The Number of New Scientists

According to a new study, the number of native-born Americans studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has stayed level over the past 30 years. These findings appear to be at odds with the public calls from the government and policy groups for more Americans to study science and engineering.

The paper was written by researchers at Rutgers University and Georgetown University. They conducted a longitudinal study, following students studying STEM through high school, college and into the workforce. They were looking for three things: the retention rate (how many students stayed in a STEM field), how this rate compared to previous generations, and the quality of the students who stayed with STEM studied.

What they found was a drop not in the overall numbers, but a drop in the final aspect, the quality. There was a sharp decline in the number of the highest performing students who continued to study STEM and join the workforce in an STEM related field. This decline began in the late 1990s.

This occurs because of the depressing wages in STEM fields, turning potential scientists and technology innovators into business people and office workers.

So is the public cry for more scientists beneficial? More scientists could cause a glut in the supply while driving down the quality.

Or instead, should we be more encouraging to those students who love science, and make sure there are more jobs available to them for wages commiserate with their importance.

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