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Friday, July 02, 2004

Liberal-socialist Micromanagement vs Science

This analysis by my friend Frank Madarasz is an account from the front-line trenches describing the “effectiveness” of bureaucratic management under a liberal-socialist government.

As noted in the posting of Monday, May 03, 2004, “Followup - Education vs Outsourcing,” a fundamental precept of liberal-socialism is the conviction that only socialist intellectuals have the foresight to perceive the future needs of the nation and only the National State is able to plan and to direct research successfully. It was a cornerstone of the policies announced at the outset of the Clinton administration.

The writer of this analysis, Dr. Frank L. Madarasz, earned a doctorate in theoretical condensed matter physics and he is a Research Professor of Optical Sciences and Engineering in the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Currently, he is on loan to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, where he is working to establish cooperative nano-science/technology research programs between Taiwanese scientists and the U. S. Air Force.  He holds eight patents on optical/sensor technologies and has published over sixty five papers in international, refereed scientific journals.

Frank explains, “The generation of this “article” comes from several email exchanges I had with a colleague, Dr. Paul Chiu, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan.

Paul received his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1962, taught in NYU and then acquired a position with the University of Illinois, from which he retired and then went back to Taiwan to help make it work.? Our email exchanges revolved around the history of science and mathematics, research, education, and funding.? We often lamented how bad things have gotten in the US.? At one point I decided to sit down and write my thoughts all in one place.? This then became a summary of all the emails we had exchanged.? Thus no references are cited—only years of first hand experience as a scientist and exchanging of tales with other scientists.”


My Historical Perspective of Science in the USA Since WWII
(By Frank L. Madarasz, Ph.D.)

The woes of science, education, and funding today?the way things are going it will have a long-term negative impact on science, technology, and society.

There is no doubt that science played an important role in the winning of WW II. Many new technologies and new fields of study, such as Operations Research spawned by Phillip Morse at MIT, were spun off from the war effort.  Science had indeed proved its worth and versatility, and was duly rewarded.  Military laboratories were funded at a high rate to actually do basic research.  National Laboratories were built, and universities where funded by the government to do basic science without milestones and near term relevance related to some military system.  (The Army even funded institutes of pure mathematics at places like U. of Michigan and U. of Wisconsin.)  The confidence level was up that science would ultimate pay off.  Just as in WW II all that brain power and knowledge that was developed in doing basic research would eventually pay off in everyday life.  In fact, many private industrial labs did as much basic research as they did applied.

An additional boost to science and basic research came in the late 50?s in the form of something called ?Sputnik.?  Our government and society were put into high gear to produce more and better scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.  Federal and state governments sold science, and science programs, to the public and got the funding they needed to expand existing universities and build others which were perceived to be needed in order to handle the expected increase in student populations.  As an inducement to attract more students, scholarships, fellowships, and loans became available and plentiful.

So things were roaring for scientific education and research in the 60?s.  However, in 1969 the Mansfield Amendment was passed.  (Mike Mansfield was a U.S. Senator and later became Ambassador to Japan.)  Effectively this amendment said that all government funded research had to be ?mission? oriented.  Most government officials and administrators took this literally and began to demand that all in-house and out-sourced science and engineering funding be justified and tied to a functional, tangible end-product useful to the military.  This coupled with the fact that McNammara, the Secretary of Defense and ex-bean counting VP for Ford Motor Company, had implemented cost centers throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) made it very difficult to do government sponsored research.  It also led to the concept of basic versus applied research and the tier system-6.1, 6.2, 6.3, and 6.4-of allocating funds for different types of research.  This drove many scientists and engineers from DoD laboratories to universities where they could continue to do the research they wished to do.  Because of the enormous ramping up of universities throughout the 60?s there were plenty of vacant positions to accommodate the influx of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians from government laboratories.

Almost coincident with what was happening in the government research laboratories was a move afoot in private industry, which was driven by the Harvard Business School; it emphasized short-term profits.  This meant that private industrial laboratories also had to justify their research as being relevant to a product.  Needless to say many scientists left and went to universities, which still had positions open.  The net effect was the demise of premier industrial laboratories such as GE, RCA, Westinghouse, GTE, General Atomic, etc., and the saturation of the university faculties in the sciences.  (Most recently the last industrial bastions of real research and development, Bell Laboratories and IBM Watson have succumbed to this lunacy of short-term profits.  And we all know how successful Lucent Technologies has become.)  This culminated in the early to mid 70?s just when I was getting my Ph.D.  I and many other new Ph.D.?s were at a loss on where to find jobs and how to get them if they could be found.  Most of my contemporaries left science; a whole decade of scientific talent was wasted and lost.

