Friday, January 15, 2010

Potpourri CXIV

Extra-long edition of Potpourri ahead, as I haven't written here in a week, but first up, I've got a hot item from Darlene the Science Cheerleader that she wanted me to respond to ASAP.

She referred me to a blog posting (and the report it was based on, but I'm a little behind at the moment to read it) about the state of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and the workforce. A new report from Rutgers University--which I'll read eventually, really--finds that the "pipeline" of students receiving STEM-related has remained relatively steady over the past few decades. The problem, as Dar notes in her fun, punchy style, is that not enough of them are getting jobs in the STEM disciplines after graduating.

I would take one exception to a suggestion Dar had that STEM-based companies just need to pay more. The amateur economist in me doesn't believe the economy works that way. There are two sides to the issue: supply and demand. If the findings of the Rutgers study are accurate (I've seen some OECD stats at work that might say something different), then the problem is not with supply, but with demand. Compared to the number of STEM grads produced by China and India, regardless of the quality of the educational institutions that produced them, the U.S. is woefully behind countries three or four times our size in population. The common refrain at U.S. tech gatherings is that "India has more honors students than we have students." That statement in itself can probably be scrutinized, but let's assume it's true, and that the U.S. is going to need a lot more STEM student, honors or otherwise. That means the education pipeline/student supply is either fine or below optimum for our needs, so there is still some work to do. The problem must lie on the demand side of the equation.

The demand for STEM students is driven by the U.S. private sector and the technologies they produce. Prior to World War II, most scientific research in the U.S. was funded by private organizations like the Guggenheim Foundation, which funded Robert Goddard's early experiments in liquid-fuel rockets. It was only when the nation found itself in a two-front fight for its life against nations that were directly funding science and engineering research and development (R&D) that the U.S. Government became THE player in funding basic science research, where it remains today, according to a National Science Foundation report my coworker Tracy found.

There are a couple of ways you can increase the money available to STEM careers: you can allow the federal government to spend more (which, on basic science, still isn't a bad idea) or you can provide incentives to the private sector to fund more applied R&D. Or you can do both at once by, say, increasing overall expenditures and research incentives on a space program that does really challenging things, like develop single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles, space-based solar power satellites, and/or more exotic exploration missions and technologies. Kids will jump at the chance to do something cool, and companies won't mind doing the cool things, since they tend to increase their bottom lines and allow them to recruit high-caliber talent. And yes, there are doubtless other industries you can do this with, like Earth-based energy or biotechnology, but this nation has had serious arguments about both. NASA, on the contrary, enjoys wide appeal and support. Connect that ambitious go-where-no-one-has-gone-before stuff with serious career opportunities, and even the skeptics might agree that science and engineering, not high finance, is the way to personal and financial success in this country. And wouldn't that be great to see!?

On to other things, and I've got a lot of 'em...

Actually, I've got a bunch of stuff from Dar. She was participating in the Science Online 2010 conference this week, so she picked up all sorts of useful stuff/sites. I need to go to this next year--it sounds like a hoot!

  • The first bit is a blog on how to "take your blog to the next level." If that means I go from 15 to 150 readers, I'll be happy. :-)
  • She also provided a link to a blog that discusses the impact of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) on reporting in Haiti and its potential for assisting science reporting.
  • Another link is a directory of every type of collaborative tool available to the general public and various government entities. That doesn't mean that all of these tools will be linked; but at least now people would know, in theory, who's doing what with whom. Progress of a sort.
  • Here's an interesting engineering competition for kids: design something using bubble wrap!
  • Here's an article that blames mean gym teachers on childhood obesity and later adult resistance to exercise. Gotta confess, while I was on the scrawny side during childhood, it has taken the care of a good woman to make me give a darn about exercise. I sure didn't get motivated to exercise based on my joyful experiences with high school physical education.
  • And lastly, Dar has a new video introducing some of the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders who are studying or working in STEM fields. The video is cute, and Dar asks some off-the-wall questions, but trust me, she's playing dumb. Crazy like a fox.
Here's something Tim Bailey from the Florida Space Coast Chapter posted in Facebook: a space "unconference" where, according to the site, "participants decide the topics, schedule, and structure of the event. Well, that might save some folks a lot of work (can I do that for ISDC?).

Saw this on Facebook, but can't remember who posted it...the Patterson School of Diplomacy provides workshops/simulations for students to brainstorm how various organizations would cope with various disasters--the day after Independence Day, an invasion of zombies, or an attack by vampires (this year's hot pop culture phenomenon).

The speculation and swirl around the Constellation Program continue. The speculations might or might not be true. All I know is that from my day job point of view, we've got our heads down with orders to "keep coloring" until we get new direction.

