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An Enjoyable F2F

Sat down last night with Dr. Von for an enjoyable discussion over dinner and cocktails. Aside from politics, much of the talk was dominated by the subject of education; the need to teach real science and advanced mathematics in schools, the mostly deleterious effects of NCLB ( I’d assess the law as being successful at forcing marginal improvements for students in the second quartile of performance – the law is about basic skills – at the great educational expense of students and schools in the upper 50 %), the future of neurolearning in the classroom. It was a good talk.

14 Responses to “An Enjoyable F2F”

  1. Barnabus Says:

    I can only comment on my little part of Connecticut…but I don’t agree with your statement concerning math/science (at least in high school).  There are honors and/or AP courses offered in most everything so the best students are well taken care of.  How much of the problem that you perceive is due to lack of parental involvement and the related problem of students that don’t care.

  2. zen Says:

    Hi Barnabus

    Connecticut is known for it’s excellent schools – you may be #1 or # 2 in the United States by some measures; I suspect that you have a higher percentage of intact nuclear families as well.

    Illinois is not as fortunate, socioeconomically speaking and our state government resembles that of a banana republic but without the cool uniforms and mirrored sunglasses on our elected officials.

  3. Fabius Maximus Says:

    Schools are like Congresscritters.  Everyone acknowledges the problem, but excepts their own.

    As for the "the need to teach real science and advanced mathematics in schools", you must be joking.  There are zero signs of a shortage of those skills in America.

    For good reason.  The stats are clear that the economic return on this knowledge is low, probably very low for advanced degrees.  Salesmanship, rhetoric, writing — the core skills for sophists plus basic arithmetic… that is what pays in America.

    We import much of our science and engineering talent for the same reason we import people to pick fruit — employers can do so, paying wages that sufficient quantities of Americans will not accept. 

  4. zen Says:

    Hi FM

    Genomic engineers are working for grape-picking wages? What ?

    We do import a large number of math, hard and applied science PhD’s – mostly via H1B’s and student visas -because there is a dire shortage of such folks coming from the pool of native born citizens. Without Indian, Chinese and Russian expatriates, I’m not sure how we would maintain our R&D edge.

  5. Fabius Maximus Says:

    I was speaking of average salaries!  Pointing to salaries of genomic engineers as typical of fields using "science and advanced mathematics" is like pointing to Oprah and saying that the average wages of entertainers is high.  Also, I did not say that sci & math fields earned the *same* wages as picking fruit, but that the economic rate of return on their time in education were both low.  Does picking grapes require advanced degrees?

    Also, what does it mean to say that there is a "dire shortage of such folks coming from native born citizens"?  Average wages are low vs. other fields requiring far less time in school, which indicates that the supply is ample.  Increasing educational opportunities in math/sci will not likely change this, hence not change the ratio of domestic/imported professionals.

    If the large numbers of imported math/sci workers is a problem, a more effective way to limit this is to do so at the border.  Limit green cards and immigration.  That will raise their wage and likely increase the domestic supply.  {Or, perhaps, it will drive those jobs to emerging nations, as ewe xport the jobs instead of importing the people.}  If this is a good thing, why not do so for economists or doctors?   Or blue collar workers?

  6. zen Says:

    Ok, FM – I think we are talking past one another here as I do not view immigration of ( what is actually a relatively small number) really bright and well-educated ppl to be an economic negative for the United States.

  7. Fabius Maximus Says:

    OK.  But what does a dire shortage mean in this context?  This is a common assertion, but I’ve never seen it or the consequences described.  Seems almost like an urban legend.

  8. Wiggins Says:


    Math and science skills have a low economic return?  Whatever makes you think that?

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual salary in the United States was $39,190 in 2006. [1]

    The mean annual salary for every computer and mathematical science occupation exceeds $39,190.  A few examples:
    computer programmer – $69,500 [2]
    operations research analyst – $69,100 [3]

    You’ll also note that the occupations requiring more schooling have higher mean annual salaries:
    computer support specialist – $44,350
    actuaries – $91,810

    The mean salary for professional, scientific and technical service workers is $60,590. [4]

    If you feel that these wages are low, then I’m curious to what you’re comparing them.


    [1] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
    [2] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes151021.htm
    [3] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes152031.htm
    [4] http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/naics3_541000.htm

  9. Fabius Maximus Says:

    You are showing the value of general education, which I did not question.  Also, the populations of people you compare (full pop vs. college educated) are quite distinct (IQ, family background, criminal history, immigrant status).

    My quote:  "economic rate of return on their time in education were both low (for math & sci)."  Comparing the income on the average, with large components of no HS degree and only HS degree, to those with college tells us nothing about this. 

    There is a large literature on this showing that the economic return on years of advanced advanced education for math/sci is low.  The better comparison is college math/sci vs. college incomes, and MA or PhD math/sci vs. college.  It is not my field, but I’ve seen studies which show the incremental income is modest.  Esp for advanced math/sci degrees when one includes the extra  cost AND lost years of income while in college.

  10. Vonny Says:

    I guess I don’t understand the argument made by Barnabus, either.  Over the course of a 40-year working career, the additional income earned with an advanced degree is on order of a million dollars more than someone with just a high school diploma.  That is worth a few years of additional schooling, I would think. 

  11. Vonny Says:

    My apologies, I meant Maximus, not Barnabus, in my last response.

  12. Fabius Maximus Says:

    Zenpundit’s comment was about education in math & science — not a college education in general.   Similarly the comparison of advanced degrees — in general — vs. just a high school diploma is not in question here.   Is this not clear from his original post?

    Relevant comparisons would be math/sci-specific college majors vs. others — like humanities (e.g., history, business, education).  Or professional advanced degrees (e.g., MBA, law, medicine) vs. math/sci ones. 

    The reason for the lower economic return (added incomes vs. added cost in time & $) of math/sci majors is probably that occupations requiring these skills tend to be more exposed one to the global economy.  For example, computer programmers wages in the US experience downward pressure from both immigirants to the US and outsourcing (e.g., work done in India).

    I suspect the non-math/sci-intensive occupations are in *aggregate* less exposed to globalization.  For example, the professions mentioned are largely priced domestically.  Even this is changing however, for example as legal & medical work is outsourced and immigration increases.  This is globalization slowly shaping our economy, for both good and ill.

    There is a large literature on this issue — and what it means for our future.  For example, see Alan Blinder’s work.
    "Offshoring: The Next Industrial Revolution?", Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006)

    Will the Middle Class Hold?  Two Problems of American Labor, Testimony of Alan S. Blinder to the Joint Economic Committee (31 January 2007)http://www.jec.senate.gov/Documents/Hearings/blindertestimony31jan2007.pdf

  13. Wiggins Says:


    Workers with a bachelor’s degree earned a mean annual salary of $51,206 [1], while scientific and technical workers earn $60,590 [cited previously].

    "The better comparison is college math/sci vs. college incomes…"
    In 2000, annual mean salaries of general math majors with a bachelor’s degree was $56,500, 17 percent higher than the mean for all college grads. [2]

    I simply don’t see the evidence that backs up your assertions.

    [1] http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/004214.html
    [2] http://money.cnn.com/2000/11/10/career/q_degreemath/

  14. Barnabus Says:

    As a biochemist I can assure you that wages are fairly good and not just for someone in genomics.  The biggest problem is that you are somewhat limited into where you can live; i.e. you can be a teacher or real estate agent anywhere but the chemical/pharmaceutical industries tend to be clustered.   However, on the main point I’d have to agree with FM.  If your goal is to maximize your income then by all means go into business and get an MBA.

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