Chad’s response to this week’s Ask a Science Blogger pointed to two issues which I think need some clarification.
First, that brain drain might be good for the species in that it distributes the “wealth” of human capital around. This is not a trivial or baseless argument, but, The World Bank has done a study, and it is important to note that the impact of the “brain drain” on “donor” nations differs as a function of size. In other words, nations like China and India lose a relatively small percentage of their intellectual capital, while nations like Guyana lose a lot. So the key is whether it is a bad thing that the Guyanas of the world lose their educated classes. One could assume that for the Guyanas it is plainly obvious this is a bad thing, but that assumes that staying home is economically productive, the reality is that remittances might be far greater a contribution to national wealth than would be possible otherwise. This is not to dismiss or deny possible intangibles of having a diverse society in regards to class and education, but it is to frame the issue in terms of the nuance and realities of the real world today. One could make the argument that the prosperity and stability accrued to large developed countries is more important to small war-torn or poor ones than anything else because of the importance to aid and outside intervention in these cases.
Second, Chad like many others points to the issue of foreign scientists allowing us (Americans) to be complacent about nourishing home grown talent. I don’t totally dismiss this, there are probably many doctors and lawyers out there who could be scientists if the incentives were right (Ph.D. scientists are one of the least compensated groups in relation to how much education they have). But, I would frankly rather focus on tightening labor supply on the low end of the socioeconomic ladder so that blue-collar workers could attain a high standard of living as opposed to padding the security of the middle class (yes, scientists and post-docs are underpaid, but they get benefits and work in a field that they are passionate about). In other words, I think a prudent national policy would focus on stocking up on intellectual capital and making sure that the least amongst us can achieve a modicum of comfort and security. Of course, this is all Americo-centric, but I don’t see that as a sin.