It’s not just General Motors

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While this may seem off-topic for PT, it’s an important issue that is directly relevant to science education and research. In the midst of the current severe economic downturn, all segments of our society are feeling knock-on effects. College and university endowments have taken substantial hits. We hear about the big ones: Harvard’s $36 billion endowment taking a 25% (at least) hit, and Yale taking (at least) a similar loss. I say “at least” because a significant proportion of those endowments are invested in illiquid instruments for which pricing is at best chancy and at worst blind guesswork. The “Yale model” of endowment portfolio management has been adopted by a number of institutions, and they have to be in similar trouble.

Smaller private institutions whose operating budgets are more heavily dependent on tuition are also having significant problems. Beloit College has axed 40 positions because of a 36-student enrollment shortfall. My own institution, Kenyon College in Ohio, has suspended construction on several projects and has frozen hiring. More pain is likely to come as donors retrench and parents redirect their childrens’ college choices based more on cost and less on perceived educational advantage. And while public universities have a temporary economic advantage, that will not last as state aid is inevitably cut as a consequence of decreasing tax revenues.

The problems extend beyond that. Nature News reports that the Chicago Field Museum’s endowment has fallen by at least 36%, and it is cutting positions and reducing research support. Its unrestricted operating budget is being cut 15% and early retirement packages are being offered to 68 people, including 15% of its scientists. Neil Shubin’s position as provost has been eliminated. The same is happening elsewhere, I’m sure.

It’s tempting to imagine that with the massive amounts of federal bailout money already poured into financial institutions and the prospect of even more massive amounts being spent in an economic stimulus package under the incoming Obama administration, there will be a return to the good old days of the 1990s and early 2000s sometime in the not-too-far-distant future. I think that’s a fool’s hope. Recent U.S. economic growth has been built on a string of bubbles over the last two decades, the most recent the real estate and mortgage debt bubble, and I do not believe that there is the prospect of another stretch of bubble-based growth in the foreseeable future. If the last two decades are interpreted as “normality,” we will not return to normality for years, if not decades. The good times will not roll again in my lifetime.

As a consequence we need to carefully think through how we will fund both science education and basic scientific research in a considerably straitened economic context. It is not clear to me when we will have once again have the resources that we have had for the last several decades. Nor is it clear how our research and educational institutions will adapt without cutting to the bone. But we need to think about it and talk about it, and scientists and science supporters must be actively and effectively involved in that conversation. We can’t sit back and passively hope for better times.

Oh, and Happy Monkey to all.

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I'd really like to believe Dan Drezner1 Until recently, the standard lament from the "public Ivies" on down had been that the endowment explosion from the elite private schools had opened up an appreciable gap in resources between public and... Read More

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As far as research, the trend of increasing Chinese and Indian nationals doing the work at all levels, PIs, students, and personnel, will accelerate. This is both in the US, and in Asia. Its not just the flatlining of US funding and increased Asian interest, but differences in the income expectations of the people doing the work. But will this change as income in the US flattens overall?

There is change going on, but outside of PIs in the US taking advantage of cheap labor, I don’t see much evidence of anyone taking notice. Change isn’t necessarily bad. Maybe its past time that the advancement of science didn’t depend on the US and Europe. But how do we prepare for this? How many collaborations are going on with Asian labs? How much of a problem is the language barrier going to be? Can politics be kept out of it?

Unfortunately, Ham’s creation museum isn’t being affected.

And Happy Monkey to you too… Happy Monkey every one

I have applied for several permanent academic postions recently (I am a postdoc) and had e-mails back to tell me that hiring has been suspended on them until further notice.

