America's Science Decline - Neil deGrasse Tyson (video)

I am really beginning to love Neil deGrasse Tyson.

That was really depressing.

He sounds kind of like the guy on Delocated sometimes. Never noticed that before.

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

We still produce some of the best entertainment in the world, and we're friggin incredible when it comes to making weapons. I guess that second one isn't necessarily good.

Interesting little trick with the map, but without context it means very little. A country can look quite large on that map simply by putting out tons of published research on the effect of rat farts on global warming. This particular display has no way to reflect the value of the science being done.

The period he's using to measure the decrease in U.S. scientific output also happens to coincide with the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. I have to imagine that lack of grants and funding account for more than a little of the decrease.

There may well be relative decrease in the U.S. standing among the scientific communities of the world, but it would take much more detailed data than what was being used in that video to show it properly and in perspective.

The period he's using to measure the decrease in U.S. scientific output also happens to coincide with the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. I have to imagine that lack of grants and funding account for more than a little of the decrease.

Except that Europe, China and Japan are growing in the same period. And didn't Japan just suffer a major catastophe some months ago?

fangblackbone wrote:

Except that Europe, China and Japan are growing in the same period. And didn't Japan just suffer a major catastophe some months ago?

Europe, China, and Japan don't share an identical economic situation with the U.S. China has been doing quite well for themselves even as the economic turmoil has deeply affected much of the western world. The E.U. has certainly taken their share of economic hits of late, but the U.S. had the dubious pleasure of leading the way before the recession began to go global.

The Fukushima disaster was in early 2011, so it obviously doesn't have any effect on the 2000-2010 time period discussed in this video.

Elycion wrote:

Interesting little trick with the map, but without context it means very little. A country can look quite large on that map simply by putting out tons of published research on the effect of rat farts on global warming. This particular display has no way to reflect the value of the science being done.

Yea, the number of published papers is a terrible metric. Getting a paper "peer-reviewed" is a trivial process. Everything semi-reasonable can go somewhere, it's a just a matter of settling. (Kinda like getting married.) If you don't like the options, found a new journal/conference, invite your friends, and bam: new venue for publication custom tailored for your area of interest. (Kinda like building a sex robot instead of getting married.) Plus, Asian universities have a nasty habit of explicitly counting the number of publications as part of career advancement, which results in serious, absurd CV padding. Everyone seems to do that to some degree, but in Asia actual equations seem pretty common.

China, with 1 billion people, should be growing. It'd be weird if we forever produced far more research with far less people.

Here's something I found relating citeable documents to predicted citation impact counts:

http://blogs.nature.com/nwerneck/2011/01/18/relative-citation-impact-by-country---2009

Here you see US and Western papers tending to be cited relatively more---sometimes twice as much---as Asian countries. Scale is logarithmic.

farley3k wrote:

I am really beginning to love Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Regardless of the validity of the metric used in the video, I became a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson after the first time I heard him speak.

Yes it might be a terrible metric, and I would love to see the same graph using the H-index, which while not a perfect metric is a little better. I would also like to know just what he considers science.

However, I happen to agree with his conclusion that the scientific output of the US is decreasing in relevance and amount when compared to the total scientific output of the world. This conclusion shouldn't be too surprising since everyone else knows that the US got to the position it is in today in part because of it's dominance in R&D so they are dumping more money into the pot as a percentage of what they invested before than the US is. I suppose you could even correct for this variation to get a measure of how efficient new research is being performed.

You sound awfully defensive, Elycion. He's not accounting for why things the way they are, because that doesn't matter. The fact is that there's less sciencing going on, by his (flawed) metric, and that's bad. I don't fault the man for limiting his point to that given that he only had 3 minutes and 19 seconds to make it. You'd might as well fault him for not citing his sources in a Twitter message.

And, y'know, the people studying rat farts think it's important enough to study. The people funding that research agree. Who cares if it doesn't save lives or make millions? Science is supposedly about understanding. If we don't understand rat farts, what's so bad about taking a minute to figure them out?

LobsterMobster wrote:

You sound awfully defensive, Elycion. He's not accounting for why things the way they are, because that doesn't matter. The fact is that there's less sciencing going on, by his (flawed) metric, and that's bad. I don't fault the man for limiting his point to that given that he only had 3 minutes and 19 seconds to make it. You'd might as well fault him for not citing his sources in a Twitter message.

