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US Report Sees Perils To America's Tech Future 373

Posted by Soulskill
from the cutting-into-our-tv-time dept.
dcblogs sends this excerpt from ComputerWorld: "The ability of the U.S. to compete globally is eroding, according to an Obama administration report released Friday. It described itself as a 'call to arms.' Titled 'The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States (PDF),' it points out a number of 'alarms,' including: the U.S. ran a trade surplus in 'advanced technology products,' which includes biotechnology products, computers, semiconductors and robotics, until 2002. In 2010, however, the U.S. 'ran an $81 billion trade deficit in this critically important sector.' In terms of federal research, in 1980 the federal government provided about 70% of all dollars spent on basic research, but since then the government's share of basic research funding given to all entities has fallen to 57%. It also says real median household income has stalled, and argues for policies that foster innovation."
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US Report Sees Perils To America's Tech Future

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  • by sconeu (64226) on Friday January 06, 2012 @02:56PM (#38612592) Homepage Journal

    You want to foster innovation? Make it so a company doesn't have to spend zillions on lawyers to deal with trolls.

    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday January 06, 2012 @02:58PM (#38612628)
      Not just software. Biotechnology patents appear headed for the same sort of train wreck from what little I know of them.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @02:59PM (#38612646)
      Why limit it to software patents? Our country did so well at the beginning (in part) because we completely ignored the old world's patents. Patents exist to hinder competitors, and are slowing down our progress.
      • by demonbug (309515) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:27PM (#38613056) Journal

        Why limit it to software patents? Our country did so well at the beginning (in part) because we completely ignored the old world's patents. Patents exist to hinder competitors, and are slowing down our progress.

        Yes, we did better because we were able to ignore the "old world patents". Meaning, patents were bad when we weren't the ones that held them. I'm not sure that's really a good argument for getting rid of patents as it doesn't really speak to whether patents help or hinder innovation; it only shows that any nation not at the top of the patent pyramid has a vested interest in ignoring them.

        Not saying I disagree with the premise that patents can actually hinder innovation, I just don't think your example provides any support for your claim. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    • by Feyshtey (1523799) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:14PM (#38612882)
      Instead they can spend a ton of money on research and development, produce a product, and a month later find themselves competing with a dozen competitors who invested nothing in research and developement and can therefor sell the product for a fraction of the cost and still make a profit. The innovators find themselves in a situation in which they made all the investment but cannot recoup the costs, while others are enriched without taking on the risk.

      Explain to me how that fosters innovation.

      There's a shade of grey in there to be discovered somewhere between everything and nothing.
      • by myurr (468709) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:26PM (#38613038)

        Anything that is trivial to reverse engineer and steal in such a manner probably didn't require that much R&D and isn't worth a patent, certainly for the length of time current patents grant a monopoly.

        The current situation is that companies with lots of money can hold smaller competitors to ransom by abusing the patent system. The worst case of abolishing patents is that companies with lots of money can spend more on marketing than smaller competitors and therefore dominate the market. At least with the latter we have a system where more people can build upon those products and try to do something novel, rather than the absurd situation we end up with at the moment where you HAVE to have a valuable patent portfolio that you're willing to use in legal action on other companies in order to compete.

        • by lightknight (213164) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:36PM (#38613184) Homepage

          Most things, software and mechanical, are trivial to reverse engineer.

          A slight tweak on a screw can mean all the difference in a number of applications, leaving many engineers shaking their heads; this tweak, however, can easily be copied in a week's time.

          Ease of replication is not a measure of effort, novelty, or invention.

        • by Feyshtey (1523799)
          Alright, reverse your thinking then:
          Some of the best inventions are simple and elegant solutions to historically cumbersome problems. You might one day have a eureka moment in which you realize that a very easily implemented bit of code can increase computations exponentially or work around some issue.

          In today's world you can spend $1000 and wait a few weeks to get a patent that will allow you to retire in style. Whereas with no patents, that big evil corporation can sick 10 coders(or engineers, or wha
          • by Xugumad (39311) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:58PM (#38613502)

            > You might one day have a eureka moment in which you realize that a very easily implemented bit of code can increase computations exponentially or work around some issue.

            Do you have any examples?

            From my point of view, very little is done as a small, isolated invention these days. I would indicate, for example, Facebook. The idea of Facebook is trivial to reverse engineer, and numerous attempts at improved versions have been attempted, but most have failed with a few (LinkedIn springs to mind) carving out small niches for themselves. The secret ingredient is no longer in a single trivially replicated invention, but in a process (how Facebook has evolved as a platform has kept it ahead of the competition - although I'll admit getting market share early also helped a lot).

            I'd also argue that if you simply have a eureka moment, why is that enough to let you retire? Surely we should be looking to reward effort expended over luck?

        • by Bowling Moses (591924) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:40PM (#38614120) Journal
          "Anything that is trivial to reverse engineer and steal in such a manner probably didn't require that much R&D and isn't worth a patent, certainly for the length of time current patents grant a monopoly."

