APS News


Don't Blame Foreigners for Job Problem

I have read with great interest the review of David North's book, Soothing the Establishment: The Impact of Foreign-Born Scientists and Engineers on America, by Brian Schwartz (APS NEWS, December 1995). Speaking as one of those FBSEs, I hope you will allow a rebuttal to the theme and the contents of the book.

The central theme of the book as reviewed in APS NEWS is the cheap labor smell of foreign scientists. Although the credentials of foreign born scientists are impeccable, by agreeing to work for lower wages they are taking away jobs which legitimately belong to U.S. scientists. Several suggestions are put forward, including further study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation. If this study were to be carried out using public funds, allow me to suggest the inclusion of foreign born scientists such as Fermi, Szilard, Einstein, Bethe, Chandrashekhar, Weisskopf, Yang, Lee, Patel, Bloembergen, Wannier, Dyson, etc. If the thesis of the book is viable these scientists must have lowered the wages of U.S. scientists.

As for anecdotal information that has been quoted, let me pass along what I know: that the standards of Ph.D. qualifying exams are occasionally lowered to allow U.S. students to pass in order to preserve balance.

Let me move on to economic incentives for U.S. citizens to study science. People don't study science primarily because they will get rich. Those who want to get rich go into business. It is a terrible mistake to compare physicists with lawyers, accountants and physicians. The latter are professions. As long as we are taught to maximize the ratio of income/work, we are not going to attract the best students to physics. In spite of billions spent annually on schools only 2 percent of high school graduates are proficient in algebra, 5 percent are able to write a job application without making grammatical errors. Instead of blaming foreigners perhaps one should look elsewhere for the cause of the dismal level of education of our citizens.

There are serious problems but money is not the solution. Those who want to study physics should be prepared to work hard for long hours, low pay and to accept job insecurity. This is a description of an immigrant's work.

If according to the reviewer the book is not xenophobic, then I don't know what xenophobia is.

Munawar Karim
St. John Fisher College
Rochester, New York


I had to re-read the book review of Soothing the Establishment by David North to believe my eyes.

As recently as April 1995, a small graph of the annual citizenship breakdown of annual physics Ph.D. graduates since 1971 drew an irate letter in the June 1995 issue of APS NEWS. Yet reviewer Brian Schwartz seems to have broken a taboo by calmly recognizing (1) that an oversupply of Ph.D.'s leads to unemployment and depressed wages; (2) that foreign-born scientists and engineers (FBSEs) have something to do with the oversupply; and (3) that adjusting the immigration of FBSEs and cutting industry's use of foreign non-immigrant labor may be necessary. Startling news, but it comes a little late.

The large increase in annual admissions of scientists and engineers _ allowed by the 1990 Immigration Act in response to the National Science Foundation's forecasted "shortfall" of these professionals _ is unlikely to be lowered. The report of the recent Jordan Commission on Immigration Reform leaves "skill- based" immigration around the 100,000 level. Some immigration "reform" bills now in Congress would actually increase that number. Even the National Academy of Sciences, which also studied the FBSE situation, decided to take no action, viewing it as a non-problem.

There seems to be no highly organized group lobbying for recommendations like those in Mr. North's book. (Most of the immigration reform groups, such as FAIR or SOS in California, target the low-skilled labor market segments.) Conversely, there is an odd coalition of immigrants rights groups and high-technology manufacturers (the latter naturally favoring cheap labor) fighting any limitations. Contrast this situation with the medical profession, which is about to cut back on doctor training and reduce the number of positions for graduates of foreign medical schools to counter the oversupply of M.D.s and the declining median physician income.

The bottom line: be prepared for more whining about the dismal employment prospects in physics. It has taken too long for the APS even to acknowledge implicitly through the publication of Schwartz's book review that U.S. immigration policy has an adverse economic impact on a large segment of its membership. Unfortunately, in the words of John Locke, "Hell is truth seen too late."

William E. Murray, Jr.
Portola Valley, California

APS Should Eschew Political Partisanship

I am responding to the letter of Samuel Park in the December 1995 issue, which was in response to my letter in the October 1995 issue responding to a back page article by Dana Rohrabacher (APS NEWS, July 1995). Park's letter expressed a plea for humility among physicists, provoked by my sentiment decrying political partisanship in an APS forum.

I attempted to express two ideas. First, that discourse and debate in any Society forum should be judged by the cogency of the logic, integrity and applicability of the facts or data. Political partisanship, being a hybrid of advocacy and marketing, has its place, but that place is in Congress, political conventions, and pep rallies. And no, physicists do not have "comprehensive knowledge of all issues." However, that does not mean that we cannot speak passionately about intellectual integrity and principled debate. Further, it does not forbid us from crying foul when advocacy is masqueraded as rationality and popular opinion is proffered as fact.

My second point was that the value and worthiness of funded projects must not be judged solely on the accrual of short-term benefits or its ultimate profitability. This does not mean that fiscal irresponsibility is acceptable; rather, it means that there are other values in addition to economic ones. For example, if our educational system is failing two-thirds of the participants, we do not forsake our children because the economic return on investment is sub-par. The return on the investment in education is worth far more to citizens and to this society than mere dollars.

I am not quite clear why these ideas are so threatening and why they are perceived as somehow being arrogant or lacking in humility. I believe that the APS membership can bring intellectual honesty and disciplined thinking to funding arguments. I believe that the politically partisan arguments currently in vogue do not comprehend these tenets and therefore should be eschewed in the halls of this Society. If these sentiments lack humility, then humility is no virtue.

Douglas Verret
Texas Instruments

Ph.D. Benefits Go Beyond Research Skills

I very much enjoyed Geoff Heuter's story in the "Career Corner" of the December 1995 APS NEWS. As a physics Ph.D. whose career has strayed far from traditional science, I really appreciated the part where he talked about the -benefits of his Ph.D. training: not the specialized skills, such as gamma-ray astronomy, but the other skills, such as basic physics and math, writing proposals, and planning experiments (i.e., measurement and analysis of just about anything). I have often felt the same way, but Geoff put it into words very well. I also agree with his four tips. I think that he presents these tips in the correct sequence, corresponding to their priority: getting familiar with, and appreciating, the mind-set of the business world is the most important.

The next step: how can we get university faculty to recognize and encourage these values in their students, so that the students will be better prepared to succeed in the current environment?

Peter Heimann
AT&T Bell Laboratories

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin