In a letter entitled “Am I Wrong?”, Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of the major journal Science, asks how the United States has gone so far off course. The leading nation in a technological age has lost sight of its scientific foundation; what will be the consequences?
A mere twenty years ago, this nation was clearly the best place in the world to do scientific research. Since 2000 the decline has been precipitous, and though the U.S. still surely ranks in the top ten, few would say it clearly is the best anymore. In general, the country remains a relatively great place to live and work. But any excellent young scientist from abroad has to think carefully about coming to or staying in the U.S. for a career, because there might not be enough money to support even first-rate research. Similarly, any young U.S. scientist, no matter how devoted to this country and no matter how skilled, may face the tough choice of either going abroad or abandoning his or her career. (It’s not just young people either, as I can personally attest.)
Whereas before the year 2000 it was easy for U.S. universities to attract the best in the world to teach and do research at their institutions, and to train the next generation of American scientists, the brain drain since that time has been awful. (I see this up close, as more and more often I fail to hire talented individuals specifically because they see a better scientific and personal future outside the United States.) And it is getting worse. All of this affects our economy’s future, our society’s health, and even our ability to defend ourselves, especially since some of the most active spending on science is being done by countries that are hostile or potentially hostile to the free world.
It’s easy to blame this on the recession. “Oh, these are bad times and we all have to share the pain.” That’s true, but this problem started long before 2008. The system became threadbare during the Bush administration, and now, in the ensuing recession and political chaos, it’s at risk of falling apart.
Please forward this letter by Mr. Alberts to your friends. This is serious business with long-term consequences.