"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Real Numbers of Engineers: Rising Above the Gathering Lies

Last Fall when Rising Above the Gathering Storm appeared, I offered this skeptical appraisal of the neocons' factionalized scare document aimed at garnering support for federalizing R&D for American corporations. An appropriate use of government, Norquist might say.

Hiding behind the stamp of approval by the National Academy of Science, the neocons and their duplicitous goons in the White House, we now find out, simply made up numbers to pump the need for more engineers and more scientists. Now that the real numbers are out, the National Academy appears contrite, if not shocked, but nobody in the corporate media seems to care. From Inside Higher Ed:

The Disappearing Chinese Engineers

Pop quiz: What is the significance of 600,000, 350,000, and 70,000?

As anyone who has attended one of the many recent Congressional hearings on American science education or economic competitiveness knows, those are the numbers of engineers who graduated last year from institutions of higher education in China, India and the United States, respectively.

The numbers were included in a hugely influential report, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” on the future of the American economy, which was released in October by the National Academies.

The hearings — along with press releases from politicians and news articles, including a recent feature in Newsweek, that use the numbers — have combined to pound out a steady drum beat of doom and gloom for the future of American science and engineering.

But the numbers, though oft repeated, are no longer embraced by the National Academies.

In February, after the report had already helped push President Bush to announce a major plan for science education during his State of the Union Address, according to senior government officials, the National Academies changed the numbers in the report.

Where 600,000 engineers once represented the number produced in China, now stand “about 350,000 engineers, computer scientists and information technologists with 4-year degrees,” the revised report reads. Those 350,000 are compared to a new number for the U.S.: 140,000.

The new numbers don’t seem to have gained quite as much traction. That’s perhaps because “there’s political utility in [the original] numbers,” according to Eric Iversen, manager of outreach for the American Society for Engineering Education. “The Bush administration has signed on to the American Competitiveness Initiative,” he said, referring to the plan announced in the State of the Union.

The number change came in response to a report issued by researchers at Duke University. The report found that, not only were the numbers simply wrong, they were comparing full-fledged engineers in the United States to Chinese workers who are the equivalent of motor mechanics. . . .

These are the same hoodlums who made up their scary lies to get the Iraq war they wanted. Why should we expect them to do anything different when it comes to the small task of defining policy for the future of American education?

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