What a polemic rant reeking of sour grapes.

This was pretty amusing:

Just after I learned enough about nuclear fission to make me someone Saddam would have liked to meet, I got myself thrown out of college. My engineering classes were too boring to keep my interest and too hard besides. But I’ve come to believe that I sabotaged my studies because I was depressed by the thought of working for those monsters alongside idiots. Wall Street, which cared less about my B.A. than my I.Q., paid my rent until I returned to Columbia a few years later as a history major.

Yes, those working in the hard sciences all serves the evil warmongering agenda. Is the backlash against the technical fields this bad, or are the large majority of students really so unequipped to deal with the requirements for them?

The backlash I have seen is mostly monetary. People want a sure thing, and an engineering degree isn’t.

And yes, a large majority of the students aren’t ready for first year engineering. The math required takes some effort to get, and with most large state colleges, the teaching is done in giant rooms with hundreds of students. It is also taught by a visiting professor who would rather eat glass than teach the class.

So, after being given individual teaching in a small classroom environment, with usually only a medium amount of instruction in calculus, they are thrust into one of the most unconducive environments for learning the subject. Fancy that they don’t succeed.

Although I have heavy personal bias to the subject of the article, this guy sounds like he has a serious case of sour grapes. Sterotypes thrown left and right. Strange crap like:

I considered switching to civil engineering until several professors helpfully pointed out that there hasn’t been much work for civil engineers since our country essentially stopped building dams, bridges and other large-scale projects decades ago.

?? Any time a large building gets built, there are civil engineers there. Civil doesn’t mean run by the government.

An ex-girlfriend who’d graduated a couple of years before me worked as a physicist for a company that was secretly developing genetically modified organisms for use in internationally banned biological weapons. She was assigned to a team trying to perfect long-range lasers to incinerate cities and towns from the sky. “We’re all sinners,” I remember lecturing her over beers one night, “and we all do things we regret. But if there’s a hell I’m positive that anyone who does what you do will be on the express elevator, going down.”

No mention of companies. Heavy sermonizing. I’d love to know the company that had hands in both biomedical and particle physics based stuff. Not saying that it didn’t happen, but the company would have to have divisions in both. That narrows it down considerably. At the same time be stupid enough to let the physics people know about the biological weapons stuff. I would think most of that would be on a need to know basis. Maybe Raytheon, but I didn’t think they had a large biochem presence.

He then talks about the monsters he would have to work with, and then preceeds to go to Wall Street, bastion of moral purity.

He seems very angry.

Not trying to start an argument, but this isn’t exactly a new practice. Freshman engineering has always been the weed-out year. When my dad was an undergrad in aero at RPI (fifty years ago) they used to sit the freshmen down in seminar and say, “Shake hands with the man on your left and with the man on your right. In four years, only one out of three of you will still be here.” When I was a freshman in EE at Purdue (twenty years ago) they did the same speech, except that they improved the estimate for success to two out of three.

Yeah, seriously. And he’s wrong about the government projects, too. We stopped building bridges? That’s news to me. The city of Rochester built three in the last year alone. And anyone who thinks that it’s been decades since we’ve done any large-scale projects obviously hasn’t been to Boston lately. The Big Dig is the largest civil construction project in modern history.

Nothing is a sure thing, but in relative terms, there is a lot of work for engineers out there right now.

Engineering isn’t hard.

It’s just that North American public school systems are so incompetent that they don’t prepare you for the workload and challenges.

Smart people go through sleeping through 4 hours of classes per week that harp on basic trigonometry for 5 months straight, to having to learn all the fundamentals of calculus in 3 hours of classes in 3 months.

It’s total culture shock. Some like to think of it as a weeding out process and it probably is, but in a world where teachers are afraid to fail you because they don’t know if your parents will sue, it’s QUITE a change.

Unless its farming or factory work.

Seriously, Engineering is easy, because it’s consistent. If the fucker can’t cope, that’s his problem, not anyone else’s. Pi is pi no matter where you go. It’s the most beautiful thing about information science really. Manner, mood, emotion are all irrelevant when compared to the beauty of logic.

Yeah I am not sure where he gets the BS about civil engineering from. I know I have no lack of work, none of which involves bridges. However, from the studies I have seen, we are usually the lowest paid of the engineering professions. :P

Engineering also isn’t science. And the ultimate problem isn’t going to stem from a lack of American engineers.

