business, law, whatever.

Even a hardwon science or engineering degree, earned after years of 18 hour days doing problems or in the lab, usually doesn't come near to the rewards of a degree in business or law - especially when Congress has you on notice that if you're not willing to do it for the price their cronies and contributors want they'll be more than happy to replace you with foreigners...in your own country.

Anonymous said...

The biggest blogs on the Internet are gadget-blogs. Aside from that, how much popular interest can you expect for any idea-domain? Science nerds, having superficially "low-status" behavior, or even literate wisdom, are totally incompatible with celebrity culture, which is a mental encrustation for yokels better than burning witches and beating their children. Having a handful of on-the-radar, popular science synthesizers and notables is par for the course. I bet we have more household names now than any other age.

Primitivism and anti-science postmodernism aren't inconsiderable, but all that's just religious treacle bubbling-up, much less pernicious now than when it was genuinely religious.

Superdestroyer said...

Why whites (read weserners) do not like science.

1. It takes a long time to get to cutting edge. You have to study for years by taking classes that are filled with Asians who are clannish and who cheat. White kids from the suburbs automatically know that a classed filled with Chinese and Korean students is going to be hard and they will probably not get an A.

2. The college programs are built to produce college professors instead of applied science and technology types.

3. You cannot do cutting edge science by yourself anymore. It is now the domain of big machines and huge collaborative projects. This turns off the science nerd who would rather go into computers and coding.

dearieme said...

"Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk": correct me if I'm wrong, but you there have two men educated abroad, two brothers who didn't go to College, and only one man who went through American schooling and university.

Bill said...

3. You cannot do cutting edge science by yourself anymore. It is now the domain of big machines and huge collaborative projects. This turns off the science nerd who would rather go into computers and coding.

-Superdestroyer


Hmm, good point. Guys like John Carmack probably would have gone into engineering 50 years ago, and there are still a lot of brilliant white Americans in computer programming. Open source is giving a lot of talented people the opportunity to shine due to their own efforts.

However, one curious thing I've noticed is that Scandinavians and Germans are surging ahead in the programming world. Americans are still good, but the anglosphere as a whole seems to be falling behind in technological endeavors. I can't think of anything worthwhile (there must be something, but it isn't coming to mind) that has come out recently from the mess that Britain has become, and Americans are focusing less on innovation and more on sustaining increasingly unwieldy systems.

Anonymous said...

It all comes down to $$$. If you are smart enough to get a BS in engineering (125+ IQ) then you are smart enough to go into to a field that is a lot more lucrative such as investment banking or law, or start your own business.

Additionally, going to a top engineering school such as MIT is probably going to put you into high 5-figure debt, at the least. Does it make sense to rack up 100K in student loans to start at 65K a year (if you take a coporate job) and probably top out in the lower 100s twenty years later? There is a lot of compression in engineering salaries.

Also, there really isn't much prestige in advanced degrees (such as PHDs) anymore. In our SoCal area, the people with the big bucks who live in the multi-million dollar homes in Villa Park are those who own small-medium sized business and a lot of those are home-improvement type - landscapers, pool, etc. It used to be the PhDs lived in the big houses and the plumbers lived in the blue collar areas but no more.

Would my husband and I who are both engineers encourage our children to go into it? Not before exploring other more lucrative careers.

(PS - I wish people would stop using the terms "engineering" and "IT/tech" interchangeably. They are not the same thing at all. A true engineering degree (EE/ME/
Chem/Computer)is more rigorous and has a lot more pure science and math (physics, advanced calculus, chemistry)in it than an IT degree. Look at starting salaries to see how the market weighs them.)

SKT said...

To be honest with you, most science degrees are worthless.

I have a degree in Chemistry from an Ivy League college. If I wasn't in medical school right now, I don't know what I'd be doing... Perhaps rotting in some lab somewhere for $25,000 a year. Seriously, this is what my colleagues who didn't go to a grad. school do. Few got jobs in the industry. Even high schools want to see Master's degrees. To do any real Chemistry in a job, you basically need a PhD.

With an applied economics/business degree you can do half the work as an undergraduate, and your job prospects are much better, even in this bleak financial climate.

Mar said...

With an applied economics/business degree you can do half the work as an undergraduate, and your job prospects are much better - skt

And, in college, your dating prospects, too.

jody said...

i think what steve means is why has the mainstream in the united states lost interest in science.

steve's perception might be skewed because he grew up during the space age, which created popular interest in big science in the US, but that interest went away long ago and he can't figure out why the average american kid today is not interested in NASA putting robots on mars or detecting extrasolar planets, or why american politicians feel it is OK if the US falls behind in supercollider and fusion technology.

because smart white people have not lost any interest in science or technology. whites and jews still do almost all the heavy lifting and make almost all the breakthroughs. if humans had to rely on east asians or indians for this stuff the earth would really be advancing slowly, science and technology not changing for decades at a time.

Martin said...

I would agree with most everything posted here, to which I would add these additional possibilities:

1.) Children no longer prepare themselves for careers in technical fields. I don't mean formal schooling, I mean the sorts of things that kids used to do for fun. Like play with chemistry sets, ham radios, erector sets, and model airplanes and rockets. And also reading: science fiction and popular science books (remember "Our Friend the Atom"?). It seems that all kids do today is play video-games. Do kids read anymore? Do they play anymore?

