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Another STEM Jobs Myth-Breaking Article

A reader sent along this link to an article at the New York Review of Books on the relentless emphasis on STEM jobs. The viewpoint of its author, Andrew Hacker, was preordained: he’s a political scientist who started a controversy about ten years ago with an editorial wondering if mathematical education (we’re talking up to the level of algebra) is even necessary or desirable. So he’s not going to be a big booster of any push into science or engineering.
But keeping those biases in mind, he does take a useful tour through what I see as the error at the other end of the spectrum. I’m not ready to say (along with Hacker) that gosh, hardly anyone needs algebra, let alone anything more advanced. But I’m also not ready to say that we’ve got a terrible shortage of anyone who does know such things. That link quotes Michael Teitelbaum, and the NYRB article is partly a review of his Falling Behind, which is a book-length attempt to demolish the whole “STEM shortage” idea. He also notes another book:

James Bach and Robert Werner’s How to Secure Your H-1B Visa is written for both employers and the workers they hire. They are told that firms must “promise to pay any H-1B employee a competitive salary,” which in theory means what’s being offered “to others with similar experience and qualifications.” At least, this is what the law says. But then there are figures compiled by Zoe Lofgren, who represents much of Silicon Valley in Congress, showing that H-1B workers average 57 percent of the salaries paid to Americans with comparable credentials.
Norman Matloff, a computer scientist at the University of California’s Davis campus, provides some answers. The foreigners granted visas, he found, are typically single or unattached men, usually in their late twenties, who contract for six-year stints, knowing they will work long hours and live in cramped spaces. Being tied to their sponsoring firm, Matloff adds, they “dare not switch to another employer” and are thus “essentially immobile.” For their part, Bach and Warner warn, “it may be risky for you to give notice to your current employer.” Indeed, the perils include deportation if you can’t quickly find another guarantor.

Here’s Matloff’s page on the subject, and his conclusions seem (to me) to ring unfortunately true. I can’t come up with any other way to square the statements and actions of (to pick one example) John Lechleiter, CEO of Eli Lilly. So I’m in an uncomfortable position on this issue: I am pro free-trade, and philosophically I’m pro-immigration (especially the immigration of the sorts of talented, hard-working people that all these US companies want to bring in). That philosophical leaning of mine, though, is predicated on these people being able to pitch in to a growing economy, but not if they’re just being used as a means to dump existing workers in favor of cheaper (and more disposable) replacements. And I hate sounding like a nativist anti-immigration yahoo, and I similarly hate sounding (at another end of the political spectrum) like some kind of black-bandanna-wearing anti-corporate agitator. (As mentioned above, I’m also not happy about finding myself in some agreement with some guy whose other positions include the idea that algebra should be dumped from schools as a useless burden). I look around, and wonder how I ended up here. Strange times.

65 comments on “Another STEM Jobs Myth-Breaking Article”

  1. Becca Stareyes says:

    I wonder how much of the situation is coupling immigration to an employer. If a company can afford to treat an international worker on a visa worse than a permanent resident, then many will, and as long as work visas are tied to particular companies, that creates leverage. If one wants genuine competition (or worker solidarity), then one needs to make sure international workers have more freedom to switch jobs or demand better conditions.
    (I also wonder if algebra is more useful as a concept than as a set of skills: showing students a new way to solve and write problems, a bit more formally than inverse operations. Of course, teaching students concepts is always the trick. Skills they can learn because we can easily test for them and students can be motivated by grades.)

  2. Anon says:

    Norman Matloff seems to be only talking about the H-1B visa holders who come to work here on a temporary basis and then return to their home countries. Most of them have degrees from their home countries, work for foreign companies and indeed live here in cramped spaces with other comparable workers.
    A completely different class of people is those who get their advanced degrees here and take full time jobs with American companies, intending to become permanent residents and citizens. I find it hard to believe that they too are paid 57% of their American counterparts.

  3. Derek Lowe says:

    #2 Anon –
    I’m sure you’re right about the second category. But it’s the first category that many companies want to relax the restriction on, apparently for the reasons suspected.

  4. metal wrangler says:

    This sounds an awful lot like the 18-19th century coal miners who were bound to the company by having to live in company towns, have rent taken out of their pay, and somehow never having enough to leave. It’s sad to see this in the 21st century.