          Once a new drug is on the market its exact formulation is known, so reverse engineering is a trivial matter. However the required R&D for a new drug is typically around 10 years and $1 billion.
        • by artor3 (1344997)

          Are you kidding me? Ir's always easier to reverse engineer something than it is to make it in the first place, especially in things like pharmaceuticals and mechanical designs. But that's not even important, because companies routinely outsource manufacturing. That would become corporate suicide in a world with no IP. Every company would need to produce everything itself. You couldn't have fabless semiconductor companies... instead every company would need to build its own multibillion dollar fab.

          The a

      • by smpoole7 (1467717)

        > Instead they can spend a ton of money on research and development, produce a product, and a month later
        > find themselves competing with a dozen competitors who invested nothing in research and developement ...

        This isn't an either/or -- regardless of what some comments here would imply. :) It's not a binary solution set: either we do away with all patents, or continue with the present system.

        As originally envisioned, patents were to protect novel and unique ideas and inventions. The problem, of cour

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hognoxious (631665)

        There's a shade of grey in there to be discovered somewhere between everything and nothing.

        You must be new here.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:09PM (#38613650)

        The poster didn't say kill *all* patents. Just software patents. That makes a HUGE difference.

        For example, producing a useful drug costs a fortune and takes forever due to the ridiculous amount of experimentation involved. Software development does not have those costs.

        Furthermore, the patents being granted are to very obvious things which are having a chilling effect on software development. Not a stimulating effect. Software patents are doing the *exact opposite* of what patents are supposed to do (to software).

        So, your example doesn't apply in the context of software development, and software patents should absolutely be abolished in order to foster software innovation.

      • "Explain to me how that fosters innovation. "

        Because it causes deflation -- everything is cheaper, which makes it easier to live on less and have more free time for innovation.

        After hundreds of years of innovation, we've now reached the point where most human labor is spent on "guarding", not "production".
        http://www.whywork.org/rethinking/whywork/abolition.html [whywork.org]

        See also:
        "RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" by Dan Pink
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc [youtube.com]

        And on how Bill Gat

    • You want to foster innovation? Make it so a company doesn't have to spend zillions on lawyers to deal with trolls.

      Yeah, just create a karma system and let your users identify and mute the trolls.

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:26PM (#38613036) Homepage Journal

      You want to foster innovation? Make it so a company doesn't have to spend zillions on lawyers to deal with trolls.

      Might also want to see there are fewer tax breaks available to companies who shift work out of the country.

      I spent a portion of my life in Michigan, where tax incentives were all over the place, trying to keep GM, Ford, Chrysler in the towns they were in, but even after all the tax breaks and assistance the companies still moved a lot of manufacturing to Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Japan, etc. Now almost everyone is moving manufacturing to Thailand, China or Vietnam - with reform efforts in Burma expect investment (read: moving manufacturing and research there as well.)

      Discouraging the outright offshoring of everything isn't necessarily protectionist and certainly is in line when confronting countries like China, where they've pegged their currency artificially low to draw in research, manufacturing, etc. It's how they are growing their economy, not entirely unlike how the Japan government subsidised exports for decades, which drew jobs and wealth into Japan, by way of research, manufacturing, etc.

      • by ChatHuant (801522)

        I spent a portion of my life in Michigan, where tax incentives were all over the place, trying to keep GM, Ford, Chrysler in the towns they were in, but even after all the tax breaks and assistance the companies still moved a lot of manufacturing to Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Japan, etc. Now almost everyone is moving manufacturing to Thailand, China or Vietnam - with reform efforts in Burma expect investment (read: moving manufacturing and research there as well.)

        Of course this happens, and I don't know why anybody is surprised. Even with taxes at 0, the companies in the US would still need to pay the workers' wages, and comply with various environmental and work safety laws. All the kowtowing to corporations states and municipalities do is just pathetic and sad - states and municipalities don't use any stick and just don't have enough carrot, since even with no taxes at all, the balance sheet is still very much in favor of corporations moving their production elsew

    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:31PM (#38613114)

      You want to foster innovation? Make it so a company doesn't have to spend zillions on lawyers to deal with trolls.

      You're overstating the problem. For 100 gold I can hire a fighter and a cleric. Problem solved.

      • You're overstating the problem. For 100 gold I can hire a fighter and a cleric. Problem solved.

        A muscle bound men at arms is cheap... However, the last I checked, the price of a decent healer is a lot of money and keeps on going up every year.

  • Old News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moof123 (1292134) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:00PM (#38612656)

    Folks have been shouting these warnings from the rooftops for quite a while. First we sent the factory, now we are sending the associated engineering/science jobs over too. Other countries are investing more in education, while we have been busy making mocking of smart people an art form.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      And reality tv don't forget that.
    • What you have is a shortage of healthy, able bodied young people. Everything else flows from this. If you start now, you should see improvement in 20 years time. Good luck; I think you will need it.