Dear Richard,

These are regrettable, but quite excellent, points. Without being accused of “name dropping”, I would encourage all to purchase Alec Klein’s superb “A Class Apart”, which recounts the Spring 2006 term of New York City’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School (which is both mine and Alec’s alma mater). In the final chapter, Alec proposes some excellent solutions to ensuring academic excellence which would not require massive spending, but rather, taking personal responsibility along the lines of insisting that both teachers and parents take more responsibility towards expecting and enforcing higher educational standards. He predicts that if these were done, then we would see more schools along the lines of Stuyvesant existing throughout the United States (I might also add that these schools would have principals who would echo Stuyvesant’s by insisting that their science classrooms would never teach Intelligent Design nor other forms of creationism.).

Appreciatively yours,

John

How does a 36-student shortfall at Beloit College equate to 40 staff losses? Surely an example of panic. I mean, one of the Big 3 (presumably GM or Kreisler) has to go, but they’ve been in trouble for a long time. Most of US industry isn’t so badly run.

Yep, the creation museum is definitely not being affected by any econimic downturn:

http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/a[…]st%e2%80%9d/

THOUSANDS VISIT CREATION MUSEUM

Over 4000 visited the Creation Museum this past Friday and Saturday! Praise the Lord.

Recent U.S. economic growth has been built on a string of bubbles over the last two decades,

Three decades really. I believe the behavior of the current economy is rooted in Reaganomics. And I’m sure the “Creation” museum will start to feel it eventually…

novparl said:

How does a 36-student shortfall at Beloit College equate to 40 staff losses? Surely an example of panic. I mean, one of the Big 3 (presumably GM or Kreisler) has to go, but they’ve been in trouble for a long time. Most of US industry isn’t so badly run.

Well, I’m sure the near coincidence of these numbers (student shortfall and jobs cut) is accidental. The problem faced by small colleges is a triple-squeeze : endowments are down; the disposable wealth and confidence of potential donors is down; and the savings and home equity of existing and potential customers (i.e., parents) is down. And of course “down” means way, way, down.

Here at Colorado College, we’ve been informed that we must cut $8-12 million from our operating budget, or somewhere in the range of 6-9 %. Half of our budget, roughly, goes to compensation. So one “easy” way would be to axe 200 employees earning an average of $50 k. I’m sure we’ll come up with something slightly less gruesome, but it certainly won’t be pleasant.

I have this theory that part of the problem all along was that inflation has been far to low. I’ve only ever heard one economist come to this conclusion.

Inflation does a number of things that people don’t immediately realise.

(1) It puts up house prices just like every other commodity. In the recent past what we had was low inflation but soaring house prices. In a higher inflation scenario at least wages keep pace with house prices.

(2) It makes loans worthless in real terms. That’s why the banks and large financial institutions try their damnedest to keep the inflation figures as low as possible.

Just as an example, here’s the area where I grew up in and lived for nearly thirty years:

http://www.multimap.com/maps/?qs=bt[…]yCode=GB#map=54.58301,-5.89198|17|4&bd=useful_information&loc=GB:54.58301:-5.89198:16|bt6%209fy|BT6%209FY

My dad bought Pommern Parade in 1967 for £3,000 (a lot of money in those days) and took out a mortgage of £1,800, again a lot of money then (he wasn’t sure if he could afford it). When he sold the house for £54,000 in 1994 there was still £1,200 left on the mortgage. because of high inflation in the 1980’s the mortgage became worthless in real terms. In the 1980’s property in that area was worth just over £30,000. The average salary then was £7-8,000 so the houses were easily affordable, either to first time buyers or people moving up from cheaper property. At the height of the boom last year, houses in the same area were going for £250,000 with the average salary around £23,000. Because of low inflation mortgages weren’t becoming worthless in real terms. banks were lending unrealistic sums of money to borrowers who hadn’t a hope in hell of ever paying them back (it used to be in this country that you could only borrow one and a half times your salary). This kind of situation couldn’t be maintained indefinitely (even the cheapest properties in NI were £200,000 last year, still unaffordable to the average person).

I had been predicting an economic collapse in the housing market for quite some time (no-one believed me) and I reckon it was the surge in oil prices that was the hair that broke the camel’s back. I have my doubts about Gordon Brown’s tactic of slashing interest rates as a solution to the crisis (with banks receiving far less money from savers they might not be able to lend money).