  5. I too am pro free trade and pro immigration.
    I also am a displaced software type with 30 years of hardware and software experience and I have worn all hats from Programmer Analyst / Electronics Technician up to Project Manager and everything in between and I can’t buy an interview so I have spent a lot of time studying this (since 2007).
    Illegal Immigration is NOT immigration simply because it is illegal.
    Temporary workers on temporary visas which is what the H-1B is are not immigrants either as they have simply been brought in via the same business model that “scabs” were brought in to break union picket lines in decades and even generations past.
    We need immigration.
    But what we are doing to the Americans that have held our highest paying jobs for decades is a crime of the worst sort.
    There is a way to have global trade that will protect the people of each country and it requires all countries agreeing to abide by these three simple rules:
    It is OK to grow, raise or manufacture your products here in America and sell them to other countries and the same applies to those countries.
    It is OK to open retail or manufacturing branches in other countries to offset the shipping problems as long as you hire the locals to work in those countries.
    It is NOT OK to put the people in your country out of work, send the growing, raising or manufacturing to another country and then import those products back into your country.

  6. Vader says:

    It’s not lack of STEM in industry that I’m worried about.
    It’s lack of STEM in the voting booth.

  7. Jake_Leone says:

    People are not goods. When a country takes in goods, it is taking in essentially an inanimate object, that can be seized if, by law, it is contraband, goods have no rights, and for the most part (if properly stored and handled), goods just sit and do no harm.
    People, when they enter the U.S., have rights. They can perpetrate a crime, get in a car accident, get stuck in a fire. All of these activities require the intervention of the government, and the cost of that service is borne by all the citizens.
    So to equate free trade, with the free trade of people is a big mistake.
    We cannot free trade people anymore than we can allow the shanty towns of the 3rd world countries to become the norm in the United States. And to some extent, the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley is creating substandard housing. That’s why Palo Alto (in Silicon Valley) tried out an ordinance prohibiting sleeping in your car.
    Second, H-1b workers have less rights than ordinary Green Card holders and citizens. What the government has done is create a second class worker, and in doing so, a secondary government provided labor market, that goes around the ordinary market forces.
    Like slavery before it, H-1b indentures a worker to an employer. They come and go from the United States at the will of the employer. That, frankly, is just giving too much power to the employer. Much of the problem with H-1b would go away, with normal market cleansing action, if we would allow the worker to carry the H-1b and have control over the Green Card process.
    H-1b is a Federal Government program. Most H-1b workers are being used by Offshore Outsourcing companies to assist in the removal of jobs to another country. There is no provision under Free Market Capitalism that government has to assist in the removal of jobs from the country. Instead of facilitating this removal, we should end all such assistance and allow normal market forces to do whatever it is going to do.
    The Offshore Outsourcing companies take up most of the H-1b visas. Since H-1b is a federal government program, we are perfectly correct to restrict access to H-1b, to companies that only intend to grow jobs in the United States. Again, if Offshore Outsourcing companies need workers in the United States, they can hire locally to find liaisons, the Federal Government doesn’t not have to provide them.
    The Free Market is both the Free market for goods and a fully enfranchised- unenslaved- workforce.
    If you trap workers in a position, you don’t have Free market capitalism.
    You have Feudalism.
    Feudalism held back the industrial revolution. Feudalism held back capitalism in Europe.
    There seems to be a spectrum ranging from Feudalism to Capitalism to Communism that presents itself. Capitalism is ideal for freeing the mind and spirit. But as automation progresses we might see greater taxation with the continued elimination of work. Our task is how to allow for greater automation, without eliminating the desire and appreciation for the products of the Free human spirit.
    Capitalism is doing a good job at that right now, frankly Capitalism rocks. But even in capitalist countries we have the trappings of Communism in the form of welfare, nanny-state initiatives and so on. So much so that a generation of entrepreneurs also seeks such government handouts.
    And like people in a sports car, in a 10-mile traffic jam. They emit a zero-IQ wine for more H-1b visas. Not realizing, or even caring, that H-1b dependency is damaging our economy and allowing parasitic businesses to grow and flourish while displacing local workers with foreign ones and remove whole departments full of jobs to overseas locations.
    Again the Federal Government is under no obligation to facilitate this. The Federal Government should not interfere, but it also should not facilitate it.

  8. anonymous says:

    Neo: “Why do my eyes hurt?”
    Morpheus: “Because you’ve never used them before.”

  9. annonie says:

    You want new bridges, the engineers better darn well better know algebra and calculus, and how to use it to solve important problems…static stress, sheer, motion stress, vibrations and more.
    Yes, most day to day practicing MDs have little use for advanced math. But what of people chosing instead to do computer science, and all the mathematical modelling for investment banks? Yes, they too do need such vital education and training.

  10. anonmouse says:

    @9annonie – I’d like my MD to be able to calculate my dose properly (or for my children)- in terms of math complexity the unit conversions are more than just simple arithmetic. And the area under the curve calculations used in DM/PK/PD results certainly expect a familiarity with Calculus.

