Obama remark on science

“It is in these labs — often late at night, often fueled by a dangerous combination of coffee and obsession — that our future is being won. For in a global economy, the key to our prosperity will never be to compete by paying our workers less or building cheaper, lower-quality products. That’s not our advantage. The key to our success — as it has always been — will be to compete by developing new products, by generating new industries, by maintaining our role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. It’s absolutely essential to our future.”

Barack Obama during the presentation of the National Medals of Science, Technology and Innovation

The whole shebang:

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16 thoughts on “Obama remark on science

  1. Wishful thinking.

    There’s no possible way the United States can continue to dominate in science and technology research. The rest of the world is catching up rapidly. In other words, “No you can’t!”

    There are a lot of very smart people in India and China.

    What’s his second choice?

  2. Hot Pockets? Dang these newfangled things; they obviously hadn’t been invented yet before I moved to other parts of the world.

    As for inventing stuff, it just costs a hell of a lot. As far as creating new software goes, software patents make things a pain in the ass. I’m wondering when China will start beating us. With about 3 times the population they have a lot more smart folks to choose from and many things are still relatively cheap there. South Korea and Taiwan have both come a long way in 30 years and we commonly use products developed in those countries; at some point China will surpass them. China’s already launched their own unmanned lunar probe, so they’re catching up quick. I can’t say they’re where we were at 40+ years ago because their probe was very sophisticated. I hope the president isn’t forgetting that countries like China aren’t merely cheap producers – they’ll bring along a lot of competition in the inventions market too.

  3. I hope the president isn’t forgetting that countries like China aren’t merely cheap producers

    They, too, must eventually move up the food chain in terms of quality, as Korea and Taiwan have done, and Japan did earlier still. There was a time when “Made in Japan” was considered a reliable sign of low-quality goods, just as “Made in China” is so considered today. Then people gave Japanese goods a closer look of necessity, due to their filling a niche (fuel efficient cars, in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis) that other manufacturing countries (particularly the US in those days) had left unfilled, and found that Toyotas and Hondas were really not all that bad compared to what the Big 3 were putting out. Consumer electronics followed, and Japan became the industrial powerhouse of the 1980s before throwing much of it away on a bloated and inefficient banking sector (sound familiar?) I can’t predict which market will see China’s breakthrough into the ranks of quality manufacturers, but as low-end manufacturing in China becomes unprofitable (this is already happening) they will need evolve in some fashion.

  4. “will never be to compete by paying our workers less ”

    If he actually felt that way he would be ashamed of the post-doc payscale and use an executive order to do something to rectify the situation.

  5. The US is the world leader in nuclear sciences and nuclear energy. Is there any other current technology that even comes close to being able to make a serious contribution towards our post-carbon energy future? Certainly, solar, wind and algae will be good to have in the future, but right now ?…It’s time to be scientific about nuclear energy concepts like thorium and eventually fusion.

  6. Wait a minute … how can you push wind and solar into the murky future and suggest that we have nuclear energy now, and then in the same breath bring up fusion energy, which has never been done?

  7. Nice Words. But what will the budget be, or rather what cuts will be coming under the continuing resolution, now that the Republicans won the house? With their religiously invoked ‘deficit-cutting’ mantra (mentioned only when a Democrat is President)?

  8. Preeminence in science is for the US to lose. Which the GOP is doing its damnedest to try and make happen.

    What is more important than smart (and I agree that there is no shortage of smart people in China, India, Japan and the rest of the world) is creativity. Creativity requires looking at things in new and different ways. Creativity can’t be dictated from the top.

    The creativity in the US comes from its diversity. Diversity in opinion, in speech, in gene pool, in the mixing of multiple cultures and ideas. Top-down hierarchies such as in China can’t allow diversity in thinking because then they lose control. They can’t nourish different ways of thinking because it threatens their top-down control.

    When 50% of incoming GOP congressmen are global warming deniers, the GOP is sending the US down a dead end path. The GOP can’t nourish any ways of thinking because it threatens their delusional world view. My hope is that the GOP and teabaggers will self-destruct before they destroy the rest of the US and the US ends up like Africa, the other place with a large diversity. If Africa could get its shit together and have decent governance that nourished creativity, Africa could beat the rest of the world in science hands down. That is unlikely to happen because creativity is so easy to stifle and those who are xenophobic have such a strong compulsion to do so.

  9. @dougl: Unfortunately the USA sucks shit when it comes to nuclear technology for power generation. I’d buy a French reactor before a US one. We let the anti-nuclear lobbies destroy the commercial development of civilian generation capabilities. Shipboard reactors are a different matter, but they’re hardly suitable for generating power to run cities. I guess you could start with the tricks known for shipboard reactors and create designs suitable for civilian use, but that takes years and lots of money – in the meantime the French will gladly build large plants at a reasonable cost, and they have an excellent safety record (despite an incident a year or so ago).

  10. @daedalus2u: That reminds me a lot of the “information economy” mantra of the 80s and 90s. Those folks in Taiwan are unimaginative, uncreative – creativity is the sole domain of Americans (and by that, I mean the USA only). I think it’s just part of the “we’re #1” attitude – after all it didn’t start with the “information economy” thing. Even in the early post-war era US corporations were stealing British inventions and not acknowledging the original inventors. (Though to be fair, US corporations also happily stole from US inventors.)

    The key is education – if folks have a good education and the time and opportunity to think of things, they’ll come up with some good stuff. You don’t even need a democracy – there were (and still are) many excellent scientists from the former Soviet Union. Of course things can go extremely bad where the state interferes such as with Lysenkoism, but creativity can thrive even in an oppressive regime. The Russians even beat us to creating some of the most compact and most devastating bombs. Our early hydrogen bombs were enormous structures which couldn’t possibly be delivered to a target, but the first Russian H bomb was small and light enough to be delivered by a bomber.

  11. Sure other countries are catching up, but don’t we have a head start? The United States needs to create the most educated work force on the planet, but we waste our resources. Why doesn’t every young adult with the ability to earn a degree get the opportunity? The future is in the youth as its always been.

    Innovation will emerge from education, but that education cannot be a spoon-fed set of facts. Education has to include creating. No one should earn a college degree unless they’ve done something in their field that no one has done before. That mentality seems to be reserved for graduate students, but that’s a mistake. Teaching people to be innovators or inventors is like teaching a foreign language. The younger they learn, the better.

    Give every elementary student in the United States a foreign language. Put money into high school science labs and teach the kids to discover and invent. Books and the internet are great starting points for learning, but to become an innovative, inventive person, you have to get your hands dirty.


  12. doug@8:

    “The US is the world leader in nuclear sciences and nuclear energy.”

    Not. Even. Close.

    France has the most advanced nuclear generation capacity. Russia has the most advanced nuclear reactor designs (including the ONLY production breeder reactor). Japan has the most advanced reactors (arguably). Etc.

    So no, the USA is not even close to being the ‘world leader’.

  13. @A #10
    The republicans used to be the ones promoting science and were active in the initiative to double the NIH budget as well as supporting “competitiveness” initiatives for physical sciences. If they have any sense, congress will not return to punishing Science with flat budgets, but will create a positive, forward-looking agenda that supports an area where the US is highly successful.

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