Volume 25, Number 3 July 1996


The letters are dedicated to free expression on societal topics of interest to the physics community. As a forum for all physicists we welcome all views, but of course the Forum on Physics and Society does not necessarily endorse any particular view found in these pages. Readers are most heartily invited to respond to letters, comments, or others items in Physics & Society. Letters should not be longer than 500 words.

Demand for Physicists and Self-Marketing

Curiously, P.W.Bo Hammer accuses me of 'discouraging debate' and immediately contradicts himself by actually debating some points of my January letter in which I raised concerns about the shrinking job market for physicists. However, in terms of hard facts, Bo Hammer's main thesis, that the information revolution increases the above demand, needs a lot more, not less discusion.

Nobody is seriously disputing the fact that transistors and computers are based on years of background research in solid state physics. However, it is an unwarranted simplification to extrapolate this (and many other similar examples) into an assertion that the massive demand for professional physicists is here to stay. Bo Hammer refers to the optimistic prognosis, of R&D Trends Forecast , that the demand for physicists is about to rebound. However, the fact is that almost all new jobs generated by the computer industry and the Internet are software-type jobs with relatively little component of 'real' physics. Many major corporations are actually decreasing, not increasing their R&D sectors.

Bo Hammer further suggests that physicists should be more pro-active in marketing themselves for private industry.. I am afraid that here we again deflect from the prime issue. While it is true that PhD physicists as taxi-cab drivers may not (yet ?) amount to a mass phenomenon, many of the recent physics graduates are hired more for their overall intelligence and well known learning abilities than for their training in highly specialized areas of physics. For example, 2 of our recent PhD graduates (in astrophysics and nuclear physics) have just accepted positions with investment firms. So far, so good, but it is legitimate to ask what early galaxies or nuclear resonances have to do with stock market options and mutual funds.

The signs of PhD overproduction in physics are too numerous to be ignored. In this light, the critical question if the WWW-revolution indeed translates into more jobs for physicists (rather than for software writers), is not likely to be easily resolved by unilateral pronouncements. Therefore, I concur with Bo Hammer that we need to unfold (not to wrap up) this discussion, even if it means giving public tribune to highly controversial opinions.

Alexander A. Berezin
Department of Engineering Physics,
McMaster University, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7

More on "Women in Physics"

Several readers have criticized our decision to publish the original letter by Gordon Freeman, which many find offensive. Our decision to accept a letter does not necessarily imply our agreement with it. Rather we choose to air a range of opinions concerning physics and society. A variety of opinions exist and it is better to confront them openly and deal with them rather than to pretend that they do not exist. If we were to refuse to publish letters with which we strongly disagree, then we would not truly be a forum.

Art Hobson, Former Editor
Al Saperstein, Current Editor

Robert Schrieffer did not suggest that my observations about the connection between two-career families and youth crime and the poor job market are wrong. He simply reaffirmed the misguided APS policy of RECRUITING women into Physics, with no consideration given to the needs of children to become responsible future adults. ...

Rhonda Stroud's surprise at reading my letter reflects the censorship that has colored the material that has been available to her. My letter to P&S was censored from the first issue for which it was scheduled....

Schrieffer is wrong in his use of the word need; perhaps he has generalized from a few special cases.

Judith Bush is correct that women in Physics (or any paid job) who do not have a child, and are not living with a man who does, do not harm the next generation by child neglect. I agree with her that fathers who are Physicists, or otherwise employed, and who are married to (or [living with]) someone who earns money should be laid off. They are bad role models.

Julia Thompson has had an exceptional life. She made no mention that the nation needs the very best in child-rearing, ... There are always exceptions in complex systems, but the failure rate in two-career families is so high that the prisons and courts are overflowing with the failures. It is not a matter of excluding women from the paid job market. It is simply a matter of admiring the women who do what most of them want to do, to nurture their own families. This requires a large increase in the personal responsibility of men.

Gordon Freeman
Chemistry Department
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Canada T6G 2G2