It’s a shame that many big names on the high street here have already gone under (Woolworths MFI etc.). Hopefully museums in the US don’t loose out (I think museums in this country are largely publicly funded) Time will tell I suppose. It would be a shame if Ham’s little venture were the last one standing.

Has the Chicago Field Museum thought of creative ways to raise funds? The American Museum of Natural History in NYC seems to be very good at that. For example, they rent out halls for special events, including kids’ birthday parties. Their special exhibitions exit directly into themed gift shops (in imitation of the Disney parks). Yesterday we tried their new Polar Skating Rink. It uses a synthetic surface (“fake ice”) and takes some getting used to, but it saves money and is part of the museum’s trend to go green and raise money creatively. And I only fell 3x.

The situation may be different here, but every little bit helps. (The whole museum was so crowded yesterday we could barely move, but that made me glad!)

-Karen

That’s why I “affectionately” refer to AMNH now as the Emporium of Natural History:

Karen S. said:

Has the Chicago Field Museum thought of creative ways to raise funds? The American Museum of Natural History in NYC seems to be very good at that. For example, they rent out halls for special events, including kids’ birthday parties. Their special exhibitions exit directly into themed gift shops (in imitation of the Disney parks). Yesterday we tried their new Polar Skating Rink. It uses a synthetic surface (“fake ice”) and takes some getting used to, but it saves money and is part of the museum’s trend to go green and raise money creatively. And I only fell 3x.

The situation may be different here, but every little bit helps. (The whole museum was so crowded yesterday we could barely move, but that made me glad!)

-Karen

At their version of Bloomingdales (the Museum’s two-story gift shop), I saw Division of Paleontology Curator-in-Charge Dr. Mark Norell autograph copies of his latest children’s book on avian dinos a few weekends ago. I almost expected to see an actor dressed up as Barney standing beside him, shaking hands with the kiddies.

John

That’s why I “affectionately” refer to AMNH now as the Emporium of Natural History:

Okay, okay, but the museum is thriving and visitors are learning science. And why not get kids interested in science books with special events?

btw, go see “Horses” before it gallops off in a few days.

Karen S. said:

Has the Chicago Field Museum thought of creative ways to raise funds? The American Museum of Natural History in NYC seems to be very good at that. For example, they rent out halls for special events, including kids’ birthday parties.

[snip]

-Karen

AFAIK the Field has done so for decades. In the early 1990s a Chicago trading firm I was associated with rented the whole Field for its Christmas party.

Dear Karen,

Is the museum really thriving, I wonder:

Karen S. said:

That’s why I “affectionately” refer to AMNH now as the Emporium of Natural History:

Okay, okay, but the museum is thriving and visitors are learning science. And why not get kids interested in science books with special events?

btw, go see “Horses” before it gallops off in a few days.

It was packed on Sunday because of the annual Kwanzaa celebration and I had the chance to see two friends overseeing the event (They work over in the museum’s education department.). However, I am well aware that funding for special public programs like Kwanzaa have been cut drastically over the past decade. And sadly, I know too that scientific research - which is the real reason for the museum’s existence - has been cut since several curatorial positions have disappeared as some of the more senior curators have opted for retirement.

I think it is rather ironic that the American Museum of Museum of Natural History - which was among the major centers of research that led directly to the development of the Modern Synthesis back in the 1930s and 1940s - in other words, contemporary evolutionary theory - is not hosting a “Darwin Day” celebration in honor of Darwin’s birthday.

Sincerely yours,

John

P. S. Have seen “Horses” already and may give it one more gallop before it closes on Sunday.

It is always packed on holidays. Although the dollar is getting stronger there are still thousands of tourists. On school days it is packed with school groups. I, too, thought it strange that there seemed to be nothing planned for Darwin Day. I’ll find out what’s going on.

The Darwin Exhibition has already been there and has moved on to other museums. As I recall, it was held over its originally scheduled closing date because it was so popular. The exhibition’s companion web site is still up.

