3 Reasons We Can Stop Spending $5 Billion To Recruit Scientists
    By Hank Campbell | July 13th 2012 02:00 PM | 27 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

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    Sometimes Science 2.0 has to swim against the stream. The stream, in this case, has been the long-standing irrational belief that America 'needs' more scientists.

    There are two reasons I have always had for going against the grain of science media mantra about recruiting more and more students into science:  The first reason is that creativity in science is one instance where quantity does not matter.  While I am a big believer in the power of crowdsourcing for many things, and have endorsed it in too many instances to count, science does not really work that way.  That business about monkeys reproducing the works of Shakespeare is statistical nonsense. Diminishing returns kick in rather quickly. China and India both have good average scores in math and science and lots of people.  Yet America rules the high end of science.

    The second reason is that in order to 'make' more scientists, they would have to come from somewhere that requires the same rigor.  Science is hard.  STEM outreach campaigns, no matter how many billions of dollars the National Science Foundation spends, are not going to make science easier, so we cannot turn secretaries into scientists, we instead would have to turn people inclined to be doctors into scientists.  That's not really a victory.   What I have argued instead is we need to knock it off with the 1990s-era protectionism scheme that invented the boogeyman of the foreign worker who was willing to work for peanuts in the USA and led to restricting work visas. We have made student visas easy to get for people from other countries and then won't let those people get jobs afterward, so they are forced to go back home and compete with us.  We don't need to spend billions turning more Americans into scientists, we simply need to allow more scientists who want to be in America to become Americans. Look at all the money I just saved that can be used for actual science research by the government group with 'Science' in its middle name?

    Now add a third reason: We have a government-created fetish with higher education, brought on by the same statistical nonsense thinking as monkeys and the Internet.  Politicians in the early 1990s saw that a college degree led, on average, to higher incomes, on average, and declared all incomes would go up if everyone got a college degree.  Applause ensued, mostly from colleges, and skeptics of the notion were derided for not caring about children and education. Students now realize that by making everyone exceptional, no one is, and they have instead gotten a lot of debt because colleges are a business, just like any other business, and when the pool of money became unlimited, so did the tuition.  All those new buildings, new campuses and new employees are now getting a dose of the same fiscal reality non-government employees have had to face but aside from political theater like canceling popular classes or charging more tuition for majors that can actually get a job, the system is here to stay.

    Given those three things that we know to be true, why do we read once a month that America needs more scientists? There are 5,000 Ph.D.s in America working as janitorsAnother 8,000 Ph.D.s are working as waitresses and waiters. 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees and double that work as secretaries or in customer service, the same jobs they would have had 25 years ago if they never got college degrees.

    Most of those 13,000 Ph.D.s I just noted are not science.  Scientists can easily get a job. But they can't necessarily get a job they want.  Contrary to ridiculous claims about 'self-selection' that sociologists try to insist is the reason there is shockingly little political diversity and tolerance in academia, a faculty or tenure job in academia pays well and is a nice gig.  Many Ph.D.s in science want to work in academia, they want their own lab, they want to do research and make a difference. However, most Ph.D.s are not getting that job.

    American academic science is controlled by the government and the government has finite capacity to fund projects.  If you are in the top 10 percent of proposals, you will get funded - but people are living longer and healthier than ever, so the pool of competitors now includes researchers that are 75 years old and know the system well so being the top proposal is work (some recommendations on learning the system and creating better proposals is here). Everyone without a funded R01 grant has to scramble to get repeat jobs as post-doctoral fellows working for peanuts.  Education unions have created another new boogeyman to blame for the slave wages that being a post-doc pays - liberal academics and universities are exploiting workers, so they insist post-docs need to unionize.

    It's a silly idea to contend that unions will be able to change the free market and 'create' more funding just by convincing a lot of young researchers to go on strike.  We have contributors here making it on post-doc money with families and thinking they should get be willing to get evicted so unions can gain more power is silly. The reality is that when there is an oversupply of something, the price will come down.  The quality, intriguingly, stays about the same, as any Wal-Mart shopper knows. The best young Ph.D.s will still get the jobs, because they want to be in academia and will earn it, but the ones who just got by on endurance will still drive the wages downward. 