And, y'know, the people studying rat farts think it's important enough to study. The people funding that research agree. Who cares if it doesn't save lives or make millions? Science is supposedly about understanding. If we don't understand rat farts, what's so bad about taking a minute to figure them out?

I think it was Einstein, who when asked "what is the use of relativity?" answered with his own question "what is the use of a newborn baby?".

Paleocon wrote:

I think it was Einstein, who when asked "what is the use of relativity?" answered with his own question "what is the use of a newborn baby?".

A good response, but you can't eat relativity.

LobsterMobster wrote:
Paleocon wrote:

I think it was Einstein, who when asked "what is the use of relativity?" answered with his own question "what is the use of a newborn baby?".

A good response, but you can't eat relativity.

IMAGE(http://www.zoniehhh.org/photos/images/fatbastard_jpg.jpg)

This much is true.

I'm torn on whether "amount of science per capita" for each country would be a better measure than simply "amount of science". (Skipping all the previously-mentioned and very valid concerns already stated in this thread of what a science even is.)

LobsterMobster wrote:

You sound awfully defensive, Elycion. He's not accounting for why things the way they are, because that doesn't matter. The fact is that there's less sciencing going on, by his (flawed) metric, and that's bad.

I definitely take the defensive side when issues like this present themselves. I love my country, despite the problems it may have, and am generally disgusted by the negativity towards the U.S. that has become so in vogue among U.S. citizens.

As for this particular issue, I think the message the average person is going to take from this video is "America, you're doing it wrong!" While it may prove in the end that we are doing it wrong (my patriotism is not blind) I'd rather see a more objective metric.

As for those saying he's a good speaker, regardless of the topic at hand I'd tend to agree from what little I've seen. Here's to hoping he uses his powers for good!

LobsterMobster wrote:

And, y'know, the people studying rat farts think it's important enough to study. The people funding that research agree. Who cares if it doesn't save lives or make millions?

I care. I would never dispute a private citizen or corporation's right to spend their money how they please, but I reserve my right to be disgusted by funding I perceive to be squandered when there are so many underfunded studies that could actively improve the human condition. This is off in the realm of pure personal opinion, and obviously mine is: "Cancer and heart disease study good, rat flatulence study bad."

I guess I *should* move to Spain.

Elycion wrote:
LobsterMobster wrote:

You sound awfully defensive, Elycion. He's not accounting for why things the way they are, because that doesn't matter. The fact is that there's less sciencing going on, by his (flawed) metric, and that's bad.

I definitely take the defensive side when issues like this present themselves. I love my country, despite the problems it may have, and am generally disgusted by the negativity towards the U.S. that has become so in vogue among U.S. citizens.

As for this particular issue, I think the message the average person is going to take from this video is "America, you're doing it wrong!" While it may prove in the end that we are doing it wrong (my patriotism is not blind) I'd rather see a more objective metric.

As for those saying he's a good speaker, regardless of the topic at hand I'd tend to agree from what little I've seen. Here's to hoping he uses his powers for good!

LobsterMobster wrote:

And, y'know, the people studying rat farts think it's important enough to study. The people funding that research agree. Who cares if it doesn't save lives or make millions?

I care. I would never dispute a private citizen or corporation's right to spend their money how they please, but I reserve my right to be disgusted by funding I perceive to be squandered when there are so many underfunded studies that could actively improve the human condition. This is off in the realm of pure personal opinion, and obviously mine is: "Cancer and heart disease study good, rat flatulence study bad."

The problem, however, arises in the fact that so much useful technology originally starts as "useless" science. This is the inherent value in pure research. It fills in enough of our gaps in understanding of the universe that it allows for the engineering to happen.

Should we have not, for instance, squandered money on the study of moldy bread, we would have missed out on the greatest medical breakthrough of the 20th century (penicillin).

The debate you're hinting at is the one between the value of Basic (e.g.: How did the universe begin? Is there a "god particle"? Is there a single unified theory of the universe?) and Applied research (How do we increase milk production? What are contributors to cancer?). Though I see value in both, I think we do ourselves grave and lasting damage when we deny one in pursuit of the other.

I don't deny the potential value in "pure science" research, I simply believe that when money is limited that it is more appropriately directed towards studies focusing on providing solutions to immediate problems. Once again, we're talking opinion and mine is that you don't launch a study on why a wheat crop died when you can instead figure out how to provide food to the people who are currently starving because the wheat crop died - both studies may be important in the long term, but one is more relevant in the short term.

