Fareed Zakaria of CNN writes the Global Public Square column and expressed concern recently that America was losing ground in science because of research funding and education.  

Well, it isn't true.  But he was kind enough to let yours truly and RealClearScience's Dr. Alex Berezow clarify a few things.  In our piece, we make a case I often make; when the government invests less in research funding, the private sector takes up the slack, so our research spending is not down, just the government portion is.  Second, that America education is not bad and it's time to stop bullying modern students because of standardized test scores.

First, please give it a read. Zakaria was gracious enough to let us refute him in his own column and deserves some attention for that. Then I can make points that didn't survive editing:

Has America really underinvested in science education? By Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, Special to CNN

Are you back?

Okay, to flesh that out for a Science 2.0 audience, government funding of science was a direct result of World War II - it was part of the creation of the military-industrial complex because of the success of government control of science during the war. Of course private sector spending started to drop as a total - there are a lot of failures in research and rather than one company taking a hit, companies suddenly had 200 million people (and now 300+) to take the financial hit for null results. 

But has actual spending overall dropped?  No, it hovers in the same range of GDP.  It does go up - ironically, when a Republican is president; ironic because Republicans are supposedly anti-science - and sometimes it goes down, but it never plummets. Academics tend to be in an echo chamber about research; namely that only government budgets count as funding. That is a mistake - while corporations have control over what gets researched it isn't any different than what government does. Anyone who thinks their research grant is more pure because it is from the NSF or NIH or DoE is being naive.

The second oft-issued lament is about education. This is a big chunk of our upcoming book because it is a pernicious myth; education lobbyists love it because it gives them a reason to ask for more money. Conservatives love it because they get to say liberal teachers are the problem and teachers get to claim they aren't allowed to teach.

But the ammunition is one test that, if we are being honest, always has some batty results.  In the PISA exam results that get rolled out for these occasions, America is in the middle of the pack.  Number one is Finland.  Yes, Finland.  If you don't know anything about Finland, they have the most conservative pedagogy you can imagine for the modern world; think British schools of a hundred years ago.  They are not teaching how to think, they are teaching how to take tests.  No one is claiming Finland rules science.

In no instance does America top out on any international standardized test, and never has, nor should we expect them to. It's a meaningless result. America owns the high end of science because Americans are creative and learn how to think. Yes, that has its pitfalls when pundits want to note that American kids can't find Lichtenstein but in the real world, those test scores make no difference at all.  We mention that first standardized test in 1964 and note that American kids were next to last - and in the last 47 years America has led the world in both Nobel prizes and science output.

It's something to keep in mind the next time you read someone in science media (or the even less informed kind) try to claim they were so much smarter as students. Their standardized scores stunk too.