A. Nelson, Ph.D.’s National Academy of Sciences Testimony 04 13 96 Page
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All in This Lifeboat Together!
Gene A. Nelson, Ph.D.
This is the text of a speech delivered by Dr. Nelson at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC on April 13, 1996 as part of a NAS hearing regarding “Trends in Early Research Careers” (TERC) The TERC report was released in September, 1998. The report only acknowledged me as an employee of Microsoft Corporation.
Some background information regarding immigration legislation, including the 1976 “Eilberg Amendment” (cited as precedent for the 1990 Immigration Act) and the summary of findings of the DoL Office of the Inspector General, Charles Masten, released on April 4, 1996 is attached.
First, I wish to thank you Dr. Lazen, and the other members of the NAS Commission for inviting me to be part of this elite group of younger people briefly summarizing what we have learned about the world of science and engineering (S&E). As I look forward to my silver anniversary reunion at Harvey Mudd College (HMC) in Claremont, California in 1998, I recognize the challenge of condensing a quarter of a century of being a scientist into 600 seconds. I recall that one definition of a scientist is one who sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. S&Es are also dedicated to describing the truth.
of analogies from the entertainment world come to mind.
First was the observation by members of the Yale - trained comedy group, The Firesign Theatre, sometimes described as "historians of the future." In their 1973 album "How Time Flies" which is set around the year 2000, then U.S. President William D. Gazatchorn discusses how the country is turning inward to "more conservative, more entertaining uses of our Nation's resource systems", rather than continuing to explore space.
I have played that recording on a number of occasions, such as the day the SSC was canceled. The second example is the multimedia performer Laurie Anderson. Her first major album from 1982 had the relevant title "Big Science." The emotional trend in her subsequent releases has been bleaker and bleaker, just like U.S. S&E trends.
To summarize my academic training and experience, I earned my B.S.in biophysics from HMC in 1973, was a researcher at JPL, and earned my Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo in biophysics in 1984. My 1983 position at Technicon Instruments, at that time a world leader in clinical diagnostics, was my only position that had any research focus. The position was eliminated two years later in a mass termination of the advanced research department in preparation for a leveraged buyout orchestrated by Michael Milken.
My position has also been eliminated in three other firms, each position utilizing less and less of my training. Since earning my doctorate, I have experienced at least six years of unemployment or underemployment. My present employer is a large privately - held firm, which utilizes me and many other S&Es to provide outsourced telephone technical support for computer products. There was a recent article which mentions that "(The firm's) high - priced services 'are a difficult sell when you're working with CFOs who are worried about costs.'"
The value of organizing to fight those interests intent on destroying the American S&E enterprise is clear. Their most likely motivation is "short term profitability" - usually manifested as greed. Mostly younger S&Es have shouldered the brunt of these harmful changes. In these changes, a small group of individuals have dramatically reduced the S&E's retained portion of the value added to goods and services. That loss decreases the probability that S&Es will have the power as individuals to reverse the harmful career trends. The only choice left is to organize and to be politically active. Now.
Recent perspectives on the utilization of my training and experience as a Ph.D. biophysicist:
A. Utilizing physics atop a rickety metal ladder, my eye level about two stories above a hard concrete floor, wrestling with a bulky 30 kg box containing a monitor. My physics background is beneficial to estimate the likely damage to myself if I were to lose my balance.
Utilizing chemistry and economics at the firm where I am employed. Each
of us has a highly monitored cubicle, about 2 meters square. The steric
hindrance is obvious in the cubicle when I am training a new coworker sitting
beside me. A steady stream of intelligent new recruits are visible in this
location. Many of the new recruits are in the "historically under -
represented groups in S&E" including women, people of color, and
I can estimate the large profit margins for the firm with the knowledge that the thousand or so building occupants are all earning around $11.00 per hour or less.
C. [Sociology & Economics] There is also a process that increases the probability that students with wealthier parents will be those that get "good" positions. The process was summarized in a front - page Wall Street Journal article from 1980 titled "The Groans of Academe." The article outlined how managers choose the candidate that takes the least amount of time to pass academic milestones.
Neglecting the few examples of true scientific genius, those selected will often have enriched educational backgrounds by virtue of their parent's wealth. They also have the resources available so that they can focus 100% of their training time on learning. The conclusion is that the chance of a person successfully elevating their economic class via a S&E career choice is very low.