  11. Sleepless in SSF says:

    I’m a naturalized US citizen with a PhD in chemistry from outside the US. I got my green card as a faculty member at UC Davis. I currently have a faculty position at another Carnegie category 1 institution that’s close to but isn’t quite AAU material.
    What people in my position (STEM immigrants) realize that most native-born Americans don’t is that H1-B is necessary for immigrants as well as for temporary workers. I was brought to the US on an H1-B visa and had to go through the green card process while in that status, then eventually apply for citizenship. It’s valuable to keep that in mind when casting aspersions on the H1-B program.

  12. Mark says:

    I am an H1B post-doc and have no idea about the industry situation with H1B workers, but in academia foreign post-docs (like myself) is definitely a problem which, btw, should be viewed in tandem with J-1 visa post-docs. It is especially big problem in groups with foreign PIs who come from countries with large populations (yes, I do primarily mean China). The problem is that PI can hire two post-docs from US or use the same money to hire three from China. And even though those post-docs might be not as good or as ambitious, three is greater than two and that logic seems to prevail every time. I am all for free market, but the current situation with foreign post-docs is dumping.
    Some strong restrictions should be applied on what is a minimum that PhD employee should be paid. NIH is trying to do something about it now, but in my view there has to be a more global solution regulated by the government.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If you want a green card, some times your employer will offer you a lower starting salary to offset the lawyer and manager cost. The other phd cell biologist besides me at my last company was paid significantly less than I was, (I’m American) and the green card need was cited during his salary negotiations. He was really good, honestly better than I was at assay development.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If you want a green card, some times your employer will offer you a lower starting salary to offset the lawyer and manager cost. The other phd cell biologist besides me at my last company was paid significantly less than I was, (I’m American) and the green card need was cited during his salary negotiations. He was really good, honestly better than I was at assay development.

  15. aairfccha says:

    @12
    No it’s not dumping (unless the postdocs earn less than they need to survive), it’s free market in action: People are willing to work for less and are allowed into the country at significant numbers, so they depress general conditions in their field. To avoid this, you either have to impose minimum conditions or restrict inflow of people.

  16. @7 >> Most H-1b workers are being used by Offshore Outsourcing companies to assist in the removal of jobs to another country.
    I have hard time understanding why would ‘Offshore outsource company’ need employees to have H1-b visas for outsourcing jobs? Do you really think people outside USA need to have US visa to work?
    Give the market forces full freedom and you’ll get back to pre-Trade Union times.
    Sorry, but there is no readily available substitute for cheap (non-)immigrants for keeping up with the pace of development, and as far as I can see there’s no way for capitalism to give up that pace.

  17. Anon says:

    #14: I wonder how general that policy is. I have a lot of trouble believing that an immigrant with, say, a PhD from Michigan working at Merck is paid only 57% of his American counterpart with the exact same credentials. Perhaps this is true for certain industries (eg. the tech sector) than others?

  18. John Thacker says:

    Derek, while those may be different types of people, they’re here on the same visa. There’s no way to relax the rules for just “one category.” I have a lot of friend who came to the US on student visas, and most of them need H1-B visas while trying to get a green card.
    The first group of people are people that in most cases could just as well have the jobs outsourced to their home countries, with H1-B not involved at all, but perhaps occasional short term visits to the US. (And there’s no question that both groups of H1-B recipients are better off than they would be.)
    The easiest reform would be to broaden the H1-B program so that people were allowed to take jobs over a larger area, say within an entire state. The only real objectionable part of the practice to me, after all, is the inability to switch jobs. Absent that, I wouldn’t even care if people were paid less than natives. (It smells too much to me like the late 19th and early 20th complaints about Chinese labor in the west, or about whites complaining about free blacks in the South and East.)

  19. bank says:

    It looks like biotech is starting to consider how it can exploit the relative ease with which academic institutes can get H1B visas:
    blogs(dot)nature(dot)com/naturejobs/2015/06/29/mobility-us-visa-options/

  20. anon1 says:

    I was laid off from big pharma as a ‘cost cutting measure’. There was an H1-B visa holder in my office a month later, but at a lower level. A year after that the old fake job add was posted as part of their green card application. Thats the part I love, the fake job adds. Its completely illegal, but everyone seems perfectly fine with it.

  21. Anonymous says:

    H1B was never intended to be used to replace Americans for jobs with lower paid foreigners that do the same work, it is thoroughly being abused by companies these days. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around, so why do we still have the H1B program open? The faucet shouldn’t be completely closed, but the flow of H1Bs should be significantly reduced. Companies should be required to much more stringently prove that they couldn’t find a qualified American for the job before they try to bring a H1B. Singapore has much tighter restrictions for foreign workers and their economy is doing just fine. I’m sorry, but the US can not provide employment opportunities and a quality standard of living for everyone in the world. Foreigners may be better off focusing on improving their own countries.

