Thursday, December 16, 2004

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A short blogging sabbatical

In recent days I've been feeling disoriented. It's not just that an increasing number of Republicans are calling for Rumsfeld's head, or Ariel Sharon talking about "historic breakthoughs" with the Palestinians. There's even a chance Turkey might join the European Union (though I won't be holding my breath on those negotiations).

There's also the fact that David Wells now plays for the Red Sox, while Pedro Martinez is now a Met. Time magazine has short-listed "the blogger" as its Person of the Year. And, finally, Eszter Hargittai is contemplating spraying herself with chocolate perfume.

It's too much -- I need a break.

Given that I started this year by both guest-blogging and meta-blogging, it seems appropriate to end the year with a small sabbatical.

Barring some mind-blowing event, blogging will resume January 1, 2005.

For the commenters, here's a topic for discussion -- check out this report by the Council on Competitiveness. Joanna Chung summarizes the report for the Financial Times:

The US must make innovation the top national priority or risk ceding its role as the world’s foremost economic power, an organisation of top business and academic leaders warned on Wednesday.

The warning came as the Council on Competitiveness, a Washington-based group, issued a comprehensive report recommending strategies for encouraging innovation and producing workers that “succeed, not merely survive” in the global economy.

At a conference held to release the report, Samuel Palmisano, chairman and chief executive of IBM, said American innovation had reached “a critical juncture” and the country was “somehow losing its edge at just the wrong time, when the game was becoming dramatically more competitive.”

Mr Palmisano, who is also the co-chairman of the group’s National Innovation Initiative, said about half of US patents belonged to foreign companies and inventors while foreign countries, including Japan, South Korea, Israel, Sweden an Finland spent more on research and development as a percentage of their gross domestic product than the US.

The report noted other disturbing trends, including a long-term decline in federal funding in research. Corporate research and development in the US had dropped nearly $8bn in 2002, the biggest drop in any year since 1950.

To regain the competitive edge, the report called for increased public funding for research, including the reallocation of 3 per cent of all federal research and development budgets toward grants that invest in novel, high-risk and exploratory research.

It offered new education proposals aimed at harnessing a talent pool of innovators domestically but also called for reforming US immigration policies so they attract the “best and brightest” foreign science and engineering students.

“Few would disagree that foreign scientists make critical contributions to the nation’s scientific and technical talent,” the report said. “There are indications, however, that post-9/11 visa policies are reversing decades of openness to foreign scientific excellence.”

“Delays and difficulties in obtaining visas to the US are contributing to a declining in-flow of scientific talent. And other countries can and do take advantage of our increasingly cumbersome visa process.”

posted by Dan on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM


Fareed Zakaria wrote about the immigration bit not long ago, writing "Every visa officer today lives in fear that he will let in the next Muhammad Atta. As a result, he is probably keeping out the next Bill Gates." But that's just one part of it. Even if immigration wasn't an issue, the rest of the world is coming up to speed alrmingly fast. My question is: is this necessarily a bad thing for the US?

Duance Ackerman says in the FT article that Dan linked to: "Innovation is the only sustainable driver for US productivity growth and higher standard of living for future generations.” But does this innovation have to take place inside the US? Isn't the US best placed to benefit from innovation that takes place anywhere? And isn't such progress, at the end of the day, a non-zero-sum game?

That is not to say that the US should not liberalize immigration or encourage research and development. Of course it should. But those are things that should be done for their own sake, and not because the US is "ceding its role as the world’s foremost economic power," which it isn't going to for a while yet.

posted by: amit varma on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Enjoy the time off. I shall enjoy the memories of your work. I hope you come back, renewed and reinvogorated.

posted by: Terry J on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

i expect the reason that innovation may be slowing down is the Bush Administration. It's a backwards-looking group of people who seem to have no sense of what the country needs as we move into the future. They are all intent on maintaining their status and they have no time or space for fresh thinking in policy. Why would that be different when it comes to technology?

posted by: A on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Happy Holidays to you and yours, Dan.

posted by: Carl on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year to you and yours, Dan. Enjoy the sabbatical.

posted by: fingerowner on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Happy Hols!

posted by: Aaron on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Happy Holidays and a Happy Gregorian New Year!

From the PDF: America is country of immigrants,

Da! However, I wonder how much of their desire to "reform immigration" is based on a desire to encourage innovation and how much is based on a more practical desire: that for cheap labor. And, one of the causes of the problems they point out is due to the mindset that we can import foreigners to do either high-tech or serf jobs.

