An American brain drain – in progress

This is a personal story because I know the people involved. But it is also a bigger story – a national story – because it is happening all over America.

A couple I know is moving to Britain soon. These are wonderful people who’ve added a tremendous amount to our community here. He’s a PhD Assistant Professor at a major local university and he’s also a brilliant up-and-coming young scientist who is rapidly becoming a ‘name’ in the field he’s decided to work in. He’s been in the pre-tenure publish or perish portion of his academic career now for sometime working hard and waiting to advance.

Well, a university in Britain offered him one and a half times his current salary and an immediate advance into a fully tenured position as an associate professor. His new university has decided, with the blessing of the British government, to become a major force in global environmental science and has lavished 8 million pounds on his new department. The physical research facilities he will have at his control are several times larger than what he was allocated here.

I know these folks hate to leave what they’ve built here in the fifteen years they’ve lived in our community but how could they resist an offer like that?

The National Science Foundation’s budget is being lowered year by year and all over America, scientists of all flavors are rethinking their options. Other countries haven’t been infected with our country’s current disrespect for science. They are still well aware that science IS the power card to the future while we are slipping deeper and deeper into fundamentalist conservative right-wing dreams and delusions that science is an impediment to the advance of capitalistic profit and fundamentalist religious fervor.

Do I sound bitter about all of this? I am. This country was one of the finest experiments ever manifested in human history and we are in big danger now of pissing it all away.

Years ago I read a book, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, by a Nobel prize winner in literature, V.S. Naipaul, in which the author traveled the full arc of the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia. Many things stuck with me from the book but one that really amazed me was his description of how the authors of scientific papers in Pakistan would put titles on their papers like “The Electron Potentials of Scandium Ferrous alloys as revealed by the Grace of Allah“. I thought to myself at the time that these people have fatally mixed up religion and science.

Well, if things keep on as they are in this country, I fully expect to see papers like “Advances in GSM Cell Phone Technology as approved by the Southern Baptist Convention of 2010” soon. And it is deeply scary that there is a significant portion of our population that thinks changes like this are appropriate in this day and age.

Soon, those who think that science is just an inconvenience in their path as they try to make America a fundamentalist Christian nation and those who think that our societies only exist as sandboxes in which corporations are free to corner all of the nation and world’s wealth for the few – soon these folks will have marginalized this great country and another great event in human history will have had its day in the sun and be moved into the historical also-ran category.

Our scientists are leaving for Singapore, Britain, France and a host of other places and we are the poorer everyday for this brain-drain.

I will miss my friends soon. And all of us, in not too many years, will miss what this great country once was if we continue to embrace mediocrity.

/rant off

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