    Brian Vastag at The Washington Post frames oversupply as 'scarcity of jobs'. It's the same people but an interesting difference in verbage - I may decide I want to be a gym teacher tomorrow but if I don't get a job I can't claim it is due to 'scarcity', it is due to 5 million other people having the same idea. While getting a Ph.D. can be done with enough time spent, getting a top job is not going to be easy because more Ph.D.s does not mean more faculty positions.  Vastag notes some jobs are gone in the private sector also and contends that the loss of private sector science jobs, like at drug companies, is the fault of everything except the obvious over-regulation by the government and rampant litigation of drug companies: "decade of slash-and-burn mergers, stagnating profit, exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe, and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry."

    Just about every industry in America has shrunk, except the kind getting government subsidies.  The American economy is a demilitarized zone and apparently we like it that way, since few people seem interested in changing.  It is truly mapping data to a cultural topology to take the anomaly of the last three years and say it is business being greedy and not caring about America.

    But you see how he evoked some American nationalism and demonized mean old Asians. The 'outsourcing' boogeyman of the 1990s once again.  Like our crappy economy, we created the outsourcing problem - manufacturing left the US because we insisted those were jobs no American would do and we hyper-regulated companies. If you look at where the fewest manufacturing jobs are, they are in states where the government hates business. Steve Jobs had to be laughing inside when President Obama asked him about why iPads were not made in America.  Apple, the company that used to make everything in America, no longer made anything here except some software. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he replied.

    If corporate outsourcing is the culprit then academia, who overwhelmingly buying Apple products, are cutting their own throats. “We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries,” a current Apple executive told  Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher in that NYT piece. “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”

    How conservative.  If you talk to anyone in business, including Apple in that article, it isn't because Americans are too expensive.  It's because the American government is too expensive.  
    “Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. 
    Not now. American regulations and culture have treated business like the enemy.  Companies are told that they are greedy and irresponsible if they make any money at all.  

    Like Apple, research companies do not have an obligation to solve America's problems, especially when they have been self-created.  The idea that research is being exported to China and India is silly. Drug companies, for example, are instead hammered with regulations from inception so any company that can survive to a stage III clinical trial is snapped up by a big conglomerate - but getting there is hard because of regulatory obstacles. Venture capitalists have left biotech in droves, not because private sector R&D was bad, but because the climate for making money was terrible due to increased regulations.

    Obviously, scientists are not to blame for all of that. They don't want to think about politics but with over 50% of research controlled by the government, they are part of government and therefore politics.  To get the best science done means making sure the limited amount of money available is well-spent.  Some improvements have been made, obvious non-science will perhaps no longer be funded with money set aside for scientists, but continuing to try and recruit competitors does not make a lot of sense so the science community should stop asking for 'more' and start highlighting how well American research does with what it has.


    I fully understand where you are coming from on this let me give you another point of view. 
    The push to get more people into college was in large part a push to get more minorities and women into college.  I remember as a kid all the commercials promoting science to young girls and teens.  I remember Bill Cosby Ed. D. talking about the merit's of college.  I remember those commercials for the "United Negro College Fund".  I remember the reason that womens colleges and HBCU's exist.   My father tells me stories of black doctors of medicine or philosophy showing up for work and being handed a broom.  For a long time unless you were a certain color and gender college really wasn't for you.  

    So when I read the kind of statistics you opened with it makes me wonder what races and genders those working as janitors were.   If they are qualified yet disproportionately unemployed then it speaks to a sorry truth.  Education does not eliminate racial and gender bias, it only changes the vocabulary a little.   They will call you a simian instead of a monkey. 

    The above suspicions are part of why the real problem of too many PhD's is not likely to be addressed.  Hank, the fear that the burden of any cuts in the number of PhD's granted would fall on women and minorities is very real.  It is not at all unfounded as within living memory such was the case.  