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

There was an article in Science a few months ago, that outlined the decline of American hegemony in scientific publications. We are still on top in most fields (especially life sci), but others are catching up very quickly. Article in BusinessWeek last week detaling how China is now eating away at American technological advantage in manufacturing. I really don't have much hope that one of the most anti-science administrations in history will be able to do anything about this.

TLB, I think there is a difference between an H1B visa and a PhD candidate in Engineering or CS. There really is a shortage of qualified Americans to enter PhD programs in the sciences. This doesn't appear to be made up. H1B visas are probably an out-moded concept, any and all knowledge work doesn't require immigration any longer, just out source it.

posted by: Jor on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Two points I would like to make;
1) The economical crash of 2000 has been the most sever since befor 1950. The crash of: 1974 was 30%, 1987 was 30%, 2000 was between 34% and 79%. So, there is/was a drastic decrease of money available for R&D.
2) In the 1980's -the Dole and someone Bill was passed that allowed certain people to patten certain research paid for by government funding. (See article in the Economist magazine). This would lead one to conclude that a big backlog of research was pattened for the next 10 years because of this change in laws.

These two points are probably what has squed the numbers. Thus, no mater who was in office at this/now, the results would still be the same.

As for the immigration of low wage earners, no politician has the guts to take on the logical correct reform of the immigration system. Those that make noise at the issue act for special interest groups or are very ignoant on the issue.

Spend some time outside of the USA and you will see what other countries have been doing for the last 50 and more years. America is very backwards on our immigration system.

posted by: Jim Coomes on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Enjoy the rest. Short breaks are necessary to avoid longer ones later.

posted by: Crank on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

It was kinda silly for Zakaria to use Bill Gates as an example for how it's bad that it's hard for students to get visas to study in the US.

Gates dropped out of Harvard, after all.

Furthermore, I wouldn't expect the next Bill Gates to come to America as someone else's employee. The next Bill Gates will come to America as the head of his own company. That's kind of what it means to be the next Bill Gates, isn't it?

And, really, Bill Gates is not that much of a technological whiz. He *bought* DOS, after all. He's a shrewd businessman, but not a technical innovator. He's definitely not in the top 100, as far as personal technological achievements go. Maybe not the top 500. And he's definitely not a scientist of any sort.

I'd be more concerned about where the next Steve Jobs is going to come from. But there, too, another dropout, and more design/marketing-oriented than technical.

I'm not sure why foreign students in engineering or computer science would bother coming here, given that the American companies are doing all their hiring overseas.

posted by: Jon H on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Happy Holidays! Are you having any guestbloggers?

posted by: Ron Mashate on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

In the absence of guest bloggers, I suggest we all visit each others' blogs.

Oh, and Happy Last Part of December to every being!

posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Everyone needs to remember that it is all part of the swing of a big pendulum.

The upside of decreased immigration into US universities might just be a demand that the K-12 and higher ed institutions graduate EDUCATED U.S. students.
In the long run, that might not be a bad thing, after all.

posted by: cj on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

No one forced to interact with the US government agencies responsible for immigration and consular affairs can easily escape the impression that these are among the worst-run organizations in the entire federal government.

They are that way because the deal primarily with non-citizens, so voting citizens and their representiatives have scant reason to care whether they work well or not. It isn't a philosophical issue or a reflection of public attitudes toward the world beyond our shores, but rather a matter of inertia unchecked either by executive branch leadership or congressional oversight.

With respect to education it might be appropriate to recognize a contradiction between the ideal of universal education and the practical goal of training the tomorrow's scientific leaders. For the brightest students much of public education today involves too much marking time and not enough hard work in the fields for which they have aptitude. We don't expect star athletes to just emerge after a fixed number of years in PE classes with everyone else. Why should we expect physicists or mathematicians to?

posted by: Zathras on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Adios for now.

posted by: Troy Worman on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

It is, indeed, enough to make your head spin. Enjoy your sabbatical, and we'll look forward to your return.

posted by: Brian on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Foreign students decided to goelsewhere.

posted by: Jor on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

Two points:

College students bright enough to do well in math and science classes are people bright enough to do well in business and law classes, leading to careers which generally offer higher incomes, greater influence in society, and larger amounts of individual autonomy than typical engineering and science jobs. It's RATIONAL for students to prefer managerial courses to engineering.

This can be changed overnight by raising engineering salaries, improving the employment prospects of engineers and science majors, and funding more cutting edge R&D, all in a big enough way. Remember the Apollo program?


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posted by: bodazhang on 12.16.04 at 11:58 PM [permalink]

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