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A Disagreement Over Science Education

At Slate, David Plotz says the US needs more scientists and engineers. "America needs Thomas Edisons and Craig Venters, but it really needs a lot more good scientists, more competent scientists, even more mediocre scientists," Plotz says. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs have shown that it's cool to be nerdy, and there are organizations like TED devoted to making technology and science hip again. And yet, "American science is in crisis," he says. In 2010, 4.9 percent of American jobs were in science and engineering, down from 5.3 percent in 2000, and the US is falling behind the rest of the world in innovation, Plotz adds. He suggests that it's time the US went back to post-World War II attitude of using successes in science to boost the economy, and adds that the best way to do that is to educate kids in the sciences and in math, and encourage more of them to become scientists.

But In the Pipeline's Derek Lowe disagrees — the US may need more science and engineering, he says, but to assume we need more scientists and engineers — even bad ones — is "a tempting, but illogical, conclusion." There are lots of mediocre scientists, he adds, and the last thing the US needs is more of them. "My emphasis would be on 'How do we get the smartest and most motivated people to go into science again?' Or perhaps 'How do we educate future discoverers to live up to their potential?'" he says.

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