    For scientist with advanced degree's who can't find work perhaps they should look to the SETI institute and how it is funded or to how scientist of the past like Tesla got funded.  They need to interest a private person or persons in their work.  SETI has Paul Allen.  Tesla had JP Morgan for a time.  Perhaps the problem for those PhD's is not that their aren't enough jobs, it's that they are not out trying to make their own job. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Most of those PhDs are not minorities - and contending that women get less employment in modern academia is not merited by data, since women are hired more than men just like they get more PhDs than men - most of those PhDs working as janitors got PhDs in fine arts or whatever.  I say in the next sentence most of the janitor PhDs are not scientists.

    The idea that a black PhD won't get a job is crazy, at least in America.  The American government, for every company that gets any sort of government money, from DARPA or anything else, requires that they fill out little check boxes with representation.  Being in a company that is 20% white yet has to scramble to have the 'right' number of minority check boxes is downright weird, but if we are taking your anecdotes as evidence we might as well take mine.  Basically, a black person with a PhD in science can get a lot of jobs, and the salary goes up more for a black woman.

    As someone who was already working at the time these new benefits - 'college is a right' - I can say I never once heard that unlimited student loans were going to get more minorities into colleges. It seemed to be for the best of intentions, just being done by people in Congress who were clueless about how the actual world works.  I mean, if every has Sneetch a star, it does not make everyone cool, it just means a whole bunch of people bought stars

    Now, the equally dopey solution seems to be to forgive all of the debt, which is not a way at all to get universities to control their spending and tuition.  It is another subsidy for schools that poor people in America - including minorities - have to bankroll.

    I am not sure how not recruiting 10 times as many scientists as we need would unfairly impact minorities.  Minorities are no less likely to get R01 grants than anyone else right now, we just have too many scientists of all demographics to get funding.
    It's a fear, not a totally rational one.  Women and minority people who are in science don't feel that confident that they will get a job.  Many of us have such anecdotes.  If one gathers enough of those there is a pattern.  A more thoughtfully implemented affirmative action is still needed.  Quota's are not the way.   On that we can agree.  
    An uncle of mine was not given a promotion in his police department due to the fact that the minority quota was already full. So white officers who did worse than him on the qualifying test and who had worse records were promoted instead.  He sued and he won.  What this showed was that having a quota system did not really get rid of the discrimination. 

    As for student loans.  

    My congressman, Danny K. Davis (D 7th IL) has been putting forward a bill for privately funded student loan bankruptcy protection. It would make private, non government backed, student loans the same as credit card debt for the purposes of bankruptcy.    Government loans would still be generally non dischargeable.  Even with many bipartisan cosponsors it never goes anywhere.   

    Too many people benefit from the system we have now.  It works for them, who cares if thousands of people end up working for life to pay off insurmountable debts.  Work for life, not even doing anything like what they wanted to do.  

    For the sake of our readers who do not know, right now one has to demonstrate something called "undue hardship" to get a student loan discharged.  Courts have interpreted that in such an unforgiving way that it is effectively impossible to discharge any student loan.  That includes private non-government backed student loans.    The problem with the non government loans is that they don't offer the repayment flexibility of government loans.   Another problem with those loans is the millions of people who went to private schools which only offered such loans and now they are stuck.   Sometimes with degree's that aren't worth the paper their printed on.     Davis's bill would fix that.  

    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Perhaps the problem for those PhD's is not that their aren't enough jobs, it's that they are not out trying to make their own job.

    I must say that i think this is something that a lot of under-employed people should be doing a lot, lot more, making their own jobs.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Like Apple, research companies do not have an obligation to solve America's problems, especially when they have been self-created.
    What a great sentiment for a group that should credit their very existence because of the laws and protections afforded by the U.S. government.

    Well, I suppose in the end it doesn't matter, because we are in an economic death spiral that will have to play itself out.  I'm tired of listening to how industry's are being punished for wanting to make a profit, and how these poor executives have to hang on for dear life, just to make a living in the U.S.  Of course, this overlooks the fact that every one of these companies is posting record profits, making more money than they've ever made, and executives have parachutes made from more gold than their predecessors could have ever imagined.

