APS News


Dentistry and the Priesthood Better Career Bets than Science

Over the years we have heard many pronouncements on impending "shortages" of scientific talent. These have not corresponded with reality. The same applies to the recent pronouncements of the National Science Board, as discussed by Roman Czujko in the July APS News.

An honest editorial on this topic entitled "Supply without demand" was published in Science Vol. 303, 20 Feb. 2004, page 1105.

Some of my former students, even recent graduates, reported they were laid off from their jobs, even in 1998, even in "good" economic times. Conditions are of course worse during a downturn such as the current one.

None of my friends who are dentists have been laid off.

On a recent trip to visit a renowned senior industrial researcher, I saw some empty offices next to his. I asked why the offices were empty. The people were laid off, some after many years of service. One senior researcher had become a patent agent, working on contract out of his home, waiting for telephone calls.

A former student, who had worked in my lab in the mechanics and materials area, was unable to find an academic position which suited his background. He ultimately found opportunity in support of computer systems. At one point the company offered an "interview for a position in the new organization". He correctly viewed that as abusive, and fortunately found another position.

The following comment was made during the 1995 technical recession. Stanford University issued a press release announcing the results of a new study by researchers at the Rand Corporation and Stanford's Institute for Higher Education Research. Among the study's conclusions are that universities in the United States are producing about 25% more doctorates in science and engineering fields than the US economy can absorb. While some academic and science organizations have argued that government should expand research funding to avoid wasting these resources invested in doctoral training, sponsored research actually increases the long-term overproduction of doctorates, say Stanford Professor William Massy and Charles Goldman of Rand.

Following a prior technical recession, Congressional investigation was conducted of the NSF over the way it handled the "shortage" reports. The hearings were documented in Nature Vol. 356 (16 April 1992 p. 553).

The US is producing at least three times the number of scientists and engineers that the economy is predicted to absorb (Reference: NSF 1992 Science and Technology Pocket Data Book NSF 92-331 pp. 22- 24, p. 30.)

Surpluses of scientists and engineers are deliberately created by technical societies. Specifically, D. E. Marlowe, executive director, American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and past president of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) wrote the following in an article "Engineering education: issues and answers" in Mechanical Engineering magazine, December 1980.

"We may have to create a deliberate surplus in the late 1980's and a pool 'holding' of 'post-docs' in the early 1990's to properly meet the nation's requirements for high-technology engineering in the 1990's."

The dental profession produces the number of dentists actually needed. Dentists tend not to be laid off, and they do not usually have difficulty finding work. Similarly the Episcopal Church produces the number of priests actually needed. Priests tend not to be laid off, and they do not usually have difficulty finding work.

Our profession should learn to do as well for our young people.

I know of one PhD mathematician and two PhD engineers out of work and looking for work.

If you are aware of some opportunities for them, please let me know and I will be glad to forward the information.

Rod Lakes
Madison, WI

Don't Suppress Debate on Evolution

Mary Lu Larsen's letter in the June issue of APS News was very disappointing. She tries to make her point by resorting to the old red herring of a Biblical claim of 6000 years for the age of the earth (or the age of the universe as another variant goes).

A literal reading of the Bible shows that no such claim can be found in its pages. Most of the best modern scholarship by those who do take the Bible seriously, and as literally as such literature allows, shows persuasively that the "days" ("Yom" in Hebrew) of the Genesis text were intended to be read as long periods of time (i.e. periods of very many days, years). Such a view has been held throughout Christian history with Augustine (A.D. 354-430) being perhaps the first to clearly write about such issues.

Genesis, when read with an awareness of the original Hebrew and within the context of the rest of the Bible record, actually offers an account in surprisingly good agreement with most key aspects of what physical cosmology and natural history is now basically telling us.

Recent books by Robert Newman, Hugh Ross and many others have made this point very lucidly. These people, often with extensive physics training and respect for the actual physical data, would also claim the title of 'creationist' and they do not hold to a 6k old earth.

It is not helpful to trot out the extreme and unfortunate views of a very vocal minority of English speaking North American Christians and then pin those views on all Christians who would also seek the literal meaning of the Biblical text.

It would be much more useful to refocus this discussion on the fact that many professional physicists and practitioners of just about every other field of science see very serious problems with macro—evolutionary theory. As P.C.W. Davies elegantly points out in a recent paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology (2(0):1-6, 2003), the physical processes operating in our universe do not spontaneously generate the massive amounts of information that would have to occur to drive any credible macro- evolutionary process. The complaint that macro-evolutionary theory does not persuasively account for the colossal information content of life is one solidly rooted in hard science and not religion.

