F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society 
July 2005



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Report on Initial Employment in Physics and Astronomy

Over half of the new physics PhDs in 2002 accepted postdoctoral positions, and about half of the new physics bachelors started graduate school, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center.  The report looks at the initial employment of graduates from the physics and astronomy classes of 2001 and 2002 at U.S. colleges and universities.

In the U.S., 1157 physics PhDs were produced in the class of 2001,and 1095 in 2002.  This represents "the seventh and eight year of declining physics doctorate production" in this country, according to the report.  The survey received information on 63% of the degree recipients from these classes.  Respondents reported "a median of 6 full-time equivalent years of study to complete their degree. "According to the survey, 50% of those PhDs were foreign citizens and14% were women.  Responses indicated that approximately 15% of the foreign students left the U.S. after receiving their degrees.

Only two percent of the combined classes reported being unemployed in the winter after receiving their degree.  The survey finds that "the proportion of new physics PhDs taking postdocs has risen for the second consecutive year," largely due to "a sharp increase in the proportion of foreign citizens" from the 2002 class accepting postdoctoral positions.

According to the report, the highest starting salaries were received by PhDs accepting potentially permanent positions in the private sector and at national laboratories, with salaries at colleges and universities "strikingly lower than in other potentially permanent positions."  Survey responses also indicated that, "overall, physics PhDs are quite satisfied with their initial employment circumstances."

Undergraduate physics degree production "has increased significantly" in the U.S. in recent years, the report says.  In 2001, 4091 physics bachelor's degrees were conferred, and 4305 were conferred in 2002, representing "an 18% increase over the recent low of the class of 1999."  The combined classes of 2001 and 2002 included 23% women and 6% foreign citizens.  Of those graduates, 59% of the respondents indicated satisfaction with the job market and available career prospects, and 85% of respondents "indicated that they would still major in physics."

"As has been the case for many years," the survey says, "about half of the new physics bachelors go directly to graduate school."  Of those going into the job market, the survey finds that the private sector "continues to be the dominant employer," but "now employs less than half of all physics bachelors" in the combined 2001 and 2002 classes.  "The government sector and high school teaching have seen the greatest growth in recent years," the survey finds.

In 2001, 701 physics master's degrees were conferred, declining to 657 in 2002.  The combined classes for the two years included 20%women and 39% foreign citizens.  Responses indicated that almost a third of those graduating with a master's degree "continued with physics graduate study at another institution."  The survey reports that "a little over half of the masters, made up of predominantly U.S. citizens, indicated that they had entered directly into the workforce," where the private sector continues to be the largest employer of new physics masters.  The survey also finds that, "for the most part, physics masters felt good about their choice of major(85%), but not as positive about the job market and career options, with 40% expressing dissatisfaction."

In astronomy, the PhD classes of 2001 and 2002 included "101 and 102 students, respectively," with 24% women and 27% foreign citizens in the combined classes.  Almost three quarters of the combined PhD classes reported accepting postdoctoral appointments.  The survey finds that "astronomy PhDs felt very positive about their degree and employment situation."

Bachelor's degree production in astronomy has seen a "dramatic rise that began with the class of 2001," according to the report, which finds that "much of this increase coincided with a sharp rise in the number of women receiving astronomy bachelor's degrees."  The class of 2001 produced 274 astronomy bachelors, and the class of 2002 produced 325, with 42% women and 6% foreign citizens in the combined classes.  Of the respondents in these classes, about half began graduate school, and the other half entered the workforce, with the private sector as the largest employer.  While 81% indicated that they would choose an astronomy major again, the report notes that "astronomy bachelors were less positive about the job market they encountered."

"The population of exiting master's degrees in astronomy is very small," the report says, "too few to allow detailed analysis of outcomes.  Most of this group entered directly into the workforce."

The March 2005 report, entitled "Initial Employment Report: Physics and Astronomy Degree Recipients of 2001 and 2002," (AIP Pub. No.R-282.24), can be found at http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/emp0102.pdf.                

AIP's Statistical Research Center collects and maintains data, and produces reports, on a broad range of education, workforce and demographic issues within the physics and astronomy communities. Highlights and the full text of reports can be found on the AIP website at http://www.aip.org/statistics/.

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 67: May 10, 2005

Senator Hutchison Seeks Broader Role for Space Station

"I am especially concerned that we build our path to the future without short-changing the investment we have made in the exploration tools we already have in hand."  - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)

The chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Space, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), wants to find a way to ensure that research on board the International Space Station (ISS) fulfills many of the promises that have been made for it over the years.  While supportive of President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, at an April 20 hearing she stated her commitment "to ensuring that the investment we have made as a nation in the International Space Station is rewarded to the greatest extent possible by the fulfillment of the purposes for which it has been designed....  This important, impressive facility cannot be allowed to be used simply as a tool for Moon and Mars exploration-related research," she declared.  "This facility is capable of doing much more for our nation...and we must ensure that we make the maximum use of its capabilities."  As input to her preparations for a NASA reauthorization bill, she probed witnesses for suggestions on management models that might let the U.S. continue with a broad range of research objectives for the station.

Marcia Smith of the Congressional Research Service reviewed the station's history since it was originally proposed by President Reagan in 1984.  She noted that when the program began, it was expected to serve eight separate functions: as a laboratory; a permanent Earth and space observatory; a transportation node; a facility for servicing, assembling, manufacturing, and storing components, payloads and vehicles; and a staging base for future missions.  Under the first President Bush, the station was downsized and limited to one remaining role, a laboratory in space.  Further rounds of downsizing and cost-cutting followed under Presidents Bush and Clinton.  In 1993 the Russians joined the international partnership, and in 1998 the first two elements were launched.  After taking office in 2001, the second President Bush cancelled three major U.S. elements, including the Crew Return Vehicle, reduced the research budget, and called for prioritization of the research program by the Research Maximization and Prioritization (ReMaP) Task Force.  Then, in his Vision for Space Exploration, announced in January of last year, the President stated that "we will focus our future research aboard the station on the long-term effects of space travel on human biology."  The full extent of the impact of President Bush's vision on the utilization of the ISS "is not clear yet, "Smith said.  "What is known," she added, is that "the scope of research would be narrowed," there would be "fewer years during which NASA would conduct research," and "the shuttle would not be available" to support scientific operations after the station is completed.

In prepared testimony, William Readdy, NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Operations, stated that "U.S. research activities aboard the Station will be focused to support the new exploration goals."  He informed the subcommittee that "NASA is currently in the process of focusing and prioritizing International Space Station research and technology development efforts on areas that best contribute to the Vision."  He continued, "In order to best utilize limited resources, NASA is phasing out some activities that do not directly support the Vision...and reallocating resources to the higher priority areas."  Readdy reported that, prior to President Bush's announcement of the new exploration goals, NASA had studied possible management options for long-term ISS utilization.  But, he said, those studies were suspended after Bush's announcement.

Hutchison asked for the preliminary findings of these studies, to aid her in preparing a reauthorization bill for the space agency. She and other subcommittee members questioned the witnesses about possible management models for long-term ISS research, the prospects for private investment, the most appropriate types of research, and U.S. access to the station after the shuttle is retired.  Some management options mentioned included designating the ISS a national laboratory, operating it as a federally-funded R&D center or a research institute, or management by consortium. While stating that a balanced, overall program of science, exploration and aeronautics must "capitalize on the unique testbed" offered by the ISS, Jeffrey Sutton of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute cautioned that NASA must be "more selective in the types of experiments flown" on the station.  He urged decision makers to ask, "What can only be done on the space station?"

"Selecting which experiments get to fly" is a significant challenge, agreed Mary Ellen Weber of the University of Texas, Southwest Medical Center.  This can only be determined, she said, by first deciding what the station's mission is: Is it intended to be a conduit for private-sector commercialization of products? Or is it intended to serve the national interest, by supporting the space exploration initiative, for example?  She highlighted two areas of research that she thought would reap substantial rewards for private investors: the growth of human tissue outside the body, and the growth of protein crystals to advance drug design based on the structures of protein molecules.  Weber, whose past work at NASA included efforts to attract private investment to space research, offered a number of "lessons learned."  The space agency must make "a paradigm shift," she said, and begin to take the responsibility for surveying the market place, identifying a compelling market need, ensuring a specific source of revenue, and developing a business plan ,rather than "put[ting] the onus on investors."

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 65: May 6, 2005

AAPT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution and Cosmology

Threats to the teaching of high-quality, peer-reviewed science continue to arise in school districts around the country.  "Although the controversy focuses primarily on biology," National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts warned Academy members earlier this year that "some who challenge the teaching of evolution in ournation's schools have also focused their sights on the earth and physical sciences" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/049.html).

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) and many of its Member Societies have been active in monitoring this issue and, in some instances, taking actions to defend the teaching of high-quality science in science classrooms.  To address efforts "to weaken and even to eliminate significant portions of evolution and cosmology" from state and local educational objectives, the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers, an AIP Member Society,  recently adopted a statement on the teaching of evolution and cosmology.  The text of the April 24 statement follows:

"AAPT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution and Cosmology

"The Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers is dismayed at organized actions to weaken and even to eliminate significant portions of evolution and cosmology from the educational objectives of states and school districts.

"Evolution and cosmology represent two of the unifying concepts of modern science. There are few scientific theories more firmly supported by observations than these: Biological evolution has occurred and new species have arisen over time, life on Earth originated more than a billion years ago, and most stars are at least several billion years old. Overwhelming evidence comes from diverse sources - the structure and function of DNA, geological analysis of rocks, paleontological studies of fossils, telescopic observations of distant stars and galaxies - and no serious scientist questions these claims. We do our children a grave disservice if we remove from their education an exposure to firm scientific evidence supporting principles that significantly shape our understanding of the world in which we live.

"No scientific theory, no matter how strongly supported by available evidence, is final and unchallengeable; any good theory is always exposed to the possibility of being modified or even overthrown by new evidence. That is at the very heart of the process of science. However, biological and cosmological evolution are theories as strongly supported and interwoven into the fabric of science as any other essential underpinnings of modern science and technology. To deny children exposure to the evidence in support of biological and cosmological evolution is akin to allowing them to believe that atoms do not exist or that the Sun goes around the Earth.

"We believe in teaching that science is a process that examines all of the evidence relevant to an issue and tests alternative hypotheses. For this reason, we do not endorse teaching the "evidence against evolution," because currently no such scientific evidence exists. Nor can we condone teaching "scientific creationism," "intelligent design," or other non-scientific viewpoints as valid scientific theories. These beliefs ignore the important connections among empirical data and fail to provide testable hypotheses. They should not be a part of the science curriculum.

"School boards, teachers, parents, and lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive a good education in science. The American Association of Physics Teachers opposes all efforts to require or promote teaching creationism or any other non-scientific viewpoints in a science course. AAPT supports the National Science Education Standards, which incorporate the process of science and well-established scientific theories including cosmological and biological evolution.

"This statement was adopted by the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers on April 24, 2005."

In cooperation with many of its Member Societies, AIP continues to track attempts around the country to dilute the science taught in science classrooms.  In some instances, AIP and several Member Societies have initiated such responses as writing letters to school boards and state and local officials, encouraging individual scientists to testify at hearings, issuing news alerts, and encouraging other grassroots initiatives.

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 70: May 18, 2005
All above by:
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org   www.aip.org/gov
(301) 209-3094

Does National Security Require or Contradict Scientific Integrity?

Unknowns at MIT

The new president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Susan Hockfield, has an opportunity she should not miss to put the institute on the right course in a matter that affects national security, the integrity of scientific research, and the institute's ability to maintain academic independence while receiving millions of dollars in research funds from the Defense Department. 

After years of delay, her predecessor, Charles Vest, had acknowledged evidence suggesting a possible coverup of scientific fraud involving Lincoln Laboratory and early tests of the national missile defense system.  An MIT inquiry had come to this conclusion last year, and, in accordance with federal rules and MIT policies, it recommended opening an investigation by MIT to determine whether there had indeed been scientific misconduct at Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center over which MIT has supervisory responsibility.

But just before he left office last December, Vest suspended the investigation after the Missile Defense Agency informed MIT that it was classifying both MIT's inquiry and a 1998 Lincoln Lab report to federal investigators that is suspected of falsifying results of the first test flight, in 1997, of the missile defense system now being deployed.

Hockfield would be acting in the best interests of MIT and the country if she invested her prestige in persuading the Pentagon to reconsider its classification of materials that MIT's investigators have the security clearances to see. She should also approve creation of a panel of independent investigators —people who have the technical and scientific background to judge the evidence and who have no ties to the Pentagon or MIT that might suggest a conflict of interest. Ideally, such a panel would be allowed to see the materials the Missile Defense Agency has now classified. But if not, some scientists contend that there is enough material in open, unclassified sources to determine whether there was a crucial failure of the infrared sensor in the first test of the missile defense system and whether the Lincoln Lab covered up that failure in its 1998 report.

This is a matter that goes beyond MIT's oversight of Lincoln Lab or its relations with the Pentagon. Because the Bush administration is betting that the system can protect Americans from nuclear attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles, Hockfield is also confronting a question that involves the security of all Americans as well as the economic wisdom of Bush's missile defense gamble.  MIT officials have not responded to several requests for comment.

For several years, the MIT physicist Ted Postol, a professor of science, technology, and national security policy, has been calling for the institute to investigate the possibility that Lincoln Laboratory covered up fraud by the defense contractor TRW. In 1997 and 1998,TRW conducted early experiments for the missile defense system. A whistleblower from TRW later told the Defense and Justice departments that TRW tampered with data analysis, making it appear that the warhead in those tests was selected from among several decoys by an infrared sensor when in fact it was not. Plausible decoys were removed from subsequent tests. The sensor's ability to tell decoys from a warhead is crucial for a missile defense system because any country able to launch a nuclear weapon on a missile will also be able to surround it with decoys.

Federal agents looking into the whistleblower's charges asked Lincoln Lab for an analysis of the early TRW flight tests. In the summer of 1998, Lincoln Lab delivered to investigators from the Justice Department and the Defense Department a report entitled "Independent Review of TRW Discrimination Techniques." The 1998 Lincoln report claimed that the sensor had discriminated between the decoys and the mock warhead. But two reports produced in 2002 by the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) found several flaws in the sensor caused by a failure of its cooling system. As a result, the sensor lost calibration, meaning that it could not match what it saw to what it was programmed to expect.

Like Postol, David Wright, senior scientist and codirector of the Global Security Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that if such a failure prevented the sensor from cooling sufficiently, it could not have discriminated between a warhead and decoys, as TRW and the Lincoln Lab report claimed. The director of the Carnegie Endowment's nonproliferation project, Joseph Cirincione, says that Lincoln Lab "had the data and appeared to cherry-pick the data. It looks very clear to me."

A key question hovering over the argument between Postol and MIT's administration is whether it is possible to decide the question of scientific fraud at Lincoln Lab while its1998 report and the MIT inquiry are classified. Postol insists there is ample unclassified material that is "all over the Web."

Phillip Coyle, who was assistant secretary of state for test and evaluation from 1994 to 2000, believes, however, that it would be better for all concerned parties if the relevant materials were made available to investigators with the requisite security clearances. If an investigation is done without access to classified materials and it does not prove fraud, Coyle says, Postol and others who suspect fraud will be back to square one. If the Pentagon says that the key reports are classified or that people with the right clearances can't see them, Coyle contends, that raises questions about the level of trust between MIT and the Defense Department.

Cirincione explains MIT's lack of ardor to obtain a definitive answer to the question of fraud by saying, "They are seekers of contracts, not seekers of truth." The challenge facing Hockfield did not originate on her watch, but she would be wise to address it forthrightly by insisting that the Pentagon allow a panel of independent, qualified people to examine the records and decide whether a scientific fraud has been committed involving a system that is supposed to protect Americans from a nuclear warhead.

Editorial "Unknowns at MIT"
Boston Sunday Globe, April 10, 2005
Reprinted Courtesy of the Boston Globe.



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