    No, the problem is that the moneyed economic interests are playing a game of chicken to see who blinks first.  This is the power of "globalization".  It allows companies to get third world countries to compete with first world countries, thereby ensuring that the work force [and consequently the middle class] will continue to shrink.

    This is readily exemplified by the H1B visa situation in the U.S.  Industry keeps asking for the number to be increased, allowing more IT technicians into the country, despite no wanting to hire those that already live here.  Why?  Because Americans earn more than Indians.  As a result, there is a dearth of jobs for those with experience in the U.S., while industry is hiring two or three times as many individuals for radically lower costs.

    So, this is how the economic theory of "supply and demand" is supposed to work?  When supply is reduced, industries don't have to pay the going rate.  Instead they go to the government, get approval to bring people from outside the country in, and undercut the workforce in the U.S.  Yep ... good ole' "Free Market" [well, with a bit of government help].

    Oh wait ... that's part of the "globalization" dream ... since the world is our economic sandbox, then it shouldn't matter if Joe from Texas has to move to Bangladesh to get a job.  That's what globalization means.  Of course, if the country violates the human rights of its workers, then it can't be the corporation's fault.  No, instead it must be the media ... and of course the corporations are the epitome of responsibility [consider all those nets put up in China].  

    Well, people can believe what they will, and economists can continue to tell their fairy tales to lull people to sleep at night.  My own view, is that we are heading down an economic path that will result in catastrophic changes.  What they may be is outside my ability to predict, but the current processes and mechanisms cannot work for much longer.  Corporations "too large to fail" is a joke, and any economist that isn't already suggesting we begin rethinking our economic models is an idiot.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Brilliantly articulated Gerhard! I also wonder where we are all heading? Maybe it will just be a reversal between the first and third worlds for a while, when what we really need is just a level playing field, however, unfortunately, thanks to science, we know that the world is not flat and never will be!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    This is readily exemplified by the H1B visa situation in the U.S. Industry keeps asking for the number to be increased, allowing more IT technicians into the country, despite no wanting to hire those that already live here. Why? Because Americans earn more than Indians. As a result, there is a dearth of jobs for those with experience in the U.S., while industry is hiring two or three times as many individuals for radically lower costs.
    I don't know where you get this, since it is in defiance of every employment law.  When I have hired H1B visa people, I have had to document that their salary is comparable to citizens.  I've never once been able to hire a foreigner on a visa and get this 'radically lower' cost you think business gets.

    However, by simply hiring them overseas, I could have.  And that's why people did it.
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, the "law".

    Read the section on "body shops" and what is considered illegal, despite the fact that it occurs on a regular basis.

    The point is that many of these situations are illegal, although it is such a grey area with respect to what constitutes a valid contract/employer/employee relationship that most of it stays below the radar.  This is especially true, when the whole status [even for U.S. citizens] is quite nebulous according to the IRS rules.

    In many of these cases, large companies like IBM won't even contract with individuals and instead require an intermediate company to act as the consulting representative to avoid having the IRS scrutinize the relationship for tax liabilities.

    Of course, individuals are responsible for their own taxes, but if they fail to file, then the IRS can hold the company responsible if it deems that the relationship was more in line as an employer/employee rather than as a contractor/consultant.

    Again ... the IRS rules are equally ridiculous, so the that entire aspect of the industry tends to operate in a significant grey area which is what gives rise to the H1B visa problems.

    As for the wage issue ... that's another aspect of the grey area in consulting/contracting.  An employee might make a certain amount, while a contractor would typically make a great deal more [because of the risk of non-steady employment].  However, the consulting firm will tend to charge a fixed rate based on the skills, making a sizeable margin on the individual.  So, if they represent the individual as an employee, they can claim that it is comparable to what a U.S. citizen would make, but that wouldn't actually hold true in a contracting situation, but that isn't something that is fixed by law.  So, while someone may dispute that the claim of salary is illegal, it would be equally difficult to prove what is legal. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    When I have hired H1B visa people, I have had to document that their salary is comparable to citizens.
    How exactly did you document such a thing, given that most such technical areas have a wide range of salaries based on experience, etc.?  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you did anything that was questionable, but certainly it isn't difficult to see that there's a fair amount of wiggle room in such requirements.
    However, by simply hiring them overseas, I could have.  And that's why people did it.
    That doesn't strike you as a problem?  How does this result in anything except a race to the bottom regarding a standard of living?  Where's the upside to this in any society where this is a company practice?

