Gene Expression

This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” is:

“Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”


A “drain” seems to imply a net outflow, and that doesn’t seem to be happening. But, as the paranthetical makes clear what meant is the reduction of the extent of the inflow. And yes, from all I can gather this is an issue in regards to student visas. My father had to pick between the US and the UK for graduate school, and he opted for the US for a variety of reasons. Today because of visa related issues he might have chosen the UK as a default option.

What are the implications? Well, I don’t know, I am inclined to think that genuine “superstars” can still get in, and they produce the first order innovation necessary for a modern economy (and it isn’t like intellectual property can’t flow between countries). That being said, work-a-day scientists are essential cogs in the system, and they are far more likley to produce the n + 1 generation native born superstars than Joe-Schmo. In other words, the biggest implication is that the USA is shorting itself in terms of intellectual capital, and I’m skeptical that is a good thing.

The solution? Where there is a will and political influence there is a way. We are discussing the inability of scientists to immigrate to this nation at the same time that millions of illegals are going enter onto the path toward citizenship. Peasants and urban protelariat can contribute to social capital, but I think the probability of this is lower. To be honest, the current immigration system is ass-backwards, driven by emotional talking points and short-term economic considerations as opposed to the long term health of the republic.

Scientists by their nature seem to follow the rules, so change the damn rules!

Comments

  1. #1 Timothy
    June 2, 2006

    Scientists by their nature seem to follow the rules, so change the damn rules!

    Indeed. I’m one of those crazy libertarians who thinks entering into the country ought to be an easy, straight-forward process for pretty much anyone who wants to come here. My concerns about letting in “the terrorists” aren’t non-existant, but then I remember that the 9-11 guys had entered the country legally, think about how the government can’t even seem to finish off a bunch of untrained peasants armed with old soviet equipment, and then realize that no matter what they do some number of shady characters are going to get into the country.

    So screw it, I’m more likely to be hit by lightning than I am to get killed by one of those feared terrorists from a rogue state or whatever, and I’m not sure giving in to xenophobia is productive from a security standpoint. We might as well just start letting people in, can’t hurt us. There will always be bad actors in the world, there’s little you can do without incredibly draconian measures to stop all of them, just have to learn to live with it.

  2. #2 razib
    June 2, 2006

    Indeed. I’m one of those crazy libertarians who thinks entering into the country ought to be an easy, straight-forward process for pretty much anyone who wants to come here.

    well, the problem i have with this (as a not-so-crazy libertarian) is a republic is, i believe, more than just an arbiter for capitalist transactions between consenting adults. it is a community, and immigration seals an implicit pact of amity and fellow feeling between generations future.

    i also believe that the cultural characteristics of the united states at this time are pretty good. there are things i would change, but an influx of lots of muslims or semi-literate farmers would not be good things.

    remeber, polities are not run like a free market. you can’t just export citizens.

  3. #3 Greco
    June 2, 2006

    an influx…semi-literate farmers would not be good things.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nearly all the Irish, Italian and German immigrants in the 19th century were either semi-literate or completely illiterate.

  4. #4 razib
    June 2, 2006

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nearly all the Irish, Italian and German immigrants in the 19th century were either semi-literate or completely illiterate.

    irish and italian more than germans. and which groups took the longest to assimilate into the ‘middle class’? (about 1/3 of germans were roman catholic, so you can control that variable). also, in 1900 50% of americans lived on family farms and the vast majority of people did not graduate secondary school. that is not the case today. back then to some extent were were a republic of semiliterate peasants!

    the germans were likely to be freeholders back in the mother country (as opposed to serfs living under junkers in prussia). the irish catholics didn’t make a big transition to rural farming in the US because in ireland they were tenants who were basically dictated to by their anglo-irish lords. there were serious failures in regards to turning the irish catholic into yoeman farmers in the midwest, see archbishop john ireland’s attempt in minnesota, he gave the irish cows and left them unsupervised, and they ended up eating those cows and much of the fodder and nearly starved in the winter. they were later relocated into minneapolis, and were the nucleus of a slum that persisted for several decades.

    compare the jews to the italians. the jews often came as literates and were semi-skilled. today the italians don’t do badly, their concentration in the greater new york area means that they are well represented in the financial industry, for example, but it took them 3-4 generations to merge into the american median, while it took the jews 1 generation to jump into the upper middle class (ergo, “jew quotas” at elite universities to block their rise).

  5. #5 Greco
    June 2, 2006

    i know this shit, don’t fuck with me

    I would never do that. I’m allergic to Y chromosomes. :)
    I am here doing much the same thing that you said was your reason for this blog: collecting data for analysis. But I would really love to have a harem, too.