  22. cranker says:

    The free market system works. However, the H1b visa program is not about free markets. The H1b Visa program was implemented to serve employers who could not find the skilled workers they needed in the United States. However, it is really used to keep wages down for employers.
    If one would let the free market work and eliminate the H1b program, supply would initially go down. This would obviously drive up wages, job stability, and prestige of those professions affected by the program, like PhD chemists. This would also encourage Americans to enter such fields, since it would deem worthwhile to pursue. The way it is now, Americans can obtain good pay and job stability by entering other fields. Why write lab reports as an undergrad on a Friday night when you could be partying it up at the fraternity with your business buddies. Why put in 60-80 hr weeks for crap pay for 6-8 years getting a PhD and postdoc, with no reward at the end.
    Medicine has no H1b program. Supply is limited. However prestige, job stability, and salary are attractive. No one can tell me their are not able and exceptional doctors in other countries.

  23. dearieme says:

    “I wonder how much of the situation is coupling immigration to an employer.” Yep. It’s like the great lesson I learnt from the Obamacare debate: one central weakness of American medical provision is attaching health insurance to employment.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure why everyone has to qualify their remarks by having a preamble describing their devotion to the free market.

  25. matt says:

    @Anon #2: no, re-read Matloff’s web page. He explicitly states the same conditions apply for American university graduates working through the immigration process.
    If you are in grad school, or know any students on H-1B visas who are in the middle of their job search, ask them. I wouldn’t get hung up on the 57% figure, it’s a grand average of things that don’t really belong squooshed into one number together. But it’s lower pay, and it’s low enough to motivate Intel and Microsoft and other tech companies to pay lobbyists to open the tap further.
    @Anon #17: It’s not permanent, but that immigrant with a degree from Michigan gets less money while moving through the immigration process. As the article says, the six-year sponsored application process ties you to one company, and not so many companies are willing to sponsor so the employment pool is more constricted, both of which tilt the balance of power even more to the company. Hence the lower pay–57% I think is a bit overstated; that was skewed by call-centers.
    Once they have completed that phase of the immigration process, they will often ditch that employer. (Some employers take advantage of those employees, beyond just the salary disparity, and some just aren’t willing to pay more once that employee is on firmer footing.)
    So, upon finishing the visa/sponsorship phase, they become just like the rest of the workforce, who can get a higher salary and then be forced out when companies want to “re-balance” their workforce and hire cheap, naive youngsters.

  26. Anonymous says:

    If you want a green card, some times your employer will offer you a lower starting salary to offset the lawyer and manager cost. The other phd cell biologist besides me at my last company was paid significantly less than I was, (I’m American) and the green card need was cited during his salary negotiations. He was really good, honestly better than I was at assay development.

  27. Mark Thorson says:

    Here in Silicon Valley, I’ve worked with lots of immigrants and found the vast majority to be pretty darn competent. Some were extremely competent and founders of good startups. By in large, I’d say the U.S. greatly benefits from these people being here.
    If your gripe is that they take American jobs, I’d be suspicious that your skill set is stale. Keep up with your field and you shouldn’t feel anybody breathing down your neck. Become a bricklayer that does the same old thing you’ve been doing for 20 years and yeah, you can be replaced. You should be replaced.

  28. M says:

    I don’t pretend to have a coherent economic philosophy, so it’s easy to quibble with others’.
    But I don’t know what it means to be pro-immigration and then object to it when the employees are chemists instead of berry pickers. Or to be pro-free trade but not when competition is reducing your wages & working conditions instead of increasing them.
    People in a profession want higher wages and restricting labor pools is a great way to help that. Companies want lower wages, and for lower wages they may want slightly less skilled employees. Of course there’s always a “shortage” from the company’s point of view.
    I have no idea what immigration rules “should” be but there’s nothing obviously wrong with the idea that the ability to higher more STEM types for lower salaries will spur more innovation.

  29. anon the II says:

    @ #12 Mark
    That’s really great news to hear. You can now only get 3 Chinese for the price of 2 Americans. When Lilly gave me the boot in 2003, Rob Armstrong was bragging that he could get 5 Chinese for my salary. We’re approaching parity. In a few more years maybe I will be hirable again.