    In my view, such companies should be taxed mercilessly.  After all, what are they going to do?  Leave?  We don't need companies here simply to take advantage of our laws and protections. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    You have to show what the salary is for other employees doing the same job.  If you don't have an employee doing that job, you had to show Bureau of Labor data for what that job pays in the area.

    On your second part, yes it is a problem - one we created that was worse than the problem we were trying to solve.  I had no issue with paying people comparable amounts, I didn't like not being able to hire the best people.   What we instead have is a de facto union and only Americans are allowed to join. That's what protectionism is and it failed in the 1930s and is failing right now.
    Gerhard Adam
    What we instead have is a de facto union and only Americans are allowed to join. That's what protectionism is and it failed in the 1930s and is failing right now.
    In part I think you're correct, but there's also something missing from that description.  We need to get government and businesses separated.  That is truly an "evil" combination.  Government and businesses should be more adversarial with government looking out for the interests of the citizens and businesses looking out for the interests of their business.  Then we have a better balance of what needs to be accommodated.

    At present, all we have is the U.S. politicians in love with and in awe of anyone in business, and consequently they fail to do their jobs at any level.   Part of the difficulty in the government is to create a proper balance of incentives, rewards and punishments to elicit the behavior that will be best for the country. 

    Fundamentally there's nothing wrong with protectionism, provided that you have a sufficiently active economy to be self-sufficient.  While it certainly creates some potential limits, it is a sufficiently vague concept [just like international competition] is sufficiently vague so that no one actually knows who or what, is being competed with.  After all, ... what is the competition?

    As I said before, it's a bit difficult in taking any of the rhetoric seriously when so many companies are either posting record profits, or are run so abysmally that one can help but wonder whether anyone at the helm is even literate, let alone knows anything about business.

    Another point that could be pursued is the unhealthy influence of the stock market on companies, but I suspect you already know that.  After all, do we really need several million investors all clamoring for some return, regardless of the long-term consequences or effects of running a business?  Again ... more games, for no appreciable return in benefit.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Here's an interesting story about the H1B visa situation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Okay, but this is again a situation of penalizing the 99.999% of workers and companies that are legal because a minority can find a way to cheat.  People cheat on their taxes too, but we don't audit everyone in America.  

    What we don't see is where foreign PhDs in science are being exploited and undercutting American PhDs, yet those are the jobs that the NSF is spending billions to do outreach for. 
    Gerhard Adam
    Well, you're right ... this is a bit off topic.  I also understand about it being a minority that are cheating, but I suspect it's much worse than that.

    After all, we supposedly have over 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country.  Where are they working?  How many companies are actively engaged in defrauding the government with phony social security numbers?  After all, if the stories are to be believed, how is it that "illegals" are able to pay taxes, and yet have no documentation? 

    Obviously someone's doing it.
    What we don't see is where foreign PhDs in science are being exploited and undercutting American PhDs, yet those are the jobs that the NSF is spending billions to do outreach for.
    Well, I also don't see foreign companies gaining some advantage that translates into a competitive edge.  So, where is that aspect of it originating from?
    Mundus vult decipi
    My brother owns a construction company in Florida and he has to document his workers every quarter, so cheating isn't common or a construction guy in Florida would surely be doing it for competitive reasons.  I don't buy the 12 million illegals in the country either. Are all of the guys in my lawn crew legal? I have no idea but the Mexican guy who owns the truck is doing the cheating if they are not. It isn't a big business taking the risk.

    Like X uninsured, Y illegals seems to be an exaggerated number invoked by politicians with an agenda and estimated based on the best projection they could find, not reality. 