  6. #6 Agnostic
    June 2, 2006

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nearly all the Irish, Italian and German immigrants in the 19th century were either semi-literate or completely illiterate.

    But then as time goes by, you can see what happens. There are regions in the US (New Mexico for Mexicans, New York metro area for Caribbeans) where non-white Hispanics have been citizens for 4-5 generations, sometimes to the point where they no long speak or understand Spanish. There are still “achievement gaps” b/w these groups and European-origin groups. Even more striking is the Af-Am / Euro gap, or Af-Am / East Asian gap, which are more striking at the higher levels of SES where lack of opportunity, poverty, etc., cannot be causal factors.

    So, opening the flood gates = bad idea. Selective influx by administering de facto IQ tests (SAT, GRE, whatever) = good thing.

  7. #7 razib
    June 2, 2006

    But I would really love to have a harem, too.

    great-grandfather was polygamous. be careful what you wish for!

    where non-white Hispanics have been citizens for 4-5 generations, sometimes to the point where they no long speak or understand Spanish. There are still “achievement gaps” b/w these groups and European-origin groups.

    i’d be a little careful about “4-5 generation latinos.” you can have selection bias as these populations are small and it may be that those who remain after admixture every generation are a subset if you know what i mean (e.g., it may be that most descendents of people who were latino 4-5 generations ago are white americans).

  8. #8 Canuck
    June 2, 2006

    Canada is gaining quite a few conferences because of the U.S.’s stupid paranoia. Rather than meet U.S. scientists in the U.S., people meet in Canada.

    The Perimeter Institute is perhaps the most notable example. Rumour has it that they got flooded with resumes from folks in the U.S. sick of the new Nuremberg laws

  9. #9 Dan Dare
    June 2, 2006

    The biggest brain drain might be American scientists going overseas to work on stem cell research say, where the environment is friendlier.

    The politicization of science in the US on questions like climate & stem cells is practically pushing people overseas.

    Also my advice for all aspiring Western scientists: Learn Mandarin. You’re probably going to find it useful in your career; especially if you’re under 30.

  10. #10 Dan Dare
    June 2, 2006

    And of course particle physicists have to go to CERN since the US has virtually abandoned the field since the decision to drop the SSC. And Fusion is going to be in France with the ITER project. And hey, even Finland where they are building a temple of civilization at Olkiluoto.

  11. #11 R. Boknecht
    June 3, 2006

    I agree with agnostic on the Selective influx

    If so, what are it’s implications?

    First I need my nootropics, or GE, or SOMETHING to increase my IQ where I’d be about on par w/, say, certain bloggers/researchers who I’ll leave anonymous. MY brain is already drained. Talk about implications. This could hurt ME. Now it’s news of a possible “Brain drain” w/ the brightest either not coming here or leaving?? I must, must increase my IQ & it must, obviously, be within my lifetime. There’s no way I’m gonna live out my life to old age & die stupid. No way. Unacceptable.:(

  12. #12 Ontogen
    June 3, 2006

    i’d be a little careful about “4-5 generation latinos.” you can have selection bias as these populations are small and it may be that those who remain after admixture every generation are a subset if you know what i mean (e.g., it may be that most descendents of people who were latino 4-5 generations ago are white americans).

    The achievement gap with second or third generation latinos (the children and grand-children of immigrants), in comparison, is less likely to be influenced by the selection or assimilation factors referred to above, and is still impactful w/o taking into consideration the fourth-fifth generations.

    If assimilation into the majority U.S. culture is a factor in a possible advantage of ‘non-latino’ descendants of latino immigrants, this seems likely to decrease the larger the minority group becomes, for a number of reasons. The Hispanic group will become the majority group in California, for example, by 2012, according to trends.*

    (The achievement gap can probably, unfortunately, be assumed to be substantial for a long time.)

  13. #13 R. Boknekht
    June 3, 2006

    And Fusion is going to be in France with the ITER project.

    Dan,
    I’ve researched on this ITER project before; pretty fascinating stuff. Seems amazing if it will actually work. Do you think it is technically feasible?

  14. #14 Dan Dare
    June 3, 2006

    R Boknekht,

    By the way I should have said “most fusion work is going to be in France with the ITER project”. There are other smaller programs elsewhere; some of them exploring different approaches.

    It depends what you mean by “technically feasible”. ITER aims to pass “Energy Break-Even”. To have more fusion energy coming out than heating, etc. energy going in. They are hoping to achieve an energy output/input ratio Q ~ 5 or 10. I have no reason to doubt they will succeed in this limited goal.