  30. Blunderbuss says:

    I figured H1B out during a post-doc many years ago when I worked for this douchebag P. Andrew Evans. I was the only American, which was fine, I really enjoyed the internationals. However, after a few months of 6x12h days, plus an appearance on Sunday, I had enough. My salary was 23k per year. The last straw was him berating me for not taking his suggestion of switching the solvent to DMF in making a dianion with NaH and nBuLi. Then he yelled at me for enlisting the help of a graduate student who had nothing to work on. I took the keys to the lab off my keychain and marched into his office and gave him the immortal words of Johnny Paycheck “Take this job and shove it.” I took a few weeks off and went fishing and worked various manual labor jobs and got back in amazing physical shape. I really enjoyed that summer. This was followed by an adjunct stint. I eventually found my way back to a science career, but in a non-traditional path. The thing that struck me the most was the despondency and lack of options of the post-docs who remained. Apparently I was treated well compared to the internationals, or so the American grad students told me. Of course they had to take it, it was not like they could tell him to F off. There really is a shortage of people who are highly intelligent and well educated in a notoriously difficult discipline who are ready to be treated like excrement on a daily basis for the wages of migrant tomato pickers.

  31. Am I Lloyd says:

    Nothing new about this. If you look at many of H C Brown’s Nobel Prize winning papers from the 70s you will see Indian names on them. The well-founded rumor was that he would hire two Indians on one American’s salary and have them work like crazy. I wonder if he would have been able to get away with it today – this post sadly makes me think he would.

  32. eugene says:

    Decoupling the H1-B from the employer is an excellent solution. With the temporary immigrant worker being able to quit an abusive job, and still be assured that they won’t be deported and can look for a new position until the end of their visa, with a possibility of eventually applying for a green card based on work record and education also being decoupled from the employer, a lot of abuse will disappear. And I’m guessing a lot of the demand from companies for H1-B workers will disappear as well.

  33. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Decades ago, between undergrad and grad school, I was an engineer at several manufacturing facilities (in an industry that was very different from pharma). One of these factories was unionized and two of them were not, so I could notice what happened with and without a union. At the non-union plants, we pencil-pushers were repeatedly warned, “ALWAYS treat the line workers with respect because we don’t want them getting upset enough to hold a union vote”. At the non-union plants I had more of a collaborative relationship with the production workers. At the unionized plant we had a some petty rules: I wasn’t allowed to touch the knobs and they weren’t encouraged to think for themselves.
    So at the non-union plant an assembly line worker and I would both be touching the product and discussing whatever the problem was that we were trying to solve. Many of our best ideas for improving the product came from a combination of my theoretical training with their hands-on experience. At the unionized plant I had to say “now press the blue button so I can see what happens,” which not only was a less enjoyable experience but also I think a less creative one.
    Older engineers remembered it had been far worse in the days when all the company’s plants were unionized; they said because many of our plants were not unionized the union realized if its attitude cost us productivity then we’d shift work to non-union plants. These unions were actually very reasonable.
    In other words, because about half this company’s plants were unionized, on each side there were fears that constrained its attitude and behavior.
    I concluded then, and still believe, that the optimal situation for labor relations is when between 30% and 60% of the rank and file belong to a union. If too few belong to a union then management is not constrained by the fear of union votes at their non-union sites. If too many belong to a union then the union gets too powerful.
    Unfortunately, in the US today we have a few sectors such as airlines and government where unions are too powerful, and a large number of sectors where unions are very weak if they even exist.

  34. me says:

    I don’t believe that anyone is “well educated” in the liberal arts sense, if they don’t understand Calculus. It is such a fundamentally different way of looking at the world. That said, when I graduated (in 84) with my PhD in Math, there were 1000 academic job openings, 1000 recent PhDs and 1000 new immigrants with PhDs in Math and experience. (There are no limits to immigrants with PhDs in Math). There were also a lot of professors who could not speak English very well – and many students who complained about it. I went into industry.

  35. Virgil says:

    As someone who’s run the whole gamut of J1 –> H1B –> Green Card –> Citizen, it always amazes me how a country founded on immigration can be so blatantly xenophobic when it comes to the idea of letting more people in.
    The population is aging. There are not enough people being born in the US to do the jobs to pay into the pension funds for all the retirees to live off. So let me ask this question… beyond the evangelical god-squad argument that wimmin should pump out 20 babies each, what exactly is the plan for sustaining workforce productivity without immigration? Simply paying our existing population more will not cut it, because the walmart-going public is not willing to pay the price for goods and services that would entail.
    If we’re agreed immigration is a necessary evil to sustain the workforce, from there it’s a pretty logical step to have systems in place to ensure that immigrants have at least a modicum of “skills”. And that’s where H1B comes in. Yes, it’s not perfect, but compared to no immigration at all, it ain’t bad really!
    The other side to the story that never gets told… immigrants are leaving behind families, often spouses and children, to make a better life than they would have at home. As an American, I’m proud that this country is a beacon, that people still want to move here? Do you see people lining up to move to the middle east? How about Russia? So yeah, these people are allegedly “stealing our jobs”, but they’re paying a hell of a price for the privilege – signing over the best years of their lives (20s-40s) to go thousands of miles away with no promise of anything permanent at the end. Try to have a little dignity and not come across as Donald Trump talking about Mexicans, when discussing these issues.