First it was sex (Lisa Nowak), now we've got reports of drugs at NASA. If we can find a way to get Steven Tyler out of rehab and Aerosmith back together for a reunion concert, say, by the Vehicle Assembly Building, we could have rock 'n' roll, too. Then the public would take NASA seriously as a pop culture phenomenon. I kid. Slightly.

New from Hu:
  • A 2D trailer for the new 3D movie about the Hubble Space Telescope. That should be fun!
  • A Navy Times article about the U.S. relief mission to Haiti, led in part by the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, one of our aircraft carriers.
  • An article speculating on the existence of liquid diamond oceans on Uranus and Neptune. This is similar to Arthur C. Clarke's depiction of Jupiter having a diamond core in 2010: Odyssey Two.
  • Ah! And speaking of 2010, Hu also forwarded an article lamenting the fact that the world wasn't yet up to the advances Clarke predicted in his novel.
The final competition for the Huntsville edition of the "Future City" competition is this weekend. Alas, I will be out of town, but these kids really come up with some ingenious stuff.

From Father Dan, the Newseum's Flash site for seeing the front pages of newspapers from across the U.S. and around the world.

From D2, a site created by Konica providing, among other things, exquisitve visuals of the Venus de Milo, which I had the privilege of seeing in Paris...and not photographing nearly as well. Also from D2, an article about an iPhone app that senses pressure on your bed and will wake you up at the proper time in your sleep cycle to prevent any jarring wakeups. Sounds great!

From Jason Clark on Facebook, a very long YouTube video (51 minutes) on human computation. Sounds interesting, but I haven't had 51 minutes to spare to watch it yet.

You really need to read Mike Boyd's columns on the Aviation Planning site if you're interested in an alternative perspective on the "whole body scanner" craze now sweeping the federal government after the underpants bomber nearly took out a plane on Christmas Day. If you think TSA is helping make things safer, Boyd will provide you with some good arguments why you should reconsider that perspective. Boyd's page is also a regular link posted on this site as a handy reference. (Warning to my liberal readers: Boyd does not agree with you. Warning to my conservative readers: he isn't too kind to Bush administration appointees, either.)

Speaking of space and education (at least I did in my opening essay), the Space Florida group is worth checking out. They provide resources to teachers--mostly in the Kennedy Space Center area--to get their students engaged in STEM educational subjects.

Miscellaneous links that have piled up in my inbox:
  • Oy…Pat Robertson is about as helpful to conservatism as all the racist email “humor” I get re: Obama. Really, the real problems of the world are bad enough—this is not helping. At all.
  • Are you rich? Not sure what to do with your bonus this year? CNN Money offers some suggestions.
  • Green” wine?
  • Satellite imagery of Haiti earthquake devastation.
  • Light from faraway planet detected
  • From Martin: an article title "Reagan Was Wrong," attempting to explain how Ronald Reagan's brand of populist conservatism held within it the seeds of its own destruction. Interesting point of view, and I'm not even sure I disagree. However, the author makes a few mistakes about Reagan's philosophy, such as his "mistrust" in the inherent religious character of the American people--nothing could be farther from the truth. What infuriates many on both sides of the aisle today is that Reagan brought serious churchgoers into the Republican "big tent."
  • From Twila...this isn't quite a palindrome, which must be spelled the same way coming and going, but it is a piece of writing that can be read forward and backward.
  • A poetry recommendation from the ever-delightful Dr. OZMG.
  • From the wise gnomes at, an interview with the Wells Fargo VP responsible for the first ATM in Antarctica.
  • From Father Dan, an article suggesting that an airport in Jacksonville, FL, could be the next spaceport for horizontally-launched suborbital tourism.
  • In-flight wi-fi, etc.
  • NASA looking at multiple spacesuit designs
  • Russia sets aside money to build a rocket with a nuclear engine (about time someone did!)
  • China announces that it has successfully conducted a missile interception test…anti-missile defense advocates take note.
  • How did the first man in space die?
  • You never know where Moon rocks will turn up…
  • From Bruce, some links to Ares I-X images:
    --Ares I-X Development Test: Flight Day Launch Journal (
    photo gallery) - collectSPACE: Messages
    --Ares I-X: Launch preparations and updates (
    photo gallery) - collectSPACE: Messages
And believe it or not, that is NOT everything that was in the inbox. However, the stuff I did post is the "freshest" and most interesting. No need to bore you unnecessarily. Salud.

1 comment:

Chris Radcliff said...

Heh. Yes, the unconference format does save us a little bit of work at SpaceUp, but not as much as one might hope. Mostly it allows the event to stay relevant even when the most important space topics are only a few weeks old.

Funny you should mention ISDC; SpaceUp San Diego is being hosted by the San Diego chapter of NSS. It's intended to be an RSDC, or at least as close to an RSDC as we can put together with our limited resources (but boundless enthusiasm). I borrowed heavily from the tech industry (BarCamps), so hopefully the benefits will translate.