Intel's Chair Decries Science Slashing

By John Conway | January 21, 2008 10:41 pm

Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel Corporation, doesn’t mince words. In a scathing op-ed piece in the SF Chronicle, he describes the high-tech industry view of the dreadful state of funding for basic science research in 2008, due to the last-minute earmarking by the congressional appropriations committees.

“At a time when the rest of the world is increasing its emphasis on math and science education (the most recent international tests – NAEP and PISA – show U.S. kids to be below average) and increasing their budgets for basic engineering and physical science research, Congress is telling the world these areas are not important to our future.”

Mr. Barrett, thank you!

  • James Gallagher

    America is not alone with this problem. The UK’s hope to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors will be delayed because of a lack of skills in the area.

    Perhaps we should ask some of the Iranian’s we educated to come back and help us here in the UK

  • John Phillips, FCD

    James, seeing it is likely that a French energy company will be building them no problem :)

    Though to be fair, this problem is more to do with the downturn in the Nuclear energy industry due to its unpopularity last century rather than any science education problems, as such. Not that we in the UK have too much to be proud of in our science funding at the moment, whether in terms of education or research. Physics being a particular sufferer with some Unis closing or planning to close physics departments.

  • rod.

    Thank God there are philantropists like Jim Simons and Gordon Moore. Education is far too important to be left to the Government.

    It’s very dangerous to believe that the “status quo” will be perpetuated with no effort. The future belongs to those who are willing to build it, not to those who feel they’re entitled to own it. On average, U.S. kids tend to be lazy, and if they don’t work harder, they will not earn the right to have a standard of life equal/superior to their parents’. It’s that simple. To each, his own.

  • rob

    rod said:

    On average, U.S. kids tend to be lazy, and if they don’t work harder, they will not earn the right to have a standard of life equal/superior to their parents’.

    Rod’s claim that children just have to work harder to “make it” is ignorant and arrogant — a despicable combination. As an active member of a living wage campaign, I see every day how hard work doesn’t pay. We cannot ignore the millions of mothers and fathers who labor for 40 or more hours a week, yet continue to be “working poor.” In this age of prosperity, allowing anyone to live in poverty is a disgrace.

    I believe that many people use hyperbole to explain away their consciences. Claiming that millions of men, women and children are poor because they are lazy is an example of this. To those of us who fight for change, for a system in which every person is guaranteed a dignified standard of living, rod’s claim exemplifies the simplistic greed and pessimism that perpetuates the parasitic society in which we live today.

  • rod


    You are putting my words out of context.

    Hard work alone is not enough, but it is necessary. What I wanted to say is that learning requires hard work, and it’s pretty clear that we’re living in an era where instant gratification is glorified. My point was apolitical. All I wanted to say is: kids should work hard, because if they learn a lot, they will be better people and better citizens. A democracy can’t work when 90% of the population is composed of ignorants and retards.

    I never meant to say that the poor are poor because they are lazy. The “American Dream” works for some, but not for all. Many families from ethnic minorities might work 24-7 and still face trouble, and that is due to an established system which strives to keep things as they are.

  • cvj

    It seems the problem is looking to the government as your source of money. Be it a living wage when more people move from the bottom 10% of income to the top 10% of income in any 8 year period then stay in the bottom 10%, or science funding for particle physics: using government as your source of income will stop you from getting the money you need. Those who learn to use the free market and other citizens as a means of getting the money they need always get more money then those who rely on government. The goal for scientists should not be changing legislation so that they get a 5% increase in funding from tax payers, but rather how to put into effect the learning of entrepreneurs and non-profits that generate money from non government sources. The large endowments of our “Ivy League” institutions stand as a strong testament to the success of this approach. Once you take responsibility for your income, and generating your own funding, you become more empowered to accomplish your monetary goals because it no longer becomes a question of convincing a bureaucrat to give you money, but a question of how inventive you can become in selling your research to the world at large. So many are successful at doing this every day that it is difficult to understand why more scientists don’t take this approach.

  • a cornellian

    erm, the free market model only works if you have a commodity that someone will buy.

    I hate to point it out, but at the Ivies, those bastions of private funding, a lot of the science is still government funded (at least as far as I could tell being there as a student).

    And the wonderful ‘free market’ seems to have selected against doing basic research (see IBM, Bell Labs) because they don’t turn a quarterly profit.

  • James Gallagher


    that’s why nobody does physics, at least not the children of the “affluent”. Nope, business studies, law, economics, accountancy etc etc are the choice for the most privileged.

    These studies lead to “easy” professions which generate large incomes basically by being parasitic on society.

    True creators, whether they be scientists or artists, will struggle most of their lives to match the income that these “parasites” can command.

