[FoRK] FW: High-Tech in an Anti-Intellectual Culture

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Fri Apr 25 13:35:31 PDT 2008

Via a friend and coworker:

From: HPCwire [mailto:hpcmore at news.hpcwire.com]
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008 8:20 AM
To: Powell, Chris
Subject: High-Tech in an Anti-Intellectual Culture

[ ] M2306529 ) High-Tech in an Anti-Intellectual

  "Over 75 percent of Americans don't know they're alive." I half expect

  to see such a headline someday as yet another example of how poorly
  educated the U.S. citizenry has become. It's not quite that bad yet,
  but research has consistently shown us how uneducated students and
  working adults are in this country. The data reflects not just a lack
  of education, but a lack of commitment to intellectual pursuits.

  Therein lies a problem for the U.S. high-tech industry. Although the
  nation remains the leader in information technology, it has become
  increasingly dependent upon the scientists and engineers in other
  countries to feed its high-tech habit. Recent studies released by the
  Council on Competitiveness (which I cover in this issue) concludes one

  of the three major barriers to greater use of high performance
  computing is lack of human talent and expertise in the U.S. A number
  of other reports, including the landmark Educational Testing Service
  study, "America's Perfect Storm," also point to the disconnect between

  our tech-dependent economy and the lack of math and science education.

  Why should this be so? The hard truth is that, in the U.S., there's a
  cultural contempt for education that underlies our seemingly modern
  society. Its origins can be traced back to the birth of the nation
  when we broke away from our "elite" European forbearers. The modern
  version of this contempt is apparent in our political and religious
  institutions, many of which have become not just anti-science, but
  also, more generally, anti-intellectual.

  Exhibit number one is the Bush regime, with its antipathy towards
  science and its embrace of religious fundamentalism. The federal "No
  Child Left Behind" educational policy is based on rote learning, not
  critical thinking. This approach has been promoted on the right side
  of the political spectrum for a while. Intellectuals are derided as
  "liberals" or "elitists" -- which are synonymous in
  conservative-speak. Essentially, it's the sin of knowledge, where a
  certain level of education or even a progressive attitude towards
  learning is disdained.

  In a Wall Street Journal blog post
  <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120873309012529689.html> this week,
  Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas," explains:

  "It is a stereotype you have heard many times before: Besotted with
  latte-fueled arrogance, the liberal looks down on average people,
  confident that he is a superior being. He scoffs at religion because
  he finds it to be a form of false consciousness. He believes in
  regulation because he thinks he knows better than the
  market...."Elitism" is thus a crime not of society's actual elite, but

  of its intellectuals."

  Fifty-plus years ago, Adlai Stevenson was the prototypical Democratic
  "egghead" who was relentlessly punished for his intellect by his
  political adversaries. During one of his presidential campaigns, a
  supporter assured Stevenson that he was certain to "get the vote of
  every thinking man." Stevenson allegedly replied: "Thank you, but I
  need a majority to win." He lost both his presidential bids, the first

  in 1952, and then in 1956.

  Ironically, it is often Ivy League-educated conservatives who promote
  this elitism meme. More disconcerting though, is that the left is
  beginning to play into this intellectual bigotry. The recent
  Democratic battle for the President is turning into a kind of reality
  show popularity contest for relating to the common folk, where
  drinking whiskey and bowling have become essential campaign
  activities. The conventional wisdom for pols: hide your intellect from

  the citizenry, lest you make them feel inferior.

  That might help explain why the 2008 Science Debate was replaced with
  the Compassion Forum right before the Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

  The Forum was basically a discussion about the religious views of the
  candidates. While I'm up for a good conversation about morals and
  spiritual beliefs as much as the next guy, it was unfortunate that one

  of the moderators felt compelled to ask Senator Obama if he "believed
  the Earth was created in six days." What good is that little nugget of

  information for qualifying the next leader of the Free World? It's
  depressing enough that we aren't allowed to have a presidential
  candidate who doesn't profess his or her belief in a supernatural
  being, but why do we feel the need to embarrass them with unanswerable

  theological questions?

  It would be great if the aforementioned Science Debate was
  rescheduled. (There is talk of it being moved to Oregon for its
  upcoming primary in May.) I'd be interested to hear the candidates'
  views on where science and technology fit into their world view. I'd
  love for some candidate to make a case for putting science and
  education at the front of the discretionary federal budget rather than

  at the rear. It also might be a good venue to suggest to the
  electorate that the pursuit of knowledge is more patriotic than
  wearing a flag pin and more fulfilling than watching America's Next
  Top Model.

  In an op-ed piece
  <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/opinion/22herbert.html?hp> this
  week, Bob Herbert of the New York Times wonders why there is not an
  education discussion in the presidential campaign. At a time when
  globalization is bringing increased competition and U.S. educational
  performance is nose-diving, Herbert laments that "no one seems to have

  the will to engage any of the most serious challenges facing the U.S."

  Summing up, he concludes:

  "While we're effectively standing in place, other nations are catching

  up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement. You have
  to be pretty dopey not to see the implications of that."

  So far, we've managed to delay the worst effects on our economy by
  importing technological talent at a record clip. If you look at the
  personnel roster of any U.S.-based technology firm, you'll quickly
  grasp how thoroughly internationalized these companies have become.
  But if the majority of the natives fail to keep up educationally and
  economically, the whole model will likely collapse.

  Without a fundamental change in the culture, the U.S. science and
  technology community will be relegated to pursuing its agenda as a
  special-interest lobbyist, against the backdrop of a disinterested
  citizenry. This is pretty much the case today. Broad support for a
  technology society, as is the case in much of Eastern Asia, India and
  Europe, will require us to change our attitudes. Political leaders can

  help, but we can't rely on them alone to reshape values. If we expect
  to have our plasma TVs, iPods and cancer drugs, but are not willing to

  participate in their development, we'll end living in the second-class

  nation we deserve.


  As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write
  to me, Michael Feldman, at <mailto:editor at hpcwire.com>.

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