Monday, April 21, 2008

What's left for the American worker?

Research science, the final frontier (in offshoring/outsourcing) .... let them do it overseas and we can then ' convert the scientific know-how from abroad into market gains and profits. ' .... Like Einstein and the European physicists who did the work on subatomic structures and then Americans raced to create the bomb and also the nuclear industry ...

We'll be more and more just the 'idea people' and marketeers . What makes these guys think that overseas people can't also figure out how to use new scientific findings and turn them into marketable products ?

Remember when offshoring supposedly meant shipping dirty, hard or mindless, repetitive work overseas ?

Some of the comments are pretty blatant and extraordinary .

The bad news is that there is no work left for anyone in the US that can be done economically.
The good news is that at least we don't have to crack open math or science books.

I particularly liked this quote:
In the short-term at least, higher spending on scientists by India and China could create a glut of them in these countries, driving wages down further and making the costs of acquiring science even lower.

More workers drives down wages ? This directly contradicts what Bill Gates and other corporate business people say, that we need lots more H-1B workers here because of the high demand for their unavailable skills.

April 20, 2008
How Scientific Gains Abroad Pay Off in the U.S.
AT a time of economic belt-tightening, might cheap science from low-wage countries help keep American innovators humming?

Americans have long profited from low-cost manufactured goods, especially from Asia. The cost of those material “inputs” is now rising. But because of growing numbers of scientists in China, India and other lower-wage countries, “the cost of producing a new scientific discovery is dropping around the world,” says Christopher T. Hill, a professor of public policy and technology at George Mason University.

American innovators — with their world-class strengths in product design, marketing and finance — may have a historic opportunity to convert the scientific know-how from abroad into market gains and profits. Mr. Hill views the transition to “the postscientific society” as an unrecognized bonus for American creators of new products and services. ( Steve's note -> note that this bonus is only for the 'creators' of products)

Mr. Hill’s insight, which he first described in a National Academy of Sciences journal article last fall, runs counter to the notion that the United States fails to educate enough of its own scientists and that “shortages” of them hamper American competitiveness.
The opposite may actually be true. By tapping relatively low-cost scientists around the world, American innovators may actually strengthen their market positions.

“We shouldn’t fear the rise of science in Asia and other poorer countries. We should figure out how to take advantage of it,” says Patrick Windham, a lecturer in technology policy at Stanford and a former staff member of Congressional science committees.

Optimism about scientific globalization is a wrinkle on the familiar story of outsourcing. Just as United States companies have contracted out physical production, they can do the same for scientific “goods,” which range from formulas and ideas to the results of experiments.

In the short-term at least, higher spending on scientists by India and China could create a glut of them in these countries, driving wages down further and making the costs of acquiring science even lower. (exactly the process that business denies is happening now in other fields) .

Science is the ultimate global activity,” says Richard B. Freeman, a labor economist with the National Bureau of Economic Research. “You can outsource research.

Mr. Freeman, among others, questions whether there is a shortage of scientists in the United States. He cites evidence suggesting that American dominance in science will decline over time and that we should worry less about purported shortages at home and more about “developing new ways of benefiting from scientific advances made in other countries.”

Of course, scientific knowledge isn’t a thing, like a child’s toy or an electric motor, so the day may never come when “science” can be purchased from a Chinese or Indian catalog. For the foreseeable future, United States companies will need their own highly paid scientists “to evaluate the purchase of foreign science and to make sense of it in their own labs,” says Daniel Sarewitz, director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University.

While the United States is expected to remain the home of choice for the world’s best scientists for some time, industry is increasingly striking deals with scientists in developing countries eager for wider exposure.

Seagate Technology, a leader in digital storage, pays scientists in Singapore to do basic studies, and even benefits from subsidies given those scientists by Singapore’s government, making the relationship even more affordable. Seagate runs a research laboratory in Pittsburgh. Roughly 10 to 20 percent of the lab’s budget for outsiders goes to scientists working abroad.

Benefiting from foreign science isn’t new. Last October, the Nobel Prize for physics, for instance, was shared by French and German scientists for their basic discovery of what is known as the “giant magnetoresistance” effect, which enables much more digital data to be stored on a disk drive. The breakthrough, by Albert Fert and Peter Gr├╝nberg, had essentially no commercial impact in Germany or France. But by using open scientific literature and attending conferences, Seagate found ways to capitalize on the breakthrough, which had been financed by European governments.

“This is a really good example of how foreign scientists help,” says Mark Re, Seagate’s senior vice president for research and head of the company’s research center in Pittsburgh.
Commercializing science isn’t easy, which is the main reason that rising scientists from India, China and other countries can’t readily achieve business success. In the case of the magneto effect, Seagate engineers ended up using different materials — at different temperatures — than the Nobel winners.

“We made the big step to get the scientific advance into products,” Mr. Re says. “And then we had to manufacture hundreds of millions of them. This is a very different challenge.”
PRECISELY because the gap between basic science and commercial innovations is large, Mr. Hill’s postscientific society makes sense to innovators on the front lines. One implication for the future is that the United States “won’t have to import so many scientists,” says Stephen D. Nelson, associate director of policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The association, which for decades has generally favored policies to expand the ranks of American scientists, is devoting a portion of its annual policy seminar next month to talk about the “postscience” situation.

Industry, meanwhile, is adapting to a world where scientific goods can come from anywhere — and fewer scientists work on abstract problems unrelated to the market. “It is no accident that many corporate labs have fallen apart,” Sean M. Maloney, executive vice president of Intel, says. “They were science farms looking for problems.”

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