I wonder if all of our institutions are becoming not just too big to fail but too big to function? Universities can’t just provide an education – they have to provide “an experience.” The library can’t just loan books – it has to offer a carnival of entertainment. The zoo can’t just showcase interesting animals – it has to offer a hotel and a convention center. The radio-talk show has to have a blog, and sponsor events, a music play list, and … who knows, probably do your kids birthday party. Nothing can be a small itself. Everything has to be blown up like a giant hot-air balloon. Well, hot air balloons take a lot of energy. To paraphrase a fantastic saying I just heard from a very wise man — if you actually don’t want to do anything, do everything badly.
I suppose there has always been a bit of a grey about the way the academic science community talks to “the public” – broadly defined as everyone who does not have a tenured position in a scientific department or a full-time position at a research institute. Recently I have the feeling that the greyness is fading to something a bit beyond the pale. I have been reading that scientists want to flee the US because of the sequester (based on self report in a survey) with little or no hard evidence supplied. (ANOTHER TOPIC NOT TO BE DISCUSSED HERE IS THAT WE ARE MISSING CURES FOR DISEASE BECAUSE OF THE SEQUESTER AND LOSING A GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS — NOT EVIDENCED BY MY OWN EXPERIENCE OR THE NUMBER OF POSTDOCS I SEE IN BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH LABS) Scientists have often moved across national borders for any number of reasons. And besides, who cares? If a US trained scientist wants to go work in a research laboratory in Singapore or in China — isn’t this a good thing? Knowledge is not a zero-sum nationalistic game. Knowledge flows fairly easily across borders. All I want to know is – are they resigning from their US position or double dipping? Hopefully resigning so they are freeing up positions for others. I think we can all name US scientists who have accepted positions in international centers in addition to their US positions. I am reading that young academic scientists can not secure good jobs because old academic scientists can’t retire because of financial hardships. Seriously? Spend some time with an aging academic at prestigious scientific institutions like Yale, Harvard, MIT, Princeton or one of the UC schools and tell me if you think they have it rough. Ask any senior scientist for their travel schedule for the year and think about how much more money there might be for research if everyone stayed home 1/2 the time. Look – I am not saying that highly educated and valuable scientists do not deserve to be well-compensated and to enjoy one of the wonderful benefits of an academic life – travel to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues in pleasant and stimulating settings. What I am saying is that an academic scientific life is a good life, a privileged life supported to a large degree by public funds. The public should be told the truth.