D. [Teaching] Being glad to be been able to teach at the university level several undergraduate science courses at community colleges in Ohio and Texas. I like being able to impart knowledge to the next eager generation. However, they also know about the present career realities, including that my compensation, with over a decade of industrial experience, on a fixed - term contract is around the minimum wage. Again, I was fortunate to have the position.
E. I have concerns about the present generation, as I watch my new wife, a nontraditional student, invest long hours as she works towards completion of her bachelor's in biology. Already, as she begins searching for a research - type position, she is beginning to hear discussions of the form, "Sorry, our grant is still awaiting funding."
F. I have concerns about future generations, including my children's generation. I see my children show aptitude for science. My oldest daughter will be attending college starting in 2004 and my youngest daughter will start two years later. Extrapolating the trends of decreasing amounts being invested in education and R&D, the probability of them having a S&E career is extremely low. As a parent, I want to improve the odds for them. That means much to me.
Some Statistics That Underscore The Talent Glut and the shortage of funding
The Federal expenditures for basic research are modest. Next year's budget shows about $15 billion will be spent for basic research, a bit less than one percent of the Federal budget. To put this figure in perspective, the U.S. spends twice as much annually on beer.
Even with the "Cold War" crisis of a third - world totalitarian dictatorship launching Sputnik on October 4, 1957, the public largess for S&E has been very limited in the U.S. Only between FY 1964 and 1966 were R&D funds above 11% of the Federal budget. Current levels are in the vicinity of 4% of the Federal budget.
A projection of the future by Rep. George E. Brown of California from page 4 of the 1 April 1996 issue of Chemical & Engineering News indicates that ....science faces a "major diminution of Federal support for R&D," on the order of 30% over the next seven years. Coupled with cuts in private - sector support for R&D, he predicts a loss of about 160,000 science and technology related jobs over that period. [or about 1/6 of all individuals employed in R&D in the U.S.] "All of which should give you pause," he told the standing - room - only audience. [of the recent ACS national meeting in New Orleans] "You should be participating in politics more than you do."....
S&E funding shortages have motivated the "Systematic shift to the lowest cost provider." Namely, students, who are usually valued only while they are "fresh (inexpensive) young blood." New graduates are often retained for a short period of time by industry, then discarded. Many can't pay back their student loans after they are unemployed or underemployed.
Contrast the supply of ~330,000 B.S. S&Es / year with the very modest 55,850 increase in annual demand for B.S. and above projections by Braddock under the "Low real GNP growth model" in the Monthly Labor Review, February 1992, Page 35.
Then factor in the increase in immigration under IMMACT-90, obtained under suspect pretenses by American industry and universities. With just the H1-B "visiting worker" visa program and the S&E preference visas, around 200,000 new S&Es may be added annually by immigration. Recent NSF estimates place the total R&D employment in the U.S. at approximately 1 million. That means in about five years, the entire U.S. R&D labor force could be replaced with lower - cost immigrants. These post - 1990 actions have the potential to destroy the career prospects for almost all S&Es, whether they are previous immigrants or natural born citizens of the United States. That is why we are all in this lifeboat together. S&E immigration policies must be reformed so that they do not harm current U.S. S&E employees.
It has been an unquestioned social good that producing more S&Es will be beneficial. This is not the case.
To close on a very chilling note, one consequence of the S&E glut is to "sow dragon's teeth" - namely to increase the probability of techno - terrorism (or at the very least, to be "eaten for lunch" by an economic competitor.) Recent techno - terrorist events include the NY Trade Center bombing, The Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks, The Oklahoma City bombing, and other smaller scale events such as the Unabomber. The U.S. Department of State considers that S&Es in the FSR are vulnerable to economic extortion by the Sadaaam Husseins of the world, so they have spent millions of dollars to provide them survival level stipends. Why isn't such a program in place to assist U.S. S&Es who have had their positions eliminated?
Even former AAAS President Philip Abelson recognizes the threat. He predicted a year ago in Science that there could be a terrorist nuclear explosion within a decade. In a realistic scenario, a stolen nuclear warhead could be detonated aboard a truck here in Washington, DC. Such an attack could destabilize the U.S. government, cause a massive loss of civil rights, and likely motivate a strong public backlash against science, like in the movie "12 Monkeys" Yes, we are all in this lifeboat together!
added after the talk: Note the "techno - terrorism" that is shown
on the front cover of the May, 1996 Scientific American - namely the new
generation of high technology anti - personnel mines described in the article.
