Haven’t They Suffered Enough?
Every time I read about a plan to have more women and minority in science careers, I think of that famous New Yorker quip about gays getting married: Gays getting married? Haven’t they suffered enough?
Women in tenure-track positions? Haven’t they suffered enough?
I read this lament yesterday:
I was the lucky kid who never had to study for tests. I always scored in the 99% percentile on the annual state assessments.
[… Now I don’t make that much money.]
The national average at the time was that for every one faculty position, there were 200 applications. For our department, there were 300 applications for every one faculty position
Science will fail because the System is running the scientists out of it.
This is like nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded. In one sense it expresses a truth, but it is actually non-sensical.
The problem with science cannot simultaneously be that scientists are not sufficiently paid and that there are too many of them for the same position. And, if you argue that too many scientists are leaving academia, you also need to explain how this fits in with all the other complains about academia that focus on how hard it is to get a job.
If you want to make the argument that there should be more science funding, go ahead; I’ll support you 100%.
If you want to make the argument that postdoc salaries are so low that it’s hard to get a qualified candidate, go ahead; I’ll mostly disagree.
If you want to make the argument that the current system leads to sub-optimal science, go ahead, I might support or disagree depending on the details. In the comments to that article someone points out that in the current system PIs are incentivized to be overly conservative and focused on the short-term unlike the private sector which has a longer time-horizon (and perhaps more tolerance for failure). This sort of argument is much more interesting as it implies that there could be better mechanisms for funding.
But, reading these poor me laments, I actually conclude that the taxpayer is getting a great deal: it gets very smart people working 80 hour days for so little money that they cannot afford to go to the movies and they even produce a lot of nice results. Man, your tax dollars are hard at work!
The goal of public science funding is to get as much science as possible. Scientists are a cost to the public to be minimized. It seems that this is working pretty well.
Can we structure the rest of the public sector to be like this?  We’d get excellent public services for much lower taxes (we could surely lower the Council Tax which seems to take such a big chunk of this poor fellow’s salary).
|||I have to say I don’t fully believe that this guy has it this bad.|
|||Joking aside, I actually think that science funding is, in general, better than other types of funding at getting bang-for-public-buck. Tenure comes late in your career (and it is not enough to sit on your ass and not get fired for 2 years), the grant system is competitive, &c In spite of the fact that public funding dominates, very few people would argue that there is no competition in science.|