    But as this page from that ITER website shows, even their “fast track” to fusion doesn’t expect to achieve a prototype commercial electric power station before 2050. So at best, this is potentially an energy source for the second half of the 21st century.

    On paper fusion looks to be superior to fission in that, in principle, you can completely eliminate the problem of high-level radioactive waste. You still have to handle radioactive materials in the operation of the reactor, such as tritium and structural radioactivity induced by neutron bombardment. The tritium inventory could be fairly modest though, and the structural radioactivity could be managed by careful choice of materials, and by recycling the old irradiated components to make new components. So in principle, the radioactive crud never needs to leave the system.

    In the far future, other more advanced fusion reactions than deuterium-tritium could eliminate radioactivity altogether. This would require higher ignition temperatures. It may be difficult to do this in a tokamak-type reactor. Some other approach may be necessary, like pellet implosion.

  15. #15 Rietzsche Boknekht
    June 3, 2006

    Thanx, Dan,

    When I wrote that I had researched ITER, I used the word “researched” loosely. I’ve never studied it in depth as you’ve seemed to.

    potentially

    Yes, I was wondering about ITER because some people seem very skeptical of it’s technical achievement. The temperatures produced by such fusion are not an insignificant cause of such skepticism. Could such a device withstand such exceedingly high temperature & be expected not to pose some risks, like exploding or simply melting itself? If I am correct, current technical hurdles include: the development of a material/s capable of withstanding the temperatures involved with it’s processes.
    Apart from such issues Fusion seems like good, environmentally friendly energy source.

  16. #16 Dan Dare
    June 4, 2006

    Rietzsche,

    Although the temperature is very high, the fusion plasma is an extremely thin gas so the total amount of heat in it is quite small. Magnetic fields are used to confine the plasma to minimise contact with the walls. There has been recent progress reported in improving the stability of the plasma so as to reduce damage to the walls.

    We should keep this discussion short Rietzsche, we are hijacking Razib’s thread.

  17. #17 Boknekht
    June 4, 2006

    Dan,
    Last comment: Thanks for your info & links; much appreciated:)

  18. #18 IndianCowboy
    June 4, 2006

    “an influx…semi-literate farmers would not be good things.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but nearly all the Irish, Italian and German immigrants in the 19th century were either semi-literate or completely illiterate”

    at a time when semi-literacy and illiteracy weren’t quite such a detriment as they are today.

    You know you need a GED or high school diploma to work at 7-11?

  19. #19 pconroy
    June 7, 2006

    Don’t forget that there is a big difference between an illiterate Irish Catholic immigrant of 150 years ago, and an illiterate Irish immigrant of today, or an illiterate from almost any part of the developed or even semi-developed world.

    Why, because 150 years ago, and even 80 years ago, it was an imprisonable offence to educate a Catholic in Ireland, so you had people of high natural aptitude living the life of peasants or later doing menial tasks in the new world. Unlike illiterate German immigrants, who often came with some skills like metal working, tool making, beer brewing or such, most Irish came with nothing more than the skills needed to dig with a spade – there was precious little industry outside farming in the country at the time, and what little there was was monopolized by non-Catholics.

    My grandfather, born in around 1870, came from a lower middle class Catholic farming family, was uneducated and illiterate when he entered the British police force in his teens. He was however of high aptitude, and self taught himself Latin, Greek, Math up to Calculus, memorized many of Shakespeare’s plays, and educated himself in law and represented paupers as a barrister for free. He would later rise to be head of the British police force in Ireland, own the first automobile in the country, and in his mid-60′s learned Irish (Gaelic) for the first time. I often wonder how such a gifted man would have fared if he had been born in the US, rather than under Penal Laws in Ireland.

  20. #20 JM
    June 7, 2006

    work-a-day scientists are essential cogs in the system, and they are far more likley to produce the n + 1 generation native born superstars than Joe-Schmo.

    What about regression to the mean? Given the same woman, Joe-Schmo from a high mean group could produce a brighter kid than a bright dude from a lower mean group.

  21. #21 razib
    June 8, 2006

    What about regression to the mean? Given the same woman, Joe-Schmo from a high mean group could produce a brighter kid than a bright dude from a lower mean group.

    depends on your parameters. you know the breeder’s equation, you can crank out the numbers for yourself (i.e., regression is less of an issue at high heritability, and the comparison depends on the deviation from the mean for the individuals in question).

    (also, regression is not a magical property, it is just the noise in the system, how you define “group” matters a lot and it is not unlikely that heritability could be high for elites from “low mean groups” for traits in question)

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