Across the Science Gap

A small sample of the overwhelming and varied response to a story on the labor market for scientists.
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A small sample of the overwhelming and varied response to a story on the labor market for scientists.

Beryl Lieff Benderly, in her longwinded, shortsighted analysis of "The Real Science Gap," (July-August 2010) errs in two regards. First, she assumes that entering faculty rank is the major goal of postgraduate research training, but because there are fewer positions than candidates for them, the students are doomed to extended postdoc drudgery.

Academia is, however, neither the exclusive nor the optimal career path for research trainees. Many go into industry, e.g. high-tech or pharmaceutical where, given the steady importation of brains from abroad, the demand exceeds supply. Others go into administration or public service where the kind of focused, data-based, analytic thinking produced by research training is a distinct asset. Finally, the more innovative become entrepreneurs in enterprises such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc., which promote economic growth as well as intellectual luster.

A second erroneous assumption concerns the satisfactory status of education in science at the secondary and college level. Were that the case, how do you account for the documented abysmal level of science literacy in America, where a sizable proportion of the population not only deny evolution of species, the planet and the universe but also strive to impose their ignorance in educational curricula — a sad state of affairs that research-trained graduates could do much to alleviate by spreading their knowledge at all levels.

Edith Neimark,
Princeton, N.J.

Technical colleges overlooked
Beryl Lieff Benderly's article was very timely. While we indeed have a huge surplus of Ph.D. scientists (and engineers), the real need is for technicians.

More than 85 percent of new job creation is not for four-year or advanced degreed managers and professionals, but for graduates of two-year technical-vocational programs.

Community and technical colleges have implemented very innovative programs in fields such as semiconductor technology and nanotechnology. The "real" gap is in educating high school students, parents and teachers about the new realities of our world and emphasis on careers with "real" futures with associate's degrees.

Glen W. Spielbauer
Dallas, Texas

An organizational clarification
We are writing in regard to a statement about the National Postdoctoral Association in your July-August 2010 cover story "The Real Science Gap."

The NPA is a self-sustaining, independent organization founded by seven postdocs in 2003. We are tenants in the American Association for the Advancement of Science building, as are other nonprofit associations. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supported the founding of the association with a startup grant, and the AAAS provided the initial administration of the grant and guidance in the steps required to form an independent, new association. In 2005, the National Postdoctoral Association was incorporated in the District of Columbia and was awarded nonprofit 501(c)3 status.

Today, we have 1,500 individual members, more than 180 institutional members whose research is supported by approximately 40,000 postdocs and 7,000-plus subscribers to our newsletter and e-alerts. Our board of directors is elected by our membership, and our bylaws require that at least seven of the 11 members must be postdocs.

Stacy L. Gelhaus, Ph.D.
Chair, NPA Board of Directors
NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow,
Center for Cancer Pharmacology,
University of Pennsylvania

Cathee Johnson Phillips, M.A.
Executive Director

Busing: The damaging story
Readers of Miller-McCune need to understand that Matthew Blake's July-August 2010 article, "The Return of Busing?" is damaging to everyone — both students of color and for whites. First, it is damaging to minorities collectively because it lulls M-M readers into believing that "busing" and "choice" are silver bullets that magically lead to increased academic success for minority students. This is patently inaccurate — busing and choice never incite "real change" — and believing so supports the status quo. Second, this article is damaging to whites — both those who read this article and those who may represent the roughly 90 percent of our nation's white K-12 teaching force — since they may believe that these policies are the only effective educational policies.

The story's subtitle describes segregated schools as a "quandary"; however, more accurate descriptors are "genocidal" and "apartheid-like." Two things are clear: 1) "High-stakes" testing leads to a "school-to-prison" pipeline; and 2) as an urban educator and doctoral student who is currently researching the Chapter 220 program here in Milwaukee (one of the nation's most segregated cities), just transplanting students of color into white schools that are culturally irrelevant and even racist does not lead to positive educational experiences, nor academic successes. In fact, schools are what must change in this scenario, not students of color. As a person of color myself, I could not stop my knee-jerk reaction while reading this article — it actively supports the educational status quo.

Two political economy questions that need to be asked are: Why do urban schools have fewer resources than suburban schools, and why will you find more inexperienced teachers concentrated in urban schools and districts than in suburban schools and districts?

Blake's article may appear to M-M readers as only being concerned with increasing minority students' academic achievement; however, it really is a front and is a true example of "racism without racists." Until we deal with structural concerns in the educational arena, we will never be able to, as Blake writes, "improve the educational performance of low-income and minority students."

I hope Blake, educational policymakers and M-M readers read materials from Rethinking Schools and Catalyst Chicago for more information on how we can confront segregated schools. Real change we can believe in!

Nicholas D. Hartlep
Milwaukee, Wis.

More study is needed before busing
programs can be labeled a success

As elementary or secondary educators will tell you, parent involvement and the value parents place on education are significant components of student success. The fact that bused children outperform their left-behind peers is to be expected. Could the majority of parents choosing the busing option be those who value the educational opportunity enough to face the inconvenience of having their kids bused? Is the program, in effect, pre-selecting for success?

It seems that additional work needs to be done and statistics analyzed before declaring the program a success. It is, of course, a success for the individual students, and that is something very important to note.

Bob Avakian
Tulsa, Okla.