The real issue here is the suppression of dissent and debate. There are scientifically valid reasons for controversy here. As with other areas of Science, we would do best to allow the debate to occur and to teach both sides of this controversy to anyone beginning a study of Biology.

There are apparently many who very badly need macro-evolutionary theory to be true to justify a particular philosophical view of life they have chosen.This is their choice and they should be allowed to have it.

However such people should not be allowed to solely determine the rules of this debate or to suppress questions others would ask. Science flourishes best when assumptions are ruthlessly put to the test and free inquiry is encouraged.

With regard to macro-evolutionary theory, many are concerned that this is not what is actually happening.

Douglas L. Keil
Fremont, CA

Regarding the Former Ronald Reagan

"The Back Page" of the July issue contains a sentence with this clause: "soon after the collapse of the former Soviet Union". The former Soviet Union did not collapse. Something that no longer exists can not collapse. What collapsed was the Soviet Union.

This may seem like pedantry on my part, but the inappropriate use of "former" attached to Soviet Union is a form of gloating fostered by those on the right, which has no place in APS News.

Alwyn Eades
Bethlehem, PA

Time To Say the "N" Word

I read with interest the commentaries upon the content of Harold Varmus's Back Page in the June 2004 issue.

It seems to me that the American Physical Society would do very well to print a Back Page that offends both political parties: Someone should lay out the actual numbers concerning energy in the future. We are NOT going to get off oil via renewables like wind and solar. It is going to take a return to nuclear power on a large scale to achieve any change at all in the long-term energy policy of the United States.

In the present election, neither party will speak the "N" word, but instead recite platitudes about how renewables will save us. However, every reader of APS News can tell a Gigawatt from a Kilowatt. The very necessary task of educating the public begins with such extremely simple arithmetic.

Tom Sheahen

Oakland, MD

Lobbying Efforts are Misdirected

I recently attended DAMOP, where it was pointed out on several occasions how the funding for physics has been decreasing under the current administration. Then in the same issue of APS News that reported on DAMOP, I found an article titled "Slakey's Low-Key Approach Pays Off for APS Lobbying Efforts."

The article points out that Slakey is employed to work on budget issues aimed at increasing federal funding for physics. Slakey has instead chosen to focus on "politically volatile" issues: climate change, nuclear weapons, and creationism.

While Slakey has been very successful in pursuing his own liberal politics, the funding that he is supposed to be lobbying for has steadily decreased. I can't help but think that APS would be better served if our lobbying efforts were indeed focused on funding.

Greg Rupper
Tucson, AZ

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

You got it right to an order of magnitude, a decade to be precise. In "This Month in Physics History...Discovery of the Positron," you note the "thirty years" between the discovery of the antiproton (1955) and the production of the first anti-atoms (1995).

Perhaps the Sixties got lost in a purple haze, or maybe you prefer to think that the Eighties didn't count?

David Reis
Ann Arbor, MI

Ed. Note: We apologize-we did the calculation in the rest frame of the anti-proton and neglected to transform back to the laboratory frame.

Cosmic Rays Discovered in 1911-1912

Victor Hess received the 1936 Nobel Prize for the discovery of cosmic rays in experiments during 1911- 1912, not 1930 as cited in the article about the positron ["This Month in Physics History," APS News, August/September 2004]. To explain the increasing intensity of ionizing radiation with increasing altitude during manned balloon flights up to 16,000 feet, Hess proposed that the radiation arrives on the earth's atmosphere from "outside."

The mysterious radiation was called "Hohenstrahlung" until Millikan coined the term "cosmic rays" in 1925. See V. Hess, Phys. Zeit. vol.12, p. 998 (1911); vol. 13, p. 1084 (1912).

George W. Clark
Cambridge, MA

Positron Not Predicted Until 1931

Contrary to what is stated in "This Month in Physics History," [APS News, August/September 2004], Dirac did not show "that Einstein's relativity implied that every particle in the universe had a corresponding antiparticle" in 1928.

Dirac published the Dirac equation in 1928, but he did not get around to thinking about an interpretation of the "Dirac sea" until 1930, when he tried to identify the proton as the antiparticle of the electron. It was 1931 before he made the correct prediction of an anti-electron as a partner of the electron.

J. D. Jackson
Berkeley, CA

To Tell the Truth

Thanks to Roman Czujko ["National Science Board: Getting it Wrong Again?", APS News, July 2004] for his honesty. His article reaffirms my faith in APS to tell the truth even when it's bad news.

Alison Chaiken
Palo Alto, CA

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette