Monday, May 03, 2004


Once again I think I went off half-cocked. In the previous post I mentioned a lot of stuff about the state of European vs. American science. There are probably no "facts" in there - just my opinions that were formed 10 years ago and perhaps applicable only to my field of study. In my sub-specialty at the time, there was more work being done in UK, France and Germany than in the US because the EU was gearing up for a major multi-satellite launch. Then the rocket blew up on launch. In general fact, it still may be the case that more scientists end up working in the United States from Europe than the other way around. Here is an excerpt from the website of the European Life Scientist Organization:

How many more times do we have to read official reports from the European Commission (EC) depicting the deplorable state of science in Europe? Compared with the USA, our biggest competitor, Europe spends less money, has fewer scientists, publishes less groundbreaking scientific articles, applies for fewer patents, and looses more jobs and money from the high-technology sector.

What’s worse, the gap is widening. As Europe struggles to create a competitive research environment, European-based companies invest much more in research and development (R&D) in the USA than US companies invest in Europe. According to the EC’s ‘Key Figures’, in 2000, for example, €5 billion of European R&D investment – the equivalent of the annual research budget of the EC – was spent outside Europe, mostly to the benefit of the USA! And the cost of losing our young and most creative researchers to the USA probably translates into a several-fold greater financial loss.

Most of us in research are not surprised when we read the official analyses. We know that the USA attracts the world’s best scientists by giving them earlier and better opportunities, better environments and better grants. The problem in Europe is obvious: the scientific environment is simply not good enough, and the attitude of European research managers, rectors, deans, presidents of research councils, etc., is not competitive at all.

We read in our scientific journals about the woeful lack of opportunities for postdocs in countries like Italy, France and Spain. We know all about the rigid hierarchical organization of our universities in Germany, Belgium and many other countries on the continent.
Now this is in life sciences, which I think has always been much stronger in the U.S. and undoubtedly still is. The NY Times article was biased more towards physics and other physical sciences so things might be better in Europe for these disciplines.

Also, it may be the case that a higher percentage of Americans go to college and then graduate school than Europeans (anecdotally I noticed this in Europe). Hence, if Europe wishes to have similar research institutions as the U.S., then there will be a greater pool of talent to draw from in America than in Europe. Again, this was ten years ago when I formed these impressions, situations may have changed.

I have no data on the actual dollars of basic research spent recently vs. any time in the past. My suspicion was that it has declined but I don't really know. But undoubtedly, in physics at least, opportunities for basic research in industry has become almost non-existent - I think that is well established.

However, I still stand behind my hastily argued rants on how progress in American science could be at risk due to anti-intellectualism.


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