Excess production of S&Es for third world countries is likely to accelerate
the development of these terrorist weapons.)
Attached you will find an excerpt of the text of a FAX which I received on April 18, 1996 from:
Scott Cote, U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Employment Service, Room N - 4456, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington DC 20210 (202) 219 4369 Voice (202) 219 6643 FAX
I will recap one paragraph from the cover letter dated April 4, 1996 from Charles C. Masten, Inspector General after an introduction.
Acronyms: S&E = Scientists and Engineers, who are the professions most affected by the PLC and LCA programs.
PLC = Permanent Labor Certification = S&E Immigration Visa program. The Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90) boosted allowable S&E preference visas from 54,000/yr to 140,000 a year, primarily on the basis of an alleged "Shortfall" being widely promoted from 1985-on by the National Science Foundation. This "shortfall" never materialized. Factors that have made the S&E employment situation worse were widespread industry cutbacks in both defense and non - defense research and development (R&D), coupled with government sector cutbacks. The 1976 Eilberg Amendment was another factor that boosted S&E immigration.
Eilberg Amendment = This was supposed to be a technical amendment that equalized immigration for the two hemispheres into the United States. Basque Sheepherders had already been exempted from Labor Certification and were given “special handling” in 1952. However, Scientists and Professors were added to the “special handling” provisions for colleges and universities in a 1976 technical amendment by the Pennsylvania Representative, Joshua Eilberg. This exemption from labor certification for universities and colleges, coupled with the "Baby Boom" and Cold - War induced S&E supply glut, essentially closed off S&E career opportunities in higher education for U.S. citizens. Many foreigners offer the "advantage" of their willingness to accept lower salaries, allowing meager research and instructional budgets to be stretched further.The AAU was very pleased with this exemption and sent a letter of appreciation to Rep. Eilberg. Rep. Eilberg left the House in a 1978 scandal not related to this Amendment.
AAU = Association of American Universities. A lobbying association for the 60 "first tier" research universities, headquartered in Washington, DC. They are located at One Dupont Circle, Suite 730, Washington DC 20036. In 1996, their President was Cornelius Pings, Ph.D. The phone is (202) 466 5030 and the FAX is (202) 296 4438. AAU Senate testimony during immigration hearings on 9/13/95 and 9/28/95 by Rice University Provost David Auston, Ph.D. includes the following: "First it is not at all clear that there is in fact an oversupply of Ph.D.s"
LCA = "Temporary" H1 - B Labor Condition Application Program which presently allows so - called visiting high - technology workers to work in the United States for up to six years. Up to 66,000 per year are allowed. This program was designed in large part by “high tech” industry lobbyist Harris Miller. (Harris was previously employed by California agribusiness interests to increase the numbers of temporary agricultural workers that were imported from Mexico.)
Note that this is approximately the annual increase in B.S. and above S&E employment, assuming a "moderate real GNP growth" scenario occurs, in the February 1992 Monthly Labor Review article "Scientific and technical employment, 1990 - 2005," pages 28 - 41, by Douglas J. Braddock.
so - called Simpson Immigration Bill. The focus of the 1996 bill is on illegal
immigration. Senator Simpson had removed the reforms relating to legal immigration,
citing "distortions" by the business and academic community as
his rationale for doing so.
we concluded that PLC and LCA programs do not protect U.S. workers' jobs
or wages from foreign labor. Moreover, we found DOL's role under the current
program design amounts to little more than a paper shuffle for the PLC program
and a rubber stamping of applications for the LCA program. We believe program
changes must be made to insure that U.S. worker's jobs are protected and
that their wage levels are not eroded by foreign labor. However, DoL should
be removed from the process unless a more meaningful role is defined."
Watch for my upcoming book: An American Scam - How Special Interests
Undermine American Security with Endless "Techie" Gluts
e-mail the author for a 31 - page special Congressional Summary,
released in February, 2004
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
the draft of my August 5, 1999 Oral Testimony critical of
the controversial H-1B visa program before the House Immigration
and Claims Subcommittee, in particular the final two paragraphs.