The Intersection

Science + 1

i-ff7ceb64135ae38e064b67c7bb34f8e3-science_plus.jpgIn my latest “Science Progress” online column, I’ve tried for something a little bit off my beaten path. The piece takes, as its starting point, a recent Urban Institute study suggesting (among other things) that contrary to many lamentations from the science community, the real issue is not the failure to produce enough scientists and engineers to keep competitive, but rather, the fact that we don’t even have enough jobs for the scientists and engineers we’re currently producing.

Of course, I do not therefore argue that we need less scientists–but rather, that the scientists we’re producing need to be more than just scientists, both so that they can get non-science jobs and also so that the original concern–competitiveness–is met. As I conclude:

The numbers presented by the Urban Institute lead to an uncontestable conclusion: Some young scientists aren’t going to be working in purely scientific positions. There simply aren’t enough jobs for them. Instead, some will be going into fields like journalism, or advertising, or politics–and if so, they ought to be learning more than simply scientific skills.

Learning about science is wonderful–but in today’s complex world, it’s rarely enough. Sure, it helps in any number of occupations, ranging from law to business, to know something about science. But it helps even more if you also know something else (like, say, how to speak in public or write, or design a website). Knowing how to think scientifically is pretty good on its own; but in combination with other skills, it’s truly sublime.

In fact, we can go further. If the core concern is ensuring U.S. competitiveness, doesn’t interdisciplinarity–the ability to combine scientific skills with another type of expertise–both enhance creativity and also give someone an edge? Doesn’t a scientist who also speaks Spanish or understands patent law have a leg up in the global marketplace?

If so, it follows that not only do we need more scientists, we need more scientists with additional skills to boot. Why can’t the scientific community release major reports stating that?

The entire column is here.


  1. #1 Lance
    December 13, 2007


    My curriculum was quite crowded with physics, mathematics, statistics, a few humanities and electives. Are you suggesting that some of these should be replaced with courses designed to enhance non-science career potential?

    If so which ones are you proposing be eliminated?

    Or are you proposing additional courses, time and cost, be added to the current degree requirements?

    There are already degrees, such as applied physics and chemical engineering that attempt to integrate commercially viable skills into the science curriculum. Are you proposing specific new degrees along these lines?

  2. #2 jeffk
    December 15, 2007

    I think I can complete some of those equations.
    science + business = science + design = engineering
    science + law = patent law
    science + languages = ?

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