    It still has nothing to do with why we make it easy for scientists to get educated here and then force them to return home to compete with us.  We have politicians ranting about the inhumanity of sending away uneducated illegal people and we send home educated legal people every day.
    Gerhard Adam
    I can fully appreciate that the numbers may well be exaggerated or even made up.  However, that also throws into question your claim about competition from overseas.  Where is this competition?  Is it foreign companies?  Is it foreign research?  I guess I'm not seeing it. 

    My point is that if the numbers are correct, then it is business [large enough scale to hide 12 million illegals] that are responsible.  If the numbers are false, then no problem, because the politicians are simply talking out their asses then in terms of what to do, as well as what's responsible.

    If the jobs aren't available in this country, then what benefit to leaving foreign scientists here?  You may well be right, but I'm not seeing how these numbers are supposed to add up.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Jobs are different than being PIs and having labs. This article is about wasting money recruiting new people when we can't employ current people in jobs they want - and in jobs I want too.  As much as I hear about how hard academia is, running a lab is sweet.  There is a reason people want to do it, and it is not altruism.

    It's being a post-doc that sucks and that is because we produce a lot of PhDs and dangle the promise of faculty jobs in front of them instead of making it known they are going to work in the private sector.
    Gerhard Adam
    For the record, some people may read my post and think that I'm some sort of communist, or anti-business hippy, etc.  No.  I am strictly anti-corporation.  I oppose the legal status of corporations, I oppose the idea of their legal representation as individuals.  I oppose the negative effect corporations have on economics, and I strongly oppose their ability to impose on duly elected governments because they have the economic influence to hold them hostage.

    I wish to be clear on the fact that I am very much pro-business and I can appreciate sentiments like MiCro is expressing about people making their own jobs.  However, the elephant in the room is the corporation, that tends to consolidate resources around fewer and fewer people.  Rarely does a corporation contribute in a positive way to employment.  At its very best, it may reduce unemployment [that it largely created] by returning some workers.

    Corporations concentrate too much economic power into too few hands, and consequently they stifle economic growth and innovation.  In effect, they are "too large to succeed".  The only way corporations succeed in reducing prices is by exerting coercive measures on their suppliers and using their economic power to force others into compliance with their objectives.

    I'm a strong proponent of supporting local businesses.  I also agree with MiCro that we would be much better off financially if more people [professional and otherwise] actively engaged in creating their own jobs.  Instead, we have a huge segment of the population that has created a niche that requires government support, because industry has failed to fulfill its promised role.

    As a result, we can't get a competent health care plan in place.  We can't get a coherent energy policy.  Every bit of it is stifled by corporate interference and checking out their best interests.  Not the best interests of innovative businesses or entrepreneurs.  Their own staid and stolid practices whose sole purpose is to ensure that the existing executives get to retire in multi-million dollar palaces.

    Personally I would like to see the concept of the corporation eliminated and replaced with a smaller legal structure that would enable individuals to pool their capital for larger enterprises than they may individually wish to entertain [or that may be beyond their ability].  This would entail gaining a charter to specifically conduct business in that fashion.  However, I would also argue that growth must be limited, since excessive growth is always a negative consequence.

    So, while we keep hearing the mantra about reduced prices and consumer preferences, the reality is that large corporations cannot keep their prices down, because their infrastructure costs are too high.  Therefore the only way they can succeed is to force everyone else to take less money for goods/services.  If we truly believe in free market economics and want to see real competition, then we need to ensure that we allow new businesses the opportunity to grow and begin to penalize those that are obstructionist and detriments to real economic freedom.

    The sentiment expressed in the article may be cheered by those that feel that it is an appropriate response by business, however I would also argue that it should serve as a wakeup call to people and the government.  Businesses aren't out to help.  They don't even care if you fail as a nation.  Therefore, stop passing laws and executing policies that are designed to help business.   In the end, they will only ensure that businesses abandon you anyway for the next reduced cost worker.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Properly constrained, corporations can be useful constructs. But if they're "people," then they're a peculiar sort of immortal sociopath. It's irresponsible to let them run free in the marketplace.