      • Re:Old News (Score:5, Insightful)

        by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:50PM (#38614248)
        There is no shortage of able-bodied young people, there is a shortage of work for them and a prevailing attitude that anyone who does blue collar work is some kind of failure in life. We also encourage companies to export jobs to other countries, where working in a factory is not considered to be the mark of failure and where being educated is not considered to be something shameful.

        We need a cultural shift, that's all. The media needs to stop telling young men that no woman will want them if they work a blue collar job, stop telling young women to abandon any man who is not a millionaire, and most importantly stop telling our young people that engineers are antisocial nerds.
    • I remember a movie about this [imdb.com].
    • Re:Old News (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lgw (121541) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:23PM (#38612992) Journal

      The threaqds above this are bashing patents, but this is the real problem. America needs to culturally value the geek. It's better culturally than when I was in school, but we don't seem to have nearly the strength in our engineering programs these days - not that the schools are necessarily worse, but the number of American-born students in the progams isn't where it should be, and the tuition bubble really isn't helping!

      Even though it's pretty obvious these days that only a MESH degree will give you any chance of earning your way out of your tuition debt, there is still no cultural bias towards these programs the way there is elsewhere in the world. If the smart people are here, the design jobs will be here too. Top-notch companies hire where the talent is, and if we lose that we're pretty much doomed.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      That's true, but this time it is coming from the government, which is actually a bit new.
  • Propaganda? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Troyusrex (2446430)
    I always become concerned about the objectivity of something when I see statistics like this: "In terms of federal research, in 1980 the federal government provided about 70% of all dollars spent on basic research, but since then the government's share of basic research funding given to all entities has fallen to 57%." That's pretty meaningless. the government could be giving 300% more than before but private entities are giving so much more it erodes the government's percent share. I'd take this report w
    • If you read it, the theme is, "The government needs to spend a lot of money directly on research in order for research to happen". I don't believe that. I think the out-of-control patent system is what's messed up our research. The place where I work does things in specific ways in order to be within the realm of our patents and (as far as I can tell) outside others' patents. That's stupid. We should all be able to use the best system possible that we can think of, without getting sued by competitors who th
      • Re:Propaganda? (Score:5, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:30PM (#38613096)

        If you read it, the theme is, "The government needs to spend a lot of money directly on research in order for research to happen". I don't believe that. I think the out-of-control patent system is what's messed up our research. The place where I work does things in specific ways in order to be within the realm of our patents and (as far as I can tell) outside others' patents.

        If you are doing that, you are probably doing commercialization research, which, while it is research, isn't the basic research for which the report is discussing the role of federal funding.

        While basic research sometimes results in patents, it at least as often is producing results which advance knowledge without providing immediately useful and patentable applications, which is then picked up by firms that do commercialization for further work on which patentable applications are based.

        Basic research for the most part is very high risk, very long time to payoff, and very little certainty as to what market anything of value that is discovered will end up finding application in, all of which are factors which make it unattractive for private, profit-seeking investors. The benefits are diffuse and often go to people other than those spending the money to the work initially (you could change that by making facts patentable, rather than invention, but that's, I think most would agree, an even bigger source of problems than anything in the current patent regime.)

        We should all be able to use the best system possible that we can think of, without getting sued by competitors who think of the same ideas.

        Are you arguing for eliminating patents, or are you arguing for some kind of mandatory licensing regime? Either would serve the goal you describe, though the impacts on investment currently done where the expectation of patentable results would seem likely to be different.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      It sounds to me more like "my term in office is coming to a close, I have pretty much not accomplished anything, this is getting released to say we need to do something without me actually having to do something about it."
    • You hit the nail on the head. My thought was, "Unless we know how much the federal government is spending today on basic research versus how much it spent on basic research in 1980 (adjusted for inflation), percentages don't tell us anything." Additionally, the fact that they chose to present it as percentage of total spending on basic research suggests that in fact federal spending on basic research has increased at well above the inflation rate (just like most of the federal budget). Actually, I just rea
    • by Genda (560240)

      Perhaps you should look up what a shift from 70% to 57% from 1980 means. That is, when you compare the amount provided by private sector research investment and what happened to that research. So just throwing off a smug comment about statistics that actually contributes nothing to the conversation is at best dilatory, you might want to bother digging a little deeper into the facts behind the conversation.