Also, penicillin is a bad example. Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus bacteria, not moldy bread.

LobsterMobster wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

We still produce some of the best entertainment in the world, and we're friggin incredible when it comes to making weapons. I guess that second one isn't necessarily good.

We get our machine guns from BELGIUM!

Elycion wrote:

Also, penicillin is a bad example. Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus bacteria, not moldy bread.

Instead of figuring out a better way lance pus-boils and ease infection-pains? What a bastard!

Are you saying that research shouldn't be purely profit-driven or that researchers should only be working towards noble pursuits? It's like you believe that human compassion should be more important than quarterly profits!
Snark aside..
I also think you're conflating two different functions: a) Providing immediate relief and b) understanding the cause so that a recurrence can be prevented. A researchers time is wasted handing out bread and blankets when her time is better spent discovering that erosion from the logging camp upstream caused alkaline deposits to wash into the local water supply, poisoning the crops and most likely causing medical issues which may not have manifested yet or have been masked by the general starvation.
Sometimes you have to step over bodies to move forward and trust that someone behind you is working towards easing the immediate suffering.

But maybe I'm misunderstanding your opinion.

The problem is that, historically, the big advances have been the results of paradigm changing understanding brought about through basic research. Atomic Theory, Germ Theory, etc. These are the "long balls" that require the QB to stretch out the field. And without those paradigm shifts, applied research runs into problems of diminishing returns.

Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

porn?

I'm surprised it was this long before someone said it

a crapload of scientists wrote:

19 June 1996

The Honorable William J. Clinton
President of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As men and women who have helped to shape the modern scientific age and who care deeply about the future of our nation, we urge you to reaffirm the fundamental role of the federal government in supporting basic scientific research.

Americans have been awarded more than one-half of all Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine since 1945. This impressive success is no accident, but the result of a firm and consistent commitment by the federal government to basic science research at our universities. Our nation's policymakers and public have been prudent investors because their support has paid off in tremendous ways.

America's investment in research over the last fifty years has been a vital source of our economic and political strength around the world, as well as the quality of life Americans enjoy at home. The polio vaccine, computers, jet propulsion, and disease resistant grains and vegetables are some of the thousands of advances pioneered at our universities that have had dramatic benefits for our health, economy, security and quality of life.

New and equally breathtaking advances may be just around the corner. Genetic research, for example, gives promise of better treatments for Alzheimer's, cancer and other diseases. Lighter and stronger composite materials may be developed with important applications in transportation, medicine and the military. Continuing support for university-based research will not only pave the way for these important breakthroughs, but will also train the next generation of pioneers and Nobelists.

The engine of scientific innovation and discovery cannot fuel itself. Our own achievements and the benefits they have brought would not have been possible without the government's 'patient' capital. Discoveries are rarely made instantaneously, but result from years of painstaking work by scientists in a variety of fields. With competition forcing industry to focus research investments on returns over the shorter term, the government is left with the crucial role of making the longer term investment in discovery.

America's future prosperity will depend on a continued commitment to producing new ideas and knowledge, and the people educated to apply them successfully. They will be central to our economic opportunity in the face of intense global competition, to our protection against renewed threats to our security and environment, and to ensuring the health of Americans. Federal funding for university-based research is an investment in our future that should be maintained.

