** Book Review: Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent

Mike Teitelbaum has the credentials to settle this question once and for all: is there a critical shortage of American scientists and engineers as big business contends when they try to import more foreigners? Or is there a glut as underemployed post-docs believe when they try to find a real job?

First his chops. He is a highly respected demographer, whose career started with a Rhodes Scholarship, went on to senior jobs in the Congress, as vice president of the Sloan Foundation, and now as a researcher at Harvard. His many books have been well-received, and most recently the top journal in science,called Science oddly enough, recognized him as the person of the year in the field of science careers, probably because of this book. Bio

On a more humble level, in January 1995 your reviewer took a job as a legislative assistant in a Texas congressman’s office. As I was unpacking my briefcase, I was visited by some lobbyists wearing shiny boots. They were from Texas Instruments, and pointed with alarm at an impending crisis in engineering manpower, unless Congress provided more foreign workers via the H1B visa program. I was puzzled by this since I personally knew that jobs in engineering were not so easy to get after the end of the Cold War. Indeed, I was soon visited by another lobbyist, in scuffed loafers, who had lost his job at IBM when it brought in cheaper foreign engineers, and was taking advantage of his ample free time to report this to Members of Congress. Disclosure: I have worked at TI myself, and in 1995 I was an IEEE Congressional Fellow. The IEEE position was that the first guys were wrong, and the second guy was right. But we didn’t have the evidence to prove this. Now we do, thanks to this book.

Actually, it’s simple. Economics 101 says that if there was a shortage in the U.S., pay and working conditions for engineers and scientists would improve to attract more. This is not happening now, but it was just the situation when I graduated during the Cold War in 1960; defense contractors flew me first class all over the country to try to recruit me into a private office, but I foolishly went to MIT on an all-expenses-paid fellowship instead. Now an engineer is lucky to get a cubicle, working as an independent contractor without benefits and with zero job security. And the pitiful science post-docs don’t even get a cubicle, they just borrow a couple of square feet of a library table for their (own) laptop to try to do enough research to get a job.

R. D. Shelton

Falling Behind?: Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent Hardcover – March 30, 2014
by Michael S. Teitelbaum. available from amazon.com