      Here are some interesting questions whose answers would be most illuminating;
      1. What was the total spe

  • by alen (225700) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:01PM (#38612680)

    1995 - Intel/MS and a few other US companies sold dell some parts, dell made a computer in texas and exported it
    2011 - intel/ms and others ship the parts to china and the computer comes back to the US

    the numbers only look at the cost of products coming in. it's been well established that apple and every other US company keeps most of the value of tech products and the manufacturing cost the chinese get is tiny. that's why acer and asus have net margins like food companies

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:38PM (#38613228)

      Not quite. Once China started doing some stuff and did a good job, we sent more. And now it's gotten to where we simply don't have the process engineering expertise to fabricate a lot of really high-tech stuff, and it will take years to regain that expertise. You can't learn that kind of stuff from a book, you only really learn it from experience, and since we no longer have any factories doing some of those things, there's nowhere to get experience. So China makes parts we have no capability of making even if we wanted to. At least not for a decade would we be competitive.

    • 2015 - intel/ms produce all goods in China - the computer sent to the US
      2020 - intel/ms declare bankruptcy. Chinese companies produce all parts and software, computer sent to the US

      The problem is not just the assembly cost, which is in fact marginal. The problem is the costs all down the supply chain. All the components inside, say, an Ipod are made in China. All the profits made producing and selling those items stay in China. I don't think you could even produce a computer in the US today. You'd have
    • 2011- Intel/MS create the parts in Bangalore, stamp them out in Taiwan, sell them to China, who assembles them into computers which come back to the US.

      Fixed that for you. Implication- the only exportable commodity the United States has any more is MBAs and capital investment.

  • by Leolo (568145) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:03PM (#38612710) Homepage

    What we need is to extend copyright, broader and stronger patents and generaly to beef up all IP laws. How about automatic injunctions for all accusations of patent infringement, like SOPA and PIPA gives copyright holders? That should spur on innovation!

    Oh, and cut taxes and gov't spending!

    • by SirGarlon (845873)

      Chapter 4, "Moving Forward," does mention patents but in language so brief and vague it could mean anything: "[ensure] that the intellectual property system continues to function in a way that encourages growth."

      It's the word "continues" in the preceding statement that suggest the government actually does have its head up its ass.

    • What we need is to extend copyright, broader and stronger patents and generaly to beef up all IP laws. How about automatic injunctions for all accusations of patent infringement, like SOPA and PIPA gives copyright holders? That should spur on innovation!

      Oh, and cut taxes and gov't spending!

      The only unfortunate thing about your statement is that its brilliant irony will be lost on the masses. So I will frame it in a way even the politicians can understand... Once upon a time there was a boy who cried wolf. One evening the villagers heard a commotion over the Internet. They assembled in the town square around the body of a slain child. It was only then they realized there was no boy, it was the wolf all along.

  • Bad press (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DinDaddy (1168147) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:05PM (#38612742)

    Yeah, well maybe if large chunks of our congress and populace didn't spend time spouting how scientists and technical people are biased and corrupt and don't know any better than plain folks, and we didn't pass laws that strangled technical innovation in a fashion obvious to anyone with a technical background, more kids would be interested in those fields

  • you cant spend (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nimbius (983462) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:09PM (#38612796) Homepage
    30+ years chiseling away at workers rights, outsourcing skilled trade to other countries, and eviscerating education funding
    only to reflect upon your work and remark, "gosh, people arent that smart and we dont do much with technology but consume it"

    you chose it as a model of hypercapitalism. when we agreed to shuffle the working class, the middle class, into early retirement, fast food dead end jobs, and bankrupted private pensions it was a choice. when we caved the stock market and drained dry the last cent from the 401k of the middle class, we did so knowing it could only make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. as we danced in our lemon socialism and hapilly bailed out the wealthiest conglomerates and banks, we were instructed that the hardship would be socialized and the profit would be privatized. "americans," the ones that do most of the living and working in our society, dont do much because they cant do much; this has been assured by the government of the people, for the people, and it has no right to question its work.

    we are reaping the benefit of generations of obscene wealth, fueled by trickle down reagonomics and stoked by politicians who consider market capitalism a golden calf that does no evil. Our society is driven by profit, and so long as the goal is profit, the outcome and returns will be consolidated to a plutocracy that doesnt care if little johnny learns to read or write, so long as he works enough hours at the walmart to consume the products at the walmart.
    • by superwiz (655733)
      What hyper-capitalism? Not a single administration in the past 20 years saw a reduction in regulation. That's a direct reduction in degree of control over business by business owners. Oddly enough, the only administration which tried to fix the education system was Republican and its efforts were met with largest resistance from the teachers. The world is exactly opposite of what you proclaim it to be.
  • What innovation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) * on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:09PM (#38612800) Homepage Journal

    This [slashdot.org] one?

    Make me remember Discworld's gods, that were pretty dumb in general because there is no evolutionary pressure when you are omnipotent. Why try to innovate if you can simply patent common sense and copyright culture forever, push your patent/copyright laws in all the world and take money from that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:11PM (#38612834)

    An empire that is starting to buckle under its own weight of ridiculous spending and incessant world conquest. Sound familiar?

  • So we're saying that an increase in privately funded r&d is a *bad* thing?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Moreso that there is not enough privately funded research , especially "basic" or "theoretical" research. Theoretical research does not pay off quickly enough for those that privately finance research. Most modern tech was based on theoretical discoveries from 25-50 years ago.

