Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dismantling Obama's "Innovate/STEM" Blather

So happens that Norm Matloff is a (D) kinda guy.

But even he doesn't think that Obama gets it.

On "innovation":

Suppose for example Intel suddenly invents a miracle processor chip, 10 times as fast and using 1/10 the power of current chips. Intel would likely have the chip manufacture and software development done in, say, Vietnam and Russia. The development of the chip itself, both original and ongoing, would be done largely by H-1Bs in the U.S. This process is NOT a job producer for Americans

Matloff grants that the Intel situation will not apply to all industry, nor in all cases.

On "Education":

It's also unconscionable/tragic to imply that our K-12 schools have a "math/science deficit," and if only we remedy that, why, innovation and prosperity will follow. I may have my own problems with the school system, but the fact is that the much-ballyhooed international test
scores, such as PISA, are extremely misleading.

There are various issues that render the test scores noncomparable to ours: Schools in East Asia weed out their weaker students around ninth grade, they tend to cover various topics in earlier grades than we do, they "teach to the test" even more than we do, and so on. But the biggest single difference is that we have a large underclass to deal with, and sadly it remains a major problem.

Matloff's wife is from China; they visit the Far East regularly. He's not speculating about the education situation over there.

You can even prove it for yourself, by the way:

A couple of months ago, The Atlantic Monthly reported that, no, it's not completely an issue of the underclass. Their explanation was very weak, and most importantly, undermined by their own graphic. Go to
In the drop-down menus next to "COMPARE," choose Washington DC and Hong Kong. Well, guess what--37% of white students in DC scored at a high level in the PISA test, versus only 23.9% of all students in Hong Kong, the latter having one of the highest levels of performance in the world in PISA. You'll find similar results for Taiwan.

As to importing STEM stars from other countries:

...concerning Obama's proposal to give fast track green cards to STEM foreign students with degrees from U.S. universities: Obama's phrasing (sadly, exactly from the list of talking points of industry lobbyists) was "It doesn't make sense to grant these students graduate degrees and
then send them back home to compete with us." Well, the correct comment would be, "It doesn't make sense to add these people to the STEM labor pool, when we already have so many STEM experts with advanced degrees who are unemployed or underemployed." And as Prof. Saxenian's research at UCB has shown, even those who do stay here often contribute
expertise, investment funding and the like to firms in their home countries anyway. Mr. Obama should also find it troubling that the reason we have so many foreign students in our university graduate programs is that the National Science Foundation, a key federal agency, actually planned it this way, with the goal of flooding the market in order to hold down PhD salaries; see for instance

On educational methodology:

I hope Obama meant it when he said that "memorizing equations" is not the route we want to go in. As I mentioned, the Chinese government realizes it's wrong too, though it will be quite
difficult for them to turn around a millenia-old cultural mentality.

---sourced from Matloff's email of today--

Ben Stein observed that Obama's SOTU was a good speech, if Obama were a high-school student living in the late 1950's.

Matloff might add that it's a good speech, but it's not grounded in reality.

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