  36. M says:

    The population is aging. There are not enough people being born in the US to do the jobs to pay into the pension funds for all the retirees to live off.
    This is just wrong. The difficulty on covering social security is pretty much all political–the long term gap is miniscule as a percent of the economy, but the money has to come from someone so there’s a lot of rancor. (Medicaire is more challenging, and depends mostly on health care costs.) Sure, the workforce is older but productivity is like 12x higher or something. I’m sympathetic to the “beacon” rhetoric and the diversity that immigrants bring, but America’s not teetering on the edge of extinction without it.
    Immigrants do help the economy by driving skilled labor costs down. Companies, present and future, have more flexibility if labor is cheaper–which is awesome globally but everyone would perfer their own labor to be an exception. Of course that fact is of course what many people here, who feel they are in a contracting industry, react to.

  37. Pharmaserf says:

    I’m really enjoying the comments about “free markets” and “free trade,” given that they are likely coming from people whose scientific/technical careers wouldn’t exist without the very social contracts they apparently abhor.
    I’m not sure why social/legal contracts (e.g., collective bargaining) are so constantly derided by these “rule of law” free market fetishists, when the biggest contract in their lives is likely their agreement to accept taxpayer largesse in the form of scientific training.
    Free trade and cheap immigrant labor are the linchpins of neoliberal policies, and bring massive profits to a relatively small number of people. Meanwhile, working conditions, environmental safety, and human rights ride on the limousine tailgate, clinging for dear life and hoping the roads to the palace have been paved.
    We are racing to the bottom economically and scientifically. It might be worthwhile to reflect on the role those policies have had on Pharma productivity.

  38. anonymous says:

    @#35 Virgil: Thanks for calling us “blatantly xenophobic” and about ten words later characterizing us as an “evangelical god-squad”. Guess you picked up the local lingo pretty quickly!
    On the whole immigrants both bring their families with them and have larger families once they’re here. Cry me a river.

  39. The Iron Chemist says:

    “Blatantly Xenophobic” and “Evangelical God-Squad” both sound like awesome band names.

  40. Hap says:

    I’d be happier with people coming here to lower the cost of labor (neglecting other reasons) if there were other jobs for the displaced people to go to. For the most part, though, the industries have formed can’t use the people purged from dying ones, so bringing in newer labor just displaces current labor and doesn’t make new stuff possible. It also seems to create a semi-permanent underclass, which does not seem to be in the interests of the nation as a whole.
    As for old versus young, most of the industries don’t require physical labor, so age should be less of an issue than previously (and may not be much of an issue – productivity should increase with age, at least for a while), and the likelihood of having a short useful life followed by a long, unhappy descent into age seems to be a good way to create a permanent, expensive underclass, which does not lend itself to political or any other stability. (It also is likely to happen to the people who come here, which certainly won’t help them – if you value age, longer spans of the old being being a burden to families seems to be problematic.)
    I want immigrants to add to the capacities of our country, not replace them, and what the STEM advocates seem to be advocating is replacement. This seems to take the work of generations (both economic and political) and cashes it out for the benefit of a few. The lack of honesty by the advocates of these positions does not lead me to believe that they have anyone’s interests at heart but their own.

  41. MarkySparky says:

    I have two close friends who have made it to green card status via H1B. I have another group of acquaintances that are still in H1B purgatory. The power that employers hold is absolutely unacceptable, and would be the subject of front page exposes if the victims were white Americans.
    It is infuriating to watch an excellent scientist struggle to feed/house his family while working 60 hour weeks for $40K. The fact that his 2 kids were born here (and therefore as American as me) makes it even worse.
    Make the visa portable and most of those problems go away. Anyone willing to jump through the hoops of our Kafka-esque immigration system deserves a parade, imho.

  42. Hap says:

    And as somebody whose job depends on higher math (at least statistics, which depends on both algebra and calculus), isn’t Hacker being somewhat disingenuous to advocate against higher math?