    • Is the change in the R&D percentage because of an increase in privately funded R&D, or a decrease in government funded R&D?

      Or, more to the point: Has R&D funding increased or decreased?

  • But only with approved companies and countries. Doesn't that sound like a wonderful industry to be in - consulting who to trade aggressively with and who you shouldn't trade with (unless there's slim odds you'll get caught)?

    In terms of household income, adjusted for inflation, the US has been going backwards for decades - not simply as wealth left he country, but as the means of generating GDP were pushed off shore.

    Consider this: Workers at Company A buy goods from Companies B and C, while workers at Comp

  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:17PM (#38612922)

    Nobody can figure out why fewer Americans want to study for STEM careers, but everybody agrees that the solution is bring in more visa workers to take the jobs of US STEM workers.

    In regard to STEM training, the report makes an argument for immigration reform that enables foreign students to remain in the U.S. It doesn't offer specifics on an approach for accomplishing this, or look at the debate around this issue. In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the U.S., representing about one in 18 workers. Computer and math occupations account for close to half the STEM employment.

    The U.S., the report said, produces fewer STEM graduates relative to other developed countries. Citing data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED), the report said that in 2009, nearly 13% of U.S. graduates with bachelor's degrees were in STEM fields, near the bottom of OCED countries.

    "Significant economic competitors -- such as South Korea (26.3%), Germany (24.5%), Canada (19.2%), and the United Kingdom (18.1%) -- are on the long list of countries producing a much higher percentage of STEM graduates," the report said.

    One in five STEM workers is foreign born, with 63% coming from Asia, the report said. The foreign-born share of STEM workers with graduate degrees is 44%.

    • by SirGarlon (845873)
      If you actually think about how much effort it would take to fix the American education system to produce better students, versus the effort it would take to increase immigration for knowledge workers, it totally makes sense to argue for immigration. So really, America is still the land of opportunity -- for people who went to school somewhere else and got a decent education.
    • Because STEM workers are treated like commodities, and there's no stability in being a STEM worker. I tell that to every kid who wants to study computer programming- to go into some other field because as a STEM worker you're just a cog in a machine competing with cogs in the third world who earn 1/4th of what you need to survive.

    • by jafac (1449) on Friday January 06, 2012 @05:45PM (#38614902) Homepage

      At a new year's party - I endured a long conversation of a bunch of self-proclaimed "nerds and geeks" talking about how our new nerdy sci-fi culture was breeding a new generation of brilliant science-and-math oriented geniuses. Because we all grew up loving sci fi tv shows like star trek and star wars, and because we all play video games and read comic books.

      I played the bad guy. The stick in the mud. As I always do. I expect not to be invited back next year. I asked the room: how many of them had completed Calculus, or Linear Algebra, or were working in Science or Engineering fields. Not a one. Well, one. But he was a Marketing Manager at a software company, and couldn't write a singe line of code to save his life. I am such a shit - I made them feel bad.

      And that's what this is all about. Ego. Math and Science classes are hard work, and when you fail you get bad grades, and feel bad. And there isn't a big audience clapping, or a row of cheerleaders chanting "go team go!" when you win. No. Our culture celebrates ignorance, and punishes brilliance.

      I honestly don't think that this nation deserves to be competitive anymore. We had our brief flash of glory. 40 years of selfish, bad policy. It will take a change of heart, and then at least 20 years to build it back. And I don't think that we have the gumption, and the capitalists who run our nation don't want to build anything back. They don't even want to pay to repair bridges. They will leave this country a smoking ruin, and move on to where the money is. Switzerland. Luxembourg. Dubai. KSA.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:18PM (#38612942)

    The report on page 1-8 has a nice graph of average math scores. However it occurs to me that what matters most for innovation is not average scores but the number of students above a certain level of ability. Basically, if a country has enough high-scoring math students to fill the pipeline of scientists and engineers, it doesn't matter how many low-performing students are dragging down the mean. One of the reasons large Asian countries (China, India, and I would guess Indonesia) are well poised for technical progress is that they have a large population and hence a large talent pool. As long as they can efficiently discover and cultivate their talent they should be fine.

    I have never seen anyone talk about the number of high-performing students a country really needs to fill its pipeline. But if you want to talk about being competitive, especially in the next decade where pressure on public budgets at all levels will go from bad to worse, doesn't it make more sense to concentrate on finding the good students and giving them opportunities (scholarships, etc.), and on bumping the above-average ones over that threshold into excellence, than to continue vain attempts to improve the average?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DoofusOfDeath (636671)

      ... doesn't it make more sense to concentrate on finding the good students and giving them opportunities (scholarships, etc.), and on bumping the above-average ones over that threshold into excellence, than to continue vain attempts to improve the average?

      What you're saying is anathema to the majority of liberals in the U.S.

