Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 10, 2006

8-14 Asia Rising

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Two recent Inside the Capitol columns have spoken to the rapid advancement of science in developing nations and America's dwindling technological advantages.
The columns were sparked by "The World is Flat," by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, whose message is that the world's playing field has flattened to the point that a kid with access to a computer anywhere in the world has the same chance at success as America's privileged youth.
Those columns have sparked considerable reader response. Ray Keller of Ruidoso e-mails that National Public Radio reports that by 2010, a mere four years from now, 90 percent of the earth's scientists, engineers and technologists will live in Asia.
And guess what, it doesn't mean they are all getting ready to move to Asia. They already are there, studying away at institutions emphasizing rigorous science and math education.
The United States has long led in that field. But now the only students coming here to study math and science are those who can't get into the really tough schools in their home countries.
For several decades, Asia has been seen as the factory of the world. Technologies developed in Silicon Valley are manufactured in Asia. But Asian nations now want a piece of that action. A big piece.
They understand that science and engineering are what has produced the high American standard of living. And they yearn for their share of the good life.
While they yearn for the good life, American youth expect it. This complacent attitude that we can depend on our "knowledge economy" to keep us number one in the world is about to get us in trouble as the "tiger nations" and other developing Asian economies rush to pass us.
Another reader sends an article from Nature, the international weekly journal of science. Nature announces that Asian nations are catching up with Europe and the United States in scientific output as measured by publications in scientific journals.
Again, that publication also sees the date 2010 as the point at which Asia passes us. Over the past decade, the number of scientific papers published by Americans has remained flat, while article output in China rose fivefold, sixfold in Singapore and Taiwan and by 14 times in South Korea.
How do they do it? Research funding has been greatly increased and research performance is now increasingly evaluated by publications in journals.
Even more performance pay is awarded to those who publish in prestigious journals indexed by Thompson Scientific, the leader in providing the best scientific information from throughout the world to its customers.
The paymasters also look at how often research articles are cited in other scientific papers.
What does all this mean, Keller asks? Maybe the headquarters of our major technological companies move to Asia. Maybe our military hardware will be created and produced in Asia.
Creativity is something that worries Keller. As developing countries throughout the world concentrate on the hard sciences, the United States is de-emphasizing it, to be replaced by the option of creation science and a decrease in research funding.
I also received communications about a sign from a Chinese factory that I quoted in a column about Friedman's book.
"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or die. Every morning a lion wakes up and knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or starve. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better start running."
To me, the allegory was an indication of the challenge Americans must face from workers in developing countries who want their jobs. But to some readers, it was an example of the employee abuse in emerging countries that must be eliminated.
Take your pick. I happen to think it is time we face reality.
MON, 8-14-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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