2.) Science isn't very fun anymore. A good deal of a scientists time is spent writing proposals, white-papers, politicing, glad-handing, and otherwise scrounging for funding. And the funding mostly comes from federal agencies that are hide-bound and bureaucratic. Research nowadays is highly directed (by these same agencies): there is little room for innovation. There is no room for just following your interests to where ever they might lead - at least for experimentalists. It's a real drag.

3.) Science also isn't fun anymore because it's just getting too hard. In physics at least, the pace of fundamental discoveries is slowing down. The total span of time, between the discovery of nuclear fission and the construction of the first reactor was four years. The A-bomb came three years after that. Contrast that with nuclear fusion - it has been worked on (at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year) since 1950, and we are still nowhere near building a working reactor.

Space? We've been to about the only place we can actually get to - the moon. And all this stuff about a space economy is twaddle. There is nothing that can be done in space that cannot be done far cheaper on Earth.

When the physicists discover the next fundmental particle, will you care? What gizmo can be made using the Higg's particle?

Science and engineering are simply running up against natural limits.

MensaRefugee said...

You have to study for years by taking classes that are filled with Asians who are clannish and who cheat.

-Superdestroyer
----------------------------------

LOL. Clannish, yes. Cheat? If so how in the world do they end up actually *being* engineers afterwards?

tommy said...

1) I get the sense that would be scientists weren't always regarded as tremendous nerds like they are today. The youthful Kult of Kool that seems to have arisen in the West since at least the end of WWII has turned brainier kids into social pariahs.

2) Fields like electronics and computer programming have probably carried off many budding scientists.

3) Science today is a lot more collaborative than it used to be. This means fewer scientists serve as easily recognizable heroes among lay people. Craig Venter is no Einstein in the public mind.

4) Science is simply more esoteric. The physical products of atomic physics were atom bombs; the physical products of quantum physics are underground labs for the collection of neutrinos. The amount of abstract math has greatly increased in many branches of science. Compare the work of recent Nobel Prize winners in the sciences to that of previous decades. Today's winners do work whose importance often isn't easy to summarize in a sentence or two for the masses.

5) As Charles Murray has mentioned, the big discoveries have largely been made in most branches of science. It's probably safe to say that no discovery in genetics will ever be as revolutionary as Watson and Crick's determination of the structure of DNA, for instance. The few major discoveries that might still be made in areas like quantum physics and cosmology aren't easy to find. There are innumerable small details to be filled out throughout the sciences, but this sort of grunt work isn't as romantic as the big stuff to the public.

David Davenport said...

You guys seem to share the lieberal disdain or disinterst in military science and technology, which is progressing:

Missile intercept system takes on two at a time Navy successful tests sea-based shield against simulated double threat

U.S. Navy via AP

A single-stage missile with a dummy warhead is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii on Tuesday night, providing a target for interceptors fired from the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie.

By Jim Wolf

updated 8:59 p.m. CT, Wed., Nov. 7, 2007

The military destroyed a simulated ( No, real missiles – DD ) salvo of two short-range ballistic missiles more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) over the Pacific Tuesday night in the first such simultaneous test in space.

The event marked the 10th and 11th successful ballistic missile intercepts for Lockheed Martin Corp’s sea-based Aegis system in 13 attempts, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said. …

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21680347/


Note, I agree that most aerospace enigneers living in SoCal aren't paid enough to live well. Being part of the mil/ind complex affords one a decent standard of living if one lives in heartland regions of the US.

Aeconomic determinist might say: hence more support for the mil/ind complex in flyover country.

none of the above said...

It's bizarre to see this discussion in the middle of these unprecedented explosions in computers and biotech. Lots of white Americans (and lots of East/South Asians, Europeans, and some black Americans and hispanics) are involved in these fields.

I think there are some cultural things limiting innovation in a lot of ways, but it's not like we're watching a new dark age come on or anything.

IMO, a big determining factor for how fast innovation can happen is how many people can get to a point in the field to make innovations. That means you have to learn enough to start doing something worthwhile, have the necessary contacts to get into the field (know where to submit, get useful feedback), and you have to have access to whatever equipment is needed to do the work.

Look at what happened in computers. It became possible for almost anyone who is remotely in a position to do something innovative in CS, programming, etc., to have a computer and powerful tools to go with it. The knowledge was not too hard to get--buy some books, read some magazines, play with the tools--and innovation happened all over the place. It's still happening.

IMO, Google and Wikipedia and blogs and open-access publishing are the tools for making innovation happen faster, wherever it can. Make your discipline and its tools available to as many people as possible, make it possible for a lonely genius teenager in the middle of Nebraska to learn the stuff he'd have waited till grad school to learn before, and innovation of all kinds will follow.

The worst case for innovation is where only a few people can get access to the equipment or information needed to do it. Then, you have to just hope that the right guy will show up at the right university, get into the right place.

Drayboy said...

Nobody defended Watson because his remarks were indefensible. He may be a DNA genius, but he's an all around idiot.

Anonymous said...

Of course this is true. The glory days of the space exploration era are overshadowed by more important issues such as gay marriage or the horrifying science of abortion which kills babies!In fact, its embryos but I doubt the average American knows what that is. Furthermore,the trend of "what you can do for your country" is dying out to the "how much can you party" trend. Social awareness is zero in our schools.Science and mathematics are dumbed down everyday by policy makers of the "No Child Left Behind Policy".
So in conclusion my friends, the glory days of NASA are over and the days of dumbing down everything are in. Stay put, think, and for Pete's sake read a book instead of watching the idiot box.
And excellent question, Bill. This should be seriously considered.