      • ... doesn't it make more sense to concentrate on finding the good students and giving them opportunities (scholarships, etc.), and on bumping the above-average ones over that threshold into excellence, than to continue vain attempts to improve the average?

        What you're saying is anathema to the majority of liberals in the U.S.

        Which is why the "No Child Left Behind" act that legislates attempting to improve the average was proposed and signed by that well known flaming liberal George W. Bush?

        Oh, that's right - it doesn't count if a Republican does it.

    • by dbc (135354) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:00PM (#38613526)

      It's not just math scores, but in every area. The school system concentrates on bringing everyone up to average in everything, instead of nurturing talents and enabling a child so soar in some specialized area. With one exception: sports. Sports talent is nurtured and allowed to soar. Other areas, not so much.

      Everyone needs a certain minimal skill level in a broad range of topics. So make sure everyone gets the basics. But then allow accelerated concentration in a area of talent. Schools don't like to do that. Try arguing for allowing your child to be accelerated in math, literature, any non-sport. Won't happen. You'll argue until you are blue in the face and the school system will push back with all their might.

      Try reversing the argument. Suppose the principal said: "Well, yes, your child shows exceptional talent in baseball. Easily enough that with the right coaching he could get a college scholarship, and perhaps even make the major leagues. But other kids will feel bad if we give him more attention. Two days of PE a week is what he gets." The town would hang the principal in effigy. Rightly so, IMHO. Everyone should get a chance to nurture their talent, whatever it is.

      But what about a kid who could benefit from acceleration in math? That child will instead be given more busy-work homework that frustrates him or her to tears.

      Sorry for the rant, but I take this personally. My daughter is 12, and has worked about half way through my calculus book from freshman engineering. Do you know any schools that will let a 12 year old take AP Calc?

      The idea of "No child left behind" is fine. But how about "No talent wasted and no enthusiasm crushed."

  • In other breaking news, U.S. manufacturing has mostly been outsourced overseas, government regulation has been largely thrown out the window since the 80's, the deficit is too high, and we spend too much on our military.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:24PM (#38613004)

    The world is facing a major economic turmoil.

    Basic manufacturing labor is in 2 forms
    1) local construction this is non-portable and while modernization gains have happened. It is still taking many man hours to make a house.
    2) assembly (this is gadgets or cars) the finished good is portable modernization has applied the Ford factor and there is incredible pressure to reduce the man/hour cost.
              a) finished goods are globally transportable, means manpower is used where manpower is lowest cost
              b) mechanization is reducting the needed manpower for assembly, every year there is less for someone to do to assemble 100 of something
              c) this somewhat applies to farming

    The great industrial revolution provided jobs for lots of people to move from farming to manufacturing. We are now facing the reverse prospect where the mechinical revolution is displacing manufacturing jobs. There really are no replacement jobs, "tech" jobs require education and there are not really enough demand.

    The post-industrial age is upon us. There really are not places for most of the people to work.

  • The real problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cjcela (1539859) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:30PM (#38613100)
    I think that the larger issue with America these days is connected to our cultural tendency about measuring success in terms of money and power. In the newer generations, this is displacing the very values that made the nation great, and resulting in short term and immediate results kind of thinking. We are teaching our youth to think like a 5-year old with a tantrum, with an insane sense of entitlement and no responsibility. And the older generations are not much better. Add to this the fact that there are no visionaries among the people with power to make changes in the nation, be it the heads of large corporations, the congress, or elected officers. Long term is thought as "5 years down the road". That does not scale for the size and complexity of America today. We need a 100-year plan, not a "will do whatever necessary to get re-elected next year" plan. And this long term plan should not be based on controlling the rest of the world or waging wars when other countries do not submit to our might; we should use our resources wisely to take care of our own people instead, and shift to a sustainable economic model so we do not need resources from other countries. The only reason we have not collapsed onto ourselves is that the rest of the world is messed up too. But we can do so much better than that. My impression is that unless we start thinking long term and incorporate healthier values into education, to slowly revert this tendency, the decline of America will not only continue but accelerate in all areas, including technology, quality of life for the average citizen, and the position of our country in the world. At this rate, we will be a part of the 3rd world in 50 years. We can do better for our children.
  • "The ability of the U.S. to compete globally is eroding."

    That's fine with me. It's not a race.

  • So, Idiocracy [imdb.com] was a prophetic documentary ;)

  • by Hasai (131313) on Friday January 06, 2012 @03:52PM (#38613418)

    "In terms of federal research, in 1980 the federal government provided about 70% of all dollars spent on basic research, but since then the government's share of basic research funding given to all entities has fallen to 57%."

    You mean to tell me that this is part of the beef? That Great God Government (beat head three times on the floor in the direction of Washington) now has less control over what people can research?

    Can someone explain to me why this is a bad thing?

