WaPo on the Big Science "Pyramid Scheme"
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.Yes, as always it's all about the pursuit of government money. Oh, and prestige too.
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.