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WaPo on the Big Science "Pyramid Scheme"

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There's no evolution angle per se in this Washington Post article but it makes a fine rebuttal to folks who think of Big Science as a holy and pure mother church, motivated only by the pursuit of truth and endangered by a barbaric anti-science attitude in the hinterlands, so that not enough young people are embracing a priestly vocation as professional scientists, to the impoverishment of our society etc. etc.

On the contrary, there aren't enough science jobs to go around to newly graduated biologists, chemists and the like, whether in academia or the pharmaceutical industry. Notwithstanding views being advocated by prominent politicians and the National Science Foundation, there is no shortage of scientists. Meanwhile in a scam that's increasingly recognized as such, the science establishment continues to encourage minting new PhDs to supply a cheap labor pool of expendable post-docs.

Although the injection of $10 billion in federal stimulus funds to the NIH from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 "created or retained" 50,000 science jobs, according to the NIH, that money is running dry, putting those positions at risk.

The lack of permanent jobs leaves many PhD scientists doing routine laboratory work in low-wage positions known as "post-docs," or postdoctoral fellowships. Post-docs used to last a year or two, but now it's not unusual to find scientists toiling away for six, seven, even 10 years.

Until recently, Amaral, the neuroscientist, was one of perhaps 100,000 scientists -- the figures are fuzzy -- in the United States working as a post-doc. After earning her expensive doctorate in neuroscience over seven years, which she financed by working and drawing down her savings, Amaral spent a year counting blips on a computer screen for another scientist.

"I couldn't answer the question of how this was any different from undergraduate work," said Amaral, 39.

Salaries for university post-doc jobs start at about $39,000, according to the National Postdoctoral Association. They require a science PhD -- which can leave the recipient buried in debt. Benefits are usually minimal and, until a decade ago, even health insurance was rare.

[Paula] Stephan, the Georgia State economist, calls the post-doc system a "pyramid scheme" that enriches -- in prestige, scientific publications and federal grant dollars -- a few senior scientists at the expense of a large pool of young, cheap ones.

"I don't think anybody minds sucking it up for a year or two, seeing it as an apprenticeship," said Zoe Fonseca-Kelly, a PhD geneticist who spent seven years as a post-doc at three universities. "What's very frustrating is that it's turned into a five-year process. People get very disillusioned with it."

Fonseca-Kelly got fed up with it, too. She left the lab for an administrative job at Harvard Medical School.

The post-doc system is "dysfunctional and not sustainable in the long term," Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman told top brass at NIH in June. Tilghman heads an NIH-appointed panel that is wrestling with overhauling how that agency trains new scientists. A new report from her group calls for better pay and more benefits for post-docs and major changes in how NIH funds young scientists.

Yes, as always it's all about the pursuit of government money. Oh, and prestige too.

Image: Wikicommons.


5 Comments

"And yes, science is a continuous effort at finding the most possible truth. Religion however goes unchanged for thousands of years, being slowly backed into a corner of irrelevance."

What a massive non-sequitur.

Discovering mechanisms for small-scale adaptation did nothing to religion, nor did the understanding of quantum mechanics or any other breakthroughs in our understanding of the physical world.

Religion doesn't make claims to explaining how biological or physical processes work; it makes claims as to why these things exist at all, why the physical world is intelligible, and most frequently, makes statements about the human condition.

I know of one such religion that is being slowly backed into a corner of irrelevance. That would be your religion of Darwinism parading as science.

Dr. David Berlinski in his book "The Devil’s Delusion" sums this problem up well:

Within the English-speaking world, Darwin’s theory of evolution remains the only scientific theory to be widely championed by the scientific community and widely disbelieved by everyone else. No matter the effort made by biologists, the thing continues to elicit the same reaction it has always elicited; You’ve got to be kidding, right?…Suspicions about Darwin’s theory arise for two reasons. The first: the theory makes little sense. The second: it is supported by little evidence. (pp. 186-187)

"science is a continuous effort at finding the most possible truth."

- Yes that is true... as long as scientists do NOT allow Darwin one foot in the lab. If they do its metaphysics not science.

"Religion however goes unchanged for thousands of years, being slowly backed into a corner of irrelevance."

- 150+ years of Darwinian indoctrination and still 8.5 - 9 out of 10 people believe in a higher power. Its sad the rest have been fooled by this pseudo-scientific theory.

There are many problems in America with who gets the prestiges jobs in science and the best paying.
Are there too many being graduated or not enough?
Are too many foreigners being allowed in to compete with Americans?
Is there affirmative action to bring in women and ethnic identities in the stead of other people?
Is there generally unnatural over representation or under of identities?
Is the great advancement of America being slowed down due to immoral and illegal ideas about science jobs because they are prestige jobs?

Is everything being dumbed down?

Sounds like every law firm, hospital, or tax accountant... You have the cheaper labor do most the work and a few at the top command the big dollars while keeping just a finger on a lot of projects.
And yes, science is a continuous effort at finding the most possible truth. Religion however goes unchanged for thousands of years, being slowly backed into a corner of irrelevance.
By the way, isnt the competition a good way to weed out the weak and allow only the very best to stay in the field?
Biased news isnt news, its just gossip.