    • by Elder Entropist (788485) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:36PM (#38614062)
      Because most companies will only invest money into research that is virtually guaranteed to be monetized in a short enough period of time to look good on the balance sheets while the corporate officers who decide to put money into R&D remain at the companies - translating into bigger bonuses for them. Such research is generally small incremental improvements of existing designs, such as drug companies slightly tweaking an existing drug so they can extend the patent. Actual basic research that can actually revolutionize things is by definition uncertain. Making any return on investment likewise uncertain and unattractive to companies that base their entire existence around that.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:56PM (#38614318)

      Because the private companies aren't picking up the slack. If you want cutting edge research into how to give old men erections, then the private industry is all over it. If you want research the better the state of humanity, but which won't put much money into the 1%'s pockets, then you damn well better hope the government is funding research, because no private industry would touch that with a ten foot pole.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:17PM (#38613788)

    "We came up with a plan to increase competitiveness and innovation," an administration spokesman said, "but we discovered that the process had already been patented, so we had to cancel the project."

  • Obviously. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by endus (698588) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:49PM (#38614242)

    What's so sad about all this is that anyone outside of the government and the (pardon the term) 1% have known this was coming for a long time now. Hell, I'm sure they knew it was coming too, they just didn't care because they are traitors out to corrupt capitalism and democracy to line their own pockets. I have no problem with capitalism, it's the only viable economic system, but you cannot allow people to corrupt the system of government to tilt the playing field in their favor. That's not capitalism.

    I love how the Republicans whine about liberals being in favor of "wealth redistribution" when their own policies are clearly aimed at wealth redistribution in the other direction. Neither strategy is capitalistic and neither strategy is viable in the long term. How, exactly, is propping up the music industry, an industry with a completely outdated business model and declining content quality, capitalism? How is it helpful to the country to do so? The answer, of course, is that it isn't. It's just what happens when you let executives of the failing industry bribe politicians legally. Meanwhile, the copyright legislation they have pushed for is wreaking havoc on the innovation which made America competitive in the first place. They sell this to voters under the illusion that the US will be on top of the food chain forever, regardless of what we do, and we can just dictate new rules when we don't like the old ones. It's not going to work that way for long.

    There have been articles on the decline of basic research in this country for years now. I remember posting links to USENET on the same ever so long ago. It's the same thing that has happened to manufacturing that people have been decrying for decades. The US is moving towards an economy based entirely on gambling in the stock market. We don't produce things anymore, hell we don't even INVEST in things anymore, we just let bankers find new ways to wring more money out of the middle class. High frequency trading? Seriously? No one sees a problem with an industry that produces absolutely no value and no product whatsoever? This is all well and good for them...until the rest of the world catches on that they are adding no value they can continue to exploit them as well. However, they'll be driving their Mercedes through endless ghetto with bullets whizzing by their windows.

    It's not a sustainable model for a society, but it is exactly what we are heading for and it's exactly what we deserve. We've chosen to become fat and stupid and to allow ourselves to support people who offer nothing in return. Liberals are certainly NO better, but where I see it the most is in the Republican party. People are willing to go to the mat for people who make more in a year than they will in their lifetime, even though those people are demonstrably bad at their jobs. Executives are leaving companies worse off than when they started and yet somehow still receive massive bonuses...and the right leaning middle class supports this! Their ostensibly "capitalism friendly" political opinions lead them into arguments with leftists...and they forget that they're not just supposed to oppose leftists, but they're supposed to be capitalists themselves and support capitalistic policies. They shout down people who decry poor copyright legislation and invest in companies which are just garbage. Look at the tech bubble. All you had to do was get an IT kid fresh out of college, pay him 40 grand a year, and he could tell you that investing in a company that had no product and provided no service, but had a nifty website, was a bad idea.

    I could rant all day about this stuff. Won't do any good though. The stupid have won and the system is beyond hope. Hopefully I can eek out a decent living and die before the inevitable crash.

  • lot of fluff (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday January 06, 2012 @04:53PM (#38614276)
    Glancing through the "executive summary", I see a blatant case of bias right off the bat. The summary mentions three pillars: research, education, and infrastructure. It fails to mention the real pillar: healthy private enterprise. With that, you can fund the three pillars above. Without it, you're eventually going to fail. Even if you can find the funds to support the three pillars, you have no way to bring it to the market, meaning someone else will reap the rewards of your effort.

    Second, it makes the assumption that government spending on these pillars works. As I noted [slashdot.org] in a recent thread about government funded engineering and research, there are vast differences of several orders of magnitude in how efficient research projects are from the best to the worst.

    Perhaps the Obama administration has enough of a clue to set up effective research operations though I haven't seen any indication of that. But even if so, we still have to face that Congress, holder of the purse, has little interest in efficient research operations nor do most of the likely recipients of the funding.

    This particularly holds for the least accountable of scientific research, so-called "blue sky" research. Obviously, the US government is quite capable of spending lots of money on blue sky research, but I don't grant that it is similarly capable of getting lots of blue sky research in return for that money.