    Yet without a talented supply of scientists (and artists) we won’t have much of a society. Artists don’t need much training, scientists do. The immediate payoff from training a million more scientists is not acceptable to the modern capitalist model. Sure, if we train a million more scientists, one of them may discover a free source of energy for us, er, in a “few decades or so”. That would have saved the 100 billion dollars spent on the Iraq invasion. But it’s too much of a gamble for the thickies in charge. Let’s make the farmers happy today, it’ll get us votes next year.

    A truly poor state of affairs.

  • fh

    “Education is far too important to be left to the Government.”

    Even more dreadful to think it in the hands of the whims of a few individuals who might or might not be pushing certain agendas but certainly do not suffer from this inconvenient and inefficient bore that is democratic oversight.

  • rod

    Even more dreadful to think it in the hands of the whims of a few individuals who might or might not be pushing certain agendas but certainly do not suffer from this inconvenient and inefficient bore that is democratic oversight.

    You are right. It’s too much of a gamble to assume that there are genuinely honest philantropists willing to fund education and research on a “no strings attached” basis. Using the examples of Gordon Moore and Jim Simons is a bit of cherry-picking.

  • cvj

    Hi ” a cornellian”

    “In 2005, total private charitable donations comprised 2.1% of the 2005 United States gross domestic product (GDP).”[1] I believe the US GDP in 2005 was 12.41 trillion[2], so that makes total private donations as $310 Billion ($310 250 000 000).

    Free markets are valuable because they empower the citizen. The more empowered the citizen the more they can increase their earnings and donations. It seems that about %2.2 percent of after tax dollars[1] are donated, for US citizens. So there exists are large amount of giving. It makes sense for scientist to tap into this giving. It should made easier by the media coverage of science education and the small increases of government funding. Not to mention that blogs such as this are successful, I think, in attracting many outside science.


  • physics girl

    that’s why nobody does physics, at least not the children of the “affluent”.

    As the daughter of a very successful businessman who certainly fits any definition of affluent you may have, I find some offense in this. I’m definitely going on to grad school in physics, and while more of my peers from prep school are going out to be businessmen, lawyers, doctors etc I never saw an indication that we were less likely to become physicists than anyone else (because not like there are that many to begin with right?). In fact, I would argue that a child whose parents are in the top 10% is more likely to go into physics than someone in the lowest 10% because you don’t need to fret about the lack of job market quite as much.

    Just my two cents.

  • Count Iblis

    Actually, since children are hardly taught any science at all in school, it should be possible to produce many scientist at very low costs, simply by teaching science in primary and secondary school. At university the students can then start to work on their Ph.D., instead of what happens today, i.e. students having to learn the very elementary basics first.

    At age 18 many parts of the brain that do low level processing can no longer be rewired. Recent studies using functional MRI scans have shown that people who have learned to play chess at a young age (before the age of 5 if I remember correctly) use the brain parts that are normally used to recognize faces in order to recognize patterns on the chess board.

    So, we should stop pretending that subjects like math and physics are difficult. These subjects are as difficult as reading and writing are to illiterate people. Also, the fact that these subjects are useless if you don’t plan to pursue a career in science is not a valid excuse to not to teach these subjects. The same can be said about almost all subjects taught in school.

    Most children of age eight are capable of enough abstract reasoning to start to learn abstract algebra. So, if we start at that age, most children will be able to master calculus at age ten or eleven. Most of the university level curriculum will have been mastered at age 16 or so (not only for maths, but also for physics, biology, chemistry, literature, history, etc. etc.).

  • lylebot

    Being a graduate student in a field where there are some very wealthy companies very interested in our work (Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft), I can say that while they will happily hire our graduating PhDs and consume our papers, they give us barely any money for any research. There are small grants now and then, and they sponsor fellowships that fund a graduate student, but the amount our lab gets overall from industry is a pittance compared to what we get from DARPA and the NSF. Maybe we don’t get everything we want from the government, but if we were relying on private funding we’d get even less.

  • Amara

    Dear Clifford: While I agree with you, your view is somewhat US-centric. Government jobs in other western countries are likely different than what you describe in their ‘tolerance’ for income gained from other sources. And then there are the extrema: My former Italian government scientific position limited how much money I could earn outside of my position. Since the salaries (mandated by Federal law) were unlivable, you can guess the result: such a policy encourages the government scientists to not declare income from other sources.

  • The Almighty Bob

    #13 Count; yes, but to get that system, you have to assume the educational system (and the government) wants everyone to be near-university educated, when patently they don’t. It’s quite difficult to run an economy consisting entirely of graduates unless some of them are willing to take their degree and clean toilets or sell burgers (enter your own unkind comments about arts degrees here:-) ) without getting dissatisfied with their lot.
    If you’ve read Huxley’s Brave New World, you’ll be able to draw a parallel.

  • Pingback: Seed's Daily Zeitgeist: 1/23/2008 - General Science()


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

See More

Collapse bottom bar