  43. Fenton Heirtzler says:

    Here is the text to an e-mail response which I received last evening from the Head of Department with a university in the UK. The topic was whether I, as a US-American who has already worked in academia in the UK, may apply for a new position in that country. The summary question which I ask is: why is it so objectionable to preferentially hire our own citizens in this country, when it is LAW in other western countries?
    Dear *****, Thank you for your e mail. Due to visa/ work permit regulations, if there are appoint able UK/ EU citizens, I cannot appoint someone from elsewhere. We have been inundated with good applications for this position, so I am afraid it would be difficult to appoint a nonUk/ EU citizen. If you hold German citizenship, then do apply. We do need someone who can teach industrial chemistry to large classes of chemical engineers and preferably who can supervise some MSc Drug Discovery projects. This is rather a big ask- but we are a small department with large teaching commitments.
    kind regards

  44. Algirdas says:

    @39, The Iron Chemist”
    “Xenophobe” is a ship in one of Ian Banks’s Culture novels. “Blatantly Xenophobic” would be even better!

  45. sgcox says:

    #43 Fenton. This is an odd reply. I was involved recently few times in hiring procedures in the UK University and my current understanding is that indeed you must show there are no able UK/EU candidates in he list before offering the position to a no-EU candidate for a grade VI position, which does not require PhD.
    For grade VII (post-dock, or the equivalent, loosely termed to allow the experienced people in) and above, the only requirement is to record that the preferable candidate is the best suited for the job, regardless of the employee eligibility, and the work permit shall be issued eventually – here is the catch of course…

  46. Anonymous says:

    @41: I feel no sympathy for immigrants who have kids here. Children are a choice—they don’t have to have them if they are not paid enough. Im a PhD Chemist (and native American) who is very under employed and making a poor salary but responsible enough NOT to have children. No sympathy for these people at all, because most of them should not be here in the first place. If you decide to come here, then you need to suffer an ill consequences that may come about from your decision. Bah-humbug.

  47. MarkySparky says:

    @46 Anon
    If you are underemployed in chemistry, you could always try working for the Donald Trump campaign…

  48. abc says:

    @43: I guess they will not be able to process you until the beginning of the term. Also, check if they do actually mention industrial chemistry in their job ad.

  49. Hap says:

    That’s OTT. It’s one thing to say he’s a potential Perry campaign worker (motto: “Our CraterXXXXXXState’s Open For Business”), but Trump? If he has a pulse and a nonflat EEG, he’s probably out for the Trump campaign.

  50. Ano 2 says:

    Why is it acceptable for medical doctors / AMA to block internationally trained MDs from working in the US, yet not chemists?

  51. Dr. Fenton Heirtzler says:

    Hello sgcox (#45),
    Indeed I am surprised at that response. The position for which I was inquiring about was that of either a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer (hence at Grade VII or above). And I have currently have an application pending for a similar position with a different university in the UK. In an analogous conversation with that different HOD, I likewise explained my background, and was nevertheless invited to apply.
    Although some diplomacy will obviously be appropriate, I will be contacting HR with this university and providing them with copies of the correspondence. Please let me know if you would like to correspond off of this website, and I can provide my e-mail address.

  52. Dr. Fenton Heirtzler says:

    Hello #48 (abc),
    No, there is no mention of industrial chemistry in the original advert. And there’s no way that I will take a limited-term job in UK academia; I’ve already had a job like that in the UK, and it was a dead-end.
    Am not clear what you meant by “I guess they will not be able to process you until the beginning of the term”. The job description reads “The post is available from 1st September 2015”. Any thoughts?

  53. sgcox says:

    #51 Fenton,
    from the HR instructions for the chair of appointing committee:
    “For research and academic posts you can appoint the best candidate to the post – even if European Economic Area (EEA) candidates meet the selection criteria. For other posts you must select an EEA candidate if they meet the selection criteria.”
    They BS you.

  54. me says:

    From Slashdot: The Sacramento Bee reports that the labor contract between California’s state government and the 2,800 employees represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists expired this week, spotlighting yet again the long-running feud over whether the tiny union’s members should earn as much as their peers in federal and local governments and private industry. “It’s a challenge to keep people motivated,” says Rita Hypnarowski. “We talk about retaining the best and the brightest, but I can see that’s not going to happen.” A recent survey by the Brown administration found that the total compensation for half of state-employed chemists is less than $8,985 per month ($5,715 in salary, plus $3,270 in benefit costs). That’s 33 percent less than the median total compensation for federal chemists, nearly 13 percent less than the midpoint for local-government chemists and almost 6 percent below the private sector.
    Members of the union perform a wide variety of tasks, everything from fighting food-borne illnesses to mopping up the Refugio State Beach oil spill. For example, Cassandra McQuaid left a job last year at the Department of Public Health’s state-of-the-art Richmond laboratories where she tracked foodborne illnesses. It’s the kind of vital, behind-the-scenes work that goes unnoticed until an E. coli outbreak makes headlines and local health officials need a crack team of scientists to unravel how it happened. “It really came down to money,” says McQuaid. “I just couldn’t live in the Bay Area on a state salary.”