    We see similar problems with the other two pillars. Educational loans are notorious for having massively driven up the cost of education while simultaneously resulting in a drop in quality of many college degrees. And infrastructure building is a shifty past time that often results in near useless, overly expensive, or shoddy infrastructure that doesn't serve the role for which it was constructed.

    This incidentally was the original topic of the thread when someone alleged that engineers are envious of China because of its ability to order massive engineering projects (which also happen to be infrastructure building projects). My original disagreement a few posts up that thread was that such projects had several serious problems with them, chiefly a deeply flawed implementation (but also bad economics) that made them unworthy of an engineer's consideration. That didn't go over well for some reason.

    None of these address the gap between coming up with something in the lab and transporting that to something useful to society. It's not innovation, if that gap cannot be jumped.
  • (Sarcasm) See? It's just that simple. But of course, outsourcing must be right because the market never makes mistakes. (End Sarcasm).
    We lose a lot of engineering competence when college students see a 4-year engineering degree as a way to compete with folks making $10 an hour at most, while a business, law or medical degree are easier and almost guarantee a higher income. Not only that, we tend to give away what expertise we do have every time we outsource the manufacture of a new item to a foreign country.

    So what do you *expect* to happen?

  • by squidflakes (905524) on Friday January 06, 2012 @05:23PM (#38614636) Homepage

    A certain segment of the /. population loves to decry government involvement in anything, stating that business, unhindered, would naturally step-in to cure the various evils and ills that the government is so inept at dealing with, and the service would be better, people would be happier, and a modest profit could be made on the side.

    Having seen the results of this sort of thinking first hand, I can honestly say that these people are delusional. Of course, I know that I won't ever convince them to change their minds (especially when I insult them), but I feel like typing, so here goes.

    I used to be a lab assistant working in a large U.S. university's biomedical research facility. The area I worked was devoted to the keeping, raising, and study of cephalopods. We were the largest such facility in the US and among the top in the world for that type of science. Granted, it is a very specialized field, but the prestige was genuine and we attracted top talent.

    Most of our funding came from government grants. The NSF and a few others were our bread and butter even though most of our research was directed toward marketable technologies and techniques. We also sold squid parts to commercial labs. Turns out, squid have a massive axion connecting their eye and the optical lobe of the brain. If humans had a T1 running from our eyes to our brains, squid have an OC-198. We also researched the color changing properties of cephalopod skin, their hydraulic muscle structure, their three heart circulatory system, their corneas and eye lenses (they match ours btw. If you've ever had eye surgery to replace a torn lens, thank a squid), their ink, and their behavior.

    To keep all of these critters in one building took a lot of large equipment and a lot of highly skilled people; people that could have made buckets of cash in a commercial setting but chose the lab because we were figuring out thinks like why squid don't get cancer or suffer nearly as many degenerative diseases of the eye. We were trying to figure out why squid and octopuses suffered dementia near the end of their lives and how we could help prevent it. See, once we do that in squid, the way to doing it in people is considerably shorter.

    Anyway, all that work took money and that meant begging Uncle Sam for more and more cash which seemed to take more and more paperwork every year. What the government couldn't or wouldn't fund, we supplemented with corporate donations and gifts. The whammy here is that a bunch of biologists who would rather be in 30 feet of water in the Caribbean watching squid fuck are notoriously terrible at convincing others of the need for their research. Still, it had to get done, and done it got. Once you knew the way to fill everything out for the government, it was much easier. They were concerned that you weren't fucking off with the money, that you weren't engaged in monkey torture or feeding rat poison to children, and that you were accounting for every penny. If they were going to give you money, they wanted to know what you did with it. Ok, cool, keep our receipts and stop feeding rat poison to the local children, easily done. The corporate "gifts" and donations were another kettle of squid. They too wanted to know that you weren't fucking off with the money, and wanted it accounted down to the penny, but they were neutral on most ethical subjects. They also wanted to give suggestions. Hey, it would really help out BigCo. if you could figure out a way to reliably and cheaply extract or synthesize cephalotoxin or some tetrodotoxin. In fact, it would help so much that your grant rides on your ability to do so.

    And there is the hook. Sure, it is the corporation's money to do as they see fit, but when they step in to "help" they don't want base research, they don't want behavior studies, and they don't give a shit about learning to understand cephalopod communications or the possibility of sentience, they want something that will help their bottom line and they want it right god damn now.

    No

    • Put more simply, no government regulation = gang/mafia rule (e.g. Somalia). Too much = dysfunctional dictatorship (e.g. North Korea). We have real world examples. It's just that the politicians and media are made to ignore them.

  • by Lost Race (681080) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @12:38AM (#38618990)

    American innovation is faltering! This is a call to arms!

    1) Lower taxes on the rich

    2) De-regulate corporations

    3) Extend copyright

    Whew! Problem solved!

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