Signed by:
Sidney Altman, Ph.D. Michael S. Brown, Ph.D.
Leon N. Cooper, Ph.D. Leon M. Lederman, Ph.D.
Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D. Eric F. Wieschaus, Ph.D.
Dudley Herschbach, Ph.D. William N. Lipscomb, Ph.D.
Baruj Benacerraf, Ph.D. Konrad Bloch, Ph.D.
Mario J. Molina, Ph.D. Sheldon L. Glashow, Ph.D.
Edward B. Lewis, Ph.D. Torsten Wiesel, M.D.
Melvin Calvin, Ph.D. Glenn T. Seaborg, Ph.D.
Donald A. Glaser, Ph.D. Yuan T. Lee, Ph.D.
Edmond H. Fischer, Ph.D. Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D.
Roald Hoffman, Ph.D. Hans A. Bethe
James W. Cronin David H. Hubel, M.D.
J. Michael Bishop, M.D. Stanley Cohen, Ph.D.
Herbert A. Hauptman, Ph.D. Thomas H. Weller, M.D.
Herbert C. Brown, Ph.D. Daniel Nathans, M.D.
Hamilton O. Smith, M.D. Joseph E. Murray, M.D.
E. Donnall Thomas Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc.
Baruch S. Blumbert, M.D., Ph.D. Rosalyn S. Yalow, Ph.D.
Chen Ning Yang, Ph.D. Lawrence R. Klein, Ph.D.
Edwin G. Krebs, M.D. Theodore W. Schultz, Ph.D.
Steven Weinbert, Ph.D., Sc.D. Thomas R. Chech, Ph.D.
Robert W. Fogel, Ph.D. Arthur Kornberg, M.D.
Wassily Leontief, Ph.D. Norman F. Ramsey, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Philip W. Anderson, Ph.D., D.Sc. James Tobin, Ph.D.
David Baltimore, Ph.D. Jerome I. Friedman, Ph.D.
Robert M. Solow, Ph.D. Henry W. Kendall, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Paul A. Samuelson, Ph.D. Charles H. Townes, Ph.D.
Henry Taube, Ph.D. Arthur L. Schawlow, Ph.D.
Alfred G. Gilman, M.D., Ph.D. George E. Palade, M.D.
Joseph L. Goldstein, M.D. Nicolaas Bloembergen, Ph.D.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
LobsterMobster wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

We still produce some of the best entertainment in the world, and we're friggin incredible when it comes to making weapons. I guess that second one isn't necessarily good.

We get our machine guns from BELGIUM!

Belgium gets their fighter jets from us!

TheGameguru wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

porn?

I'm surprised it was this long before someone said it

Japan is still several generations ahead of us.

Rezzy wrote:

Instead of figuring out a better way lance pus-boils and ease infection-pains? What a bastard!

Actually, by studying Staph, I'd assume he was probably working directly on studies that would result in infection treatment and prevention.

Rezzy wrote:

Are you saying that research shouldn't be purely profit-driven or that researchers should only be working towards noble pursuits?

I'm saying that when we talk about the scientific output of the U.S. that at least in my mind the implication is that government mandates and public funding are the primary factors. I doubt that many people would argue that public funds are best used for "noble pursuits", and the for-profit research can be best left to corporate enterprises.

Rezzy wrote:

A researchers time is wasted handing out bread and blankets.

Agreed, and I would never imply otherwise. I'm simply stating that I suspect it would be far more efficient in my fictional scenario to rapidly find a food source that would grow in the existing conditions. Long term finding the full cause and taking actions to mediate the situation would be important, but it would be cold comfort to starvation victims to have a full and complete resolution to their problem long after they died.

Rezzy wrote:

But maybe I'm misunderstanding your opinion.

To a significant extent I think you are, but the conversation is rapidly heading into the realm of esoteric navel-gazing so I imagine clarity is hard to come by.

TheGameguru wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Is there anything good that America isn't going down in?

porn?

I'm surprised it was this long before someone said it

Euro porn is pretty popular now

Elycion wrote:

Also, penicillin is a bad example. Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus bacteria, not moldy bread. ;)

Fleming wrote:

When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer

It's a perfect example. He wasn't studying antibiotics, or how to treat bacterial infections, or anything else with an obvious immediate value. He was studying Staphylococci and happened to notice a contaminated petri dish in which mould was killing the bacteria. Who's to say that studying rat farts couldn't lead to a similar discovery?

muttonchop wrote:
Elycion wrote:

Also, penicillin is a bad example. Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus bacteria, not moldy bread. ;)

Fleming wrote:

When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer

It's a perfect example. He wasn't studying antibiotics, or how to treat bacterial infections, or anything else with an obvious immediate value. He was studying Staphylococci and happened to notice a contaminated petri dish in which mould was killing the bacteria. Who's to say that studying rat farts couldn't lead to a similar discovery?

I'm sure if it led to a cure for male nighttime flatulence, my wife would consider it the greatest breakthrough of the 21st century.

muttonchop wrote:

It's a perfect example. He wasn't studying antibiotics, or how to treat bacterial infections, or anything else with an obvious immediate value. He was studying Staphylococci and happened to notice a contaminated petri dish in which mould was killing the bacteria. Who's to say that studying rat farts couldn't lead to a similar discovery?

Staphylococcus is a bacterium that commonly colonizes human skin and nasal passages and can result in infections ranging from minor to lethal. I think the odds of a serendipitous discovery when studying something so immediately relevant to the human condition are far higher than those you'd have in my fictional rat fart study.