  55. Dr. Fenton Heirtzler says:

    Hello “53. sgcox”,
    Yeah, I thought so. Overnight, I corresponded with HR. According to HR:
    “Professor *** has not recruited any academic staff for a while and I think [their] UKVI knowledge is out of date.”
    And the professor in question was (obviously) told to e-mail me and set the record straight! Of course, whether they are willing to interview from overseas is another question, but this is nevertheless encouraging.

  56. biotechtoreador says:

    “Why is it acceptable for medical doctors / AMA to block internationally trained MDs from working in the US, yet not chemists?”
    Because MDs have backbones and the AMA is a useful organization for its members….

  57. “I look around, and wonder how I ended up here. Strange times.”
    You’re making 80 miles an hour, at midnight, through Terre Haute, Indiana?
    BTW, is it my imagination or do the complaints about H1B visas sound quite a bit like the complaints about GMOs?

  58. Allison says:

    And I hate sounding like a nativist anti-immigration yahoo, and I similarly hate sounding (at another end of the political spectrum) like some kind of black-bandanna-wearing anti-corporate agitator.”
    Did the global government and its citizens pay for your PhD? Does it protect you and the company you work for? Does it pave the roads down your street? Does it supports your local schools?
    No, the USA and its government and citizens do. They pay taxes to support their interests alone. Why shouldn’t Americans expect to compete on a level playing field with other Americans for jobs?
    If libertarian free-trade neo-liberals had their way, you would have to compete with every person on the globe for your position. You would be living in a shack and barely surviving.
    The neo-liberals want to monetize your citizenship!

  59. “If libertarian free-trade neo-liberals had their way, you would have to compete with every person on the globe for your position. You would be living in a shack and barely surviving.”
    When prices and wages drop by 50%, you are not worse off. Is inflationism (the belief that high prices are the mark of prosperity) back?

  60. anon says:

    @59, It’s most certainly back with respect to house prices! At least in Canada…

  61. jgault says:

    A little late to the party but, I think the math education question is an interesting one. As a father of 3 high school kids and a Ph.D. scientist I ask myself, how much of my calculus have I used in my 20 years in science? If I have used so little why are we asking 50% of our high school students to take calculus, but no one knows what compound interest is? Are we educating kids to be college professors or are we educating them to be productive citizens. Don’t get me wrong, for those who want to pursue hard core math and science subjects I am all for high level mathematics, but perhaps some priorities are needed when it comes to the average high school student.

  62. eugene says:

    I’m pretty sure compound interest was covered in my school. Maybe even before high school. It’s a simple enough formula, but if it’s hard to remember, I think it’s more important to grasp the concept than to be able to use excel to calculate it anyways.

  63. Zach says:

    Linking immigration status to working for one particular employer is the original sin of H1B. It makes the recipients second class citizens — effectively, the salary for the H1B job is (acceptable US salary) – (nonmonetary benefits of moving to the US).
    So a conventional worker (US or immigrant), who does not have their legal status tied to working for one company in particular, will never apply for that job, and the company gets to pocket the dollar value of an US visa.
    One desirable reform would simply be to allow H1Bs to work anywhere in the US for the duration of the visa. Then you would get rid of the downward pressure on wages.

  64. mroot says:

    Why can’t being a chemist become a working class job? Truck driving moved from being a middle class job to a low wage job sometime ago. You probably feel that isn’t a good example since chemistry requires many specific technical skills. Okay, how about airline pilots? It’s a working class job now rather than a career. They get out of school with 100-150k of debt and as a new first officer make a salary that qualifies them for food stamps. I mean this isn’t good for chemists but the rest of the world probably sees it as a good thing. Lower drug prices and higher corporate profits are obvious benefits. Not so obvious are higher bonuses for the managers that implement it.
    Two other observations from 15 to 20 years ago. I was talking to salesman selling the spinning disc centrifuges that Kevin Costner’s company makes. He was full of insight. He pointed out to me that in pharma, research IS production. It doesn’t follow the normal chemical industry model of research, scale-up and production where research is only a piece of the pie. I thought about this some and realized that a chemist in pharma is from a business standpoint similar to factory worker on an assembly line. A cost that you need to reduce. I also remember people joking about grad school. They called it “getting your union card” and there was some truth to this. Without the card you would ineligible for quite a few jobs postings both internal and external. One of my colleagues confined in me that was exactly why he had left industry and when to graduate school. Graduate school served as pretty good barrier to entry and helped keep salaries higher much in the same having a union card did in an earlier era.

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