I’m not talking people with the word “Engineer” embedded somewhere in their degrees, but the actual fundamental difference between the people who come up with approaches and ideas and the people who simply implement them. The lines get blurry at times, but nobody doing the easy work you’re talking about and simply regurgitating formulaic contrivances for 8 hours a day is anything like what I’d call a scientist. They’re simply the carpenters and plumbers of a more technological age. Which is meant to disparage neither carpenters and plumbers, nor engineers, since they carry the bulk of the practical knowledge which allows scientific ideas and theories to be translated into products for the effectively non-technical out there.

But yeah, that article was fun. I wasn’t aware I was inherently morally bankrupt (at least not yet, maybe once I land a job at a weapons lab it will become more apparent to me), but I suppose it’s good information to have.

Judging from the article, the author has very little grasp on what being an engineer entails, much less scientists doing pure research and using gasp the scientific method. But I guess the fraction of the general populace sharing his views is increasing, judging by the anti-science sentiment that is taking root in America at the moment.

What makes you believe there is an anti-science sentiment taking root in America currently? There are crackpots who believe crackpots things but there always have been. And always will be.

Well, it’s not like we’re out there inventing new TV sets or new ways to broadcast reality TV, so we pretty much must just be leeches on the general populace. Or, worse, bastions of liberal corruption (y’know, ending up as professors in those danged colleges and all).

(Although the linked piece seemed to be from a more liberal viewpoint, what with the offhanded comment about the poor engineers not having time to practice campus activism.)

I think it’s more symptomatic of the class schism. In general, scientists and engineers are in the top of that bifurcation, and it generates negative feedback. I’m just dumbstruck when that feedback gets turned around into the worthlessness of science/engineering, instead of “Gee, I want my kids to have the chance to do something impressive like that.”

I’m not sure that’s a red vs. blue thing like it’s often portrayed, but insular thought and pettiness among an overly “pampered” populace Regardless of income disparity, we all have our DVD players and our cheap TVs, and we no longer remember what it was like without them, or even really when we had to work as a societal group to make them happen; life-altering changes are generally out of the realm of direct science right now, it seems. No more integrated circuits or radio or telivision are left to be made, the space program is long gone, and people are too afraid of biotech to look there for actual life improvement, or else too cynical of the profit motive behind biotech.


What makes you believe there is an anti-science sentiment taking root in America currently? There are crackpots who believe crackpots things but there always have been. And always will be.[/quote]

The crackpots can hijack the agenda…you only need to look at what’s happening in Kansas. It would never have worked if the public actually knew what the issues were about and what actually constitutes science. There is a general apathy towards it in this day and age…most people would be at a loss to explain in satisfactory degree what’s a scientific theory, how the scientific method operates and what the burden of proof means. All they want are the fruits that come from that foundation but they aren’t afraid to poison that well due to either ignorance or belief.

Part of this problem hails back to the lack of engagement the scientific community had with the public for the Cold War decades (unless it was as an almost elite caste). There are more active proponents for general science these days, but it’s a bit of a one step foward, two steps back if the level of science education continues to deteriorate.

Come on, I don’t buy that at all. Television is the end-point of significant technical progress? What are you talking about? How am I talking to you?

Come on, I don’t buy that at all. Television is the end-point of significant technical progress? What are you talking about? How am I talking to you?[/quote]

No, my point is that most people have everything they feel they need, don’t see any real offering on the horizon for them, so are done with science and technology barring any large, pressing, societal need. (Alternate fuels, for example, which have not really been well funded recently, but are picking up steam as oil persists in being an issue.)

Essentially we, as a country, have no foresight, and the days of a few visionaries advancing science as a whole are pretty gone. We have our share of visionaries, but science is no longer really monolithic enough (at least that we can see from here) to be advanced wholesale in the same way that, say, the quantum theorists of the early 20th century did.

That’s not to say that there is nothing left in science worth doing. But that there’s nothing on the near horizon that people are excited by. Fusion and nanotechnology both seem promising for altering lives quite well (and biotech), but 2 out of 3 are feared to varyind degrees, and none has anything that’s even speculatively as transformative as electricity and the subsequent industrialization seemed to be. (Although to be fair, it’s not clear to me that all of that would have been predicted ahead of time, either, so maybe we’re just overdue for a stunning breakthrough to jumpstart us into interesting areas again.)

Did society think there was a large, pressing need for printing or the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television, powered flight, the internal combustion engine, the transistor, the integrated circuit board etc etc etc before they were developed? By and large, no. Technology drives societal change, not the other way around.