    Just to be clear, I'm also very pro-business, pro-enterprise, pro-growth, pro-market - all that good stuff. I'm not a True Believer, though. As an aside: There's an almost religious reverence in America nowadays for the notion of an ideal, infinitely unregulated, utterly libertarian, wildly free global market, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand that will right all wrongs and balance all budgets and so on. Like all ideals, it's worth keeping in mind, but also like all ideas it's worth keeping at a safe distance or it will replace your mind. An economy like that is like a perfect black body, or an ideal gas. It's fine on paper, but you can't get out of the test tube. Anyway, my point is there's an irrational reverence for the market, and it keeps the majority from considering the whole picture.

    States grant (or refuse to grant) corporate charters as they please. States can require whatever they want to require from corporations as part of their charter, including things like promising not to (in shorthand:) export jobs, conduct mergers, lobby congress, bust unions, fund campaigns... Corporations may very well be people (and in a way, for 1st amendment purposes, I think that may be an unavoidable truth), but they're people with special legal obligations and limitations that can be spelled out in detail by the state.

    Corporations may have, as their fiduciary responsibility, an obligation to do whatever it takes, at whatever cost to society, to make a profit - but as a society, we don't have an obligation to let them.

    Oy, I'm going to ramble off at this point.

    Gerhard Adam
    Corporations may very well be people (and in a way, for 1st amendment purposes, I think that may be an unavoidable truth)...
    Ironic, isn't it.  Corporations are afforded first amendment protections, while they can fire someone for exercising their same first amendment right.
    ...guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand...
    The flaw in all these economic theories is really two-fold.  In the first place, there's the requirement that these are closed systems [hence, why globalization screws up all "predictions"].  In other words, by being bounded, then the expectations [supply vs demand, etc] can occur.  If someone can operate outside those boundaries then the principles no longer hold true.

    The second-flaw is that all interactions are assumed to be local, or at least local enough so that the relationship between supply and demand is something that can exert an influence on each other.  Again, when an entity is effectively protected against repercussions then the expectations of economic theory no longer hold true.  This effectively locks markets and creates these protected situations of where business can actually acquire an expectation of success or revenue.

    I wonder if its ever occurred to any economist that any business that feels confident enough to be assured of success over the next several years or decades is subverting the intent of economic competition?  In other words, the system cannot be functional, if businesses no longer have to compete in order to succeed.  Of every major corporation that one can think of, I wonder how many people can list any that would be truly considered competitors [in the sense that REAL success or failure - not just stock prices - would be the consequences].  I can't think of a single industry where a major corporation is actually under such a threat.  Even those where such a claim is made aren't actually under threat, since they are likely the targets of acquisitions.  After all, what business wouldn't love to "fail" by being bought for several million dollars, so that as the "loser" you can go retire to mull over your failing.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I think this is a valid perspective, but it's only one valid perspective. I don't think you said anything that was wrong; but you didn't say everything that was right either. Just a couple of observations:

    Sure, one gifted researcher is probably better than a herd of mediocre ones. But you seem to assume that the gifted one was already one of the good old boys, so to speak, and that the new PhDs are the riff-raff. It's trite, but - how many Newtons & Einsteins have gone undiscovered because they never got to go to college?

    Also, you seem to discount the value of education to, for instance, a janitor. Knowledge and education should be ends in themselves, for everyone, completely separately and in addition to their value to the economy. I think it would be a better world if MORE janitors (Americans) had fuller educations, not fewer. Especially in the sciences.

    It seems to be esoteric.  If they have a choice between being no better off financially and having a lot of debt in return for a subjective amount of gained 'knowledge' they could get for free by reading at night, they would choose not having the debt.  But they are sold a pipe dream that says if they get a degree they get a better job - so the least knowledgeable people, the ones we claim we want to help, are the ones exploited.  

    The only ones better off are universities. 
    STEM outreach campaigns, no matter how many billions of dollars the National Science Foundation spends, are not going to make science easier, so we cannot turn secretaries into scientists, we instead would have to turn people inclined to be doctors into scientists. 
    The main goal of science outreach is not to increase the number of science PhDs, nor should it be to convert more would-be doctors into scientists. (After all, a scientist in the bud who instead turns to medicine will more likely become an exceptional doctor.)