Academics had little if any idea what was going on and even less of an idea how to correct it.  Their mentality was fashioned around good values but with little understanding of the new dynamic that was taking place.  ?Be dedicated, work hard, and sacrifice a little and the rest will fall into place.?  Things just did not work that way anymore.  By the early 80?s academics were beginning to recognize there was something wrong: not only were their students not getting science jobs, but the matriculation rate for American students had fallen off greatly.  Thus the push to bring in foreign students—somehow they had to justify bloated faculties top heavy with full professors.  In addition, the competition for students from other institutions was enormous because of the over building in the 60?s.

The bottom line on survival became finding money and attracting students to justify more funding.  Attracting more students and graduating them was handled in part by soliciting foreign students and in part by lowering degree requirements, as well as grading easier.  When all this started American universities were attracting top-notch foreign students.  Today that is not the case.  The economic and academic opportunities are just as good at home as they are in the US.  Consequently most of the good students stay in India, many are returning to Mainland China and Korea, and hardly any leave Taiwan or Japan.  They are returning to the Mainland China simply because the government is refurbishing most of the technical universities and offering very good financial incentives to return to the faculty for those that went off to the US to study.  Japan has a national commitment to acquire over thirty Nobel prizes in science during the 21st century, and their universities, at least so far, do not accept research funds from the military.  The center of gravity for science and technology is shifting from the US to the East.  The scientific and technical talent that will lead the US in the near future are for the most part of modest ability and in the worst cases mediocre.

Attracting funding has also had a great impact on the caliber of the faculty.  The importance and recognition of being a scholar and doing scholarly work has been replaced by bringing in money.  This obsession with funding has produced a new breed of scientist and engineer accurately described as a flim-flam artist.  They have learned very quickly how to play the proposal/funding game and bounce from one subject area to another, claiming expertise, in order to get the funding.  Worst yet is that they are very clever in padding their resumes.  I have seen people with 150 to 200 publications who are in the early to mid forties.  Sometimes the topic range in the vast number of papers is as astonishing as the number of papers itself.  For example, I have seen a publication list that has included topics ranging from general relativity theory to the measurement of radar signals.  (When I was in graduate school I was told that in theoretical physics one paper a year is expected, two is considered good, and three extraordinary.  This would mean that if someone were extraordinary, 40 years of work in a field would produce 120 papers.)  And being a good teacher has no relevance whatsoever.  (Today this has even carried over to the National Laboratories.  There, scientists, as with other government laboratories, must go out and find funding to do their research.)

One of the main culprits in the demise of scientific/engineering university education and scholarly research is the federal government.  It is the main source of funding and it funds mission-oriented tasks that have a habit of changing every three to four years?no time to really become an expert in any field.  Moreover, students are generally burdened with fulfilling the specifics of a proposal for their thesis work rather than having the time and freedom of thought to explore science as it should be.  It might also be pointed out that thousands upon thousands of man-hours are wasted in a most fruitless effort of writing proposal after proposal to finally break the barrier and get $50K?what a sad waste of time, education, and talent.

For sure, government funding can be most wasteful for small businesses which spend probably several hundred thousand dollars in writing SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) proposals to finally land a phase I which is less than a hundred thousand.  The idea of an SBIR is to assist small businesses in getting started.  In a very real sense it kills many of them since so many are vying for a very small pot of funds.

It might also be mentioned that, as this system of government funding of research grew, so did the need for technical program managers.  However, most are more bureaucrat than technical and generally cover their backsides by targeting their funds to more prestigious institutions/people and small businesses that have had some success in the past.  It is called being ?wired.?  This is not to forget that after finally breaking in the system and establishing some technical credibility the government program managers are on rotation, like at DARPA, or move on to other positions for promotion and once again technical credibility and continuity has to be renewed.  This is particularly difficult if the funds are periodically, every several years, refocused to new areas of technology.

Certainly the value system in America has changed enormously, and for the worse in my opinion.  Instant gratification, materialism, victimization and entitlement, lack of accountability, and in general, political correctness have all taken a toll on society directly and in turn on education and research.

Posted by Thomas E. Brewton on 07/02 at 04:03 PM
Junk Science • (1) Comments
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