    Science outreach is about making science a more integral part of our culture. 

    Can a good job be done for less money? Absolutely. Motivated teachers, for instance, are not so shallow that they have to be pampered with free breakfasts, lunches and wine at educators' conferences. Guest speakers also overcharge, and they are not the highlight of the conference; the workshops and the chance to talk to others are what make the events special.

    When it comes to bad spending habits in education, that of course is just the tip of the iceberg. How to relieve the tax burden without sacrificing quality will be the topic of an upcoming article.

    Science outreach is about making science a more integral part of our culture. 
    This makes the NSF even stupider then.  The Kardashians are an integral part of our culture and didn't cost $5 billion. People in America trust scientists.

    Your sentiment falls exactly in line with what the NSF and scientists claim but it isn't what they spend money on - they spend money on programs designed to recruit scientists. If 'outreach' were their goal, they would pay us.  We do more for science outreach than the NSF has done in 10 years of stupid spending.
    We do more for science outreach than the NSF has done in 10 years of stupid spending. 
    That's why I'm here and would not consider a non classroom position within the bureaucracy (I have turned down offers). When I wrote "Science outreach is about making science a more integral part of our culture. " I  wasn't defending the NSF attempts.
    What planet are you living on here? '5 billion to recruit scientists' : just who is spending this money on 'recruitment'? The total budget of NSF for the year is about 7 billion and the vast majority surely isn't being spent on outreach, recruitment or other forms of encouragement. Can we get some slightly more realistic numbers for the spending you are advocating against?

    Second -

    Companies are told that they are greedy and irresponsible if they make any money at all.

    Tell me who has said that about a manufacturing company, and when, and where. This post would be more credible, and much more readable, with less irrelevant knee-jerk government-bashing...

    But whatever. Moaning about 'regulation', alleged anti-business attitudes and 'cultural topology' (?) is totally irrelevant to the point, which .. I think .. so far as I can tell .. is that the government shouldn't be encouraging or subsidizing people to study 'hard' science, because enough people would already doing so either simply for the love of it or for the improvement in expected income outside science.

    But the right question isn't 'how many scientists is enough', it's 'how many science degrees is enough' - as we know, people with science degrees often turn out to be quite good at other jobs.

    So a government subsidy on science degrees would make sense if there are significant numbers of potentially good, employable scientists who can't achieve their potential because there are barriers stopping them going to college, and as a result there is a skilled labour shortage for the skills that would be gained by doing the degree.

    The first part of this condition is obviously true because, despite what Hank might like us to believe, there are still huge numbers of Americans who can't afford to go to college, debt or no debt. You would actually get a better quality of science graduate by applying aptitude tests that really tested scientific talent and giving scholarships to all those who scored high enough - rather than allowing cultural and financial factors to be the main determinant of who gets into college to study science. But I doubt that will ever be allowed to happen in the US...

    The second part of this condition is debatable but plausible. On the one hand Hank seems to be saying there are too many PhD's over all subjects for all of them to get skilled employment. But on the other hand he says that "scientists can easily get a job" - which, assuming this means a skilled, reasonably well-paid job, isn't true for most graduates right now. Doesn't this show that there too many people going to college and not doing science, given the relative number of jobs available for graduates? Doesn't it then make sense to encourage or subsidize students who would be going to college anyway to choose 'hard science' majors, if they have any inclination towards the subject?

    I didn't say the NSF spent the money alone but it did spend $1.2 billion in 2010 on STEM outreach. You have to add up all of the duplication, including at the Education Department, to see the picture.  There are 99 separate government programs all doing this.  Why?

    Since you couldn't figure out what I was advocating my stance was that instead of wasting money trying to convince veterinarians or medical doctors or accountants to go into science, let the scientists who are educated in the US but are forced to go back to their homes remain here.

    Nowhere did I advocate fewer scientists, nor less science understanding - I have done an infinitely more amount of science outreach than some anonymous person on the Internet and I did it without billions of dollars in taxpayer funding - I said we can stop wasting money trying to make them and instead use that money for basic research.  If you are against spending a finite science budget wisely, I know how you vote.