Sorry that research has been somewhat cut back, but I’m sure there is still plenty going on.

Anyway, does anyone know if the Chicago Field Museum has an image collection? Selling images might bring in some $$$, as other museums have discovered. Also, since they rent space out to other groups they should advertise that fact on their web site.

Hi Karen S.,

Yes most of your observations of yours are true, but after all, it was the Kwanzaa Celebration on Sunday:

Karen S. said:

It is always packed on holidays. Although the dollar is getting stronger there are still thousands of tourists. On school days it is packed with school groups. I, too, thought it strange that there seemed to be nothing planned for Darwin Day. I’ll find out what’s going on.

The Darwin Exhibition has already been there and has moved on to other museums. As I recall, it was held over its originally scheduled closing date because it was so popular. The exhibition’s companion web site is still up.

Sorry that research has been somewhat cut back, but I’m sure there is still plenty going on.

Anyway, does anyone know if the Chicago Field Museum has an image collection? Selling images might bring in some $$$, as other museums have discovered. Also, since they rent space out to other groups they should advertise that fact on their web site.

The Darwin exhibition is currently on display at the British Museum of Natural History; its final tour stop. Its curator was none other than eminent American invertebrate paleobiologist Dr. Niles Eldredge, curator of invertebrate paleontology in the museum’s Division of Paleontology (whom some of you here at PT may recognize as the founding father of Punctuated Equilibrium (along with his friend, the late Stephen Jay Gould of course)).

I haven’t heard from my friends in the museum’s Education department if there will be any events planned for Darwin Day, so I am not optimistic.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Hey John,

I emailed the members department, and there actually is one event for Darwin’s birthday planned, one that I don’t recall seeing in the Rotunda. It is a members’ only free hall tour:

Darwin and Sex
Sunday, February 8 MH020809
3–4:30 pm

Free (Reservations needed)

Celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin ’s birth by considering his second key process in species transformation: sexual selection. Along with natural selection, sexual selection has changed species and created diversity throughout the world. With tour guide Wanda Finch, learn what sexual selection is and why it exists. Call 212-769-5200 to make reservations.

Darwin and Sex! Just think how the fundies will spin that– they’ll claim the museum is sponsoring an orgy!

btw, did you catch your friend Ken Miller on the Darwin Exhibition video? He’s also on a video in the (permanent) Hall of Human Origins.

-Karen

That’s not really enough IMHO, unless they’ve gotten Rick Michod from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, to lead this tour:

Karen S. said:

Hey John,

I emailed the members department, and there actually is one event for Darwin’s birthday planned, one that I don’t recall seeing in the Rotunda. It is a members’ only free hall tour:

Darwin and Sex
Sunday, February 8 MH020809
3–4:30 pm

Free (Reservations needed)

Celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin ’s birth by considering his second key process in species transformation: sexual selection. Along with natural selection, sexual selection has changed species and created diversity throughout the world. With tour guide Wanda Finch, learn what sexual selection is and why it exists. Call 212-769-5200 to make reservations.

Darwin and Sex! Just think how the fundies will spin that– they’ll claim the museum is sponsoring an orgy!

btw, did you catch your friend Ken Miller on the Darwin Exhibition video? He’s also on a video in the (permanent) Hall of Human Origins.

-Karen

As for the Hall of Human Origins video, it is the same as the Darwin’s (using the same clips from all of those interviewed, including Ken). Ken wasn’t aware of the Human Origins exhibit until I told him about it, and I presume he has seen it by now.

Speaking of Ken, if you can visit the University of Pennsylvania on February 12th, he’ll be speaking there at 6 PM. There’s a link here:

http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/eve[…]p?which=1728

It’s part of what promises to be a very good Darwin Day celebration that Penn is organizing surveying the current state of evolutionary biology. Won’t be able to go myself, but of course I have a very good idea as to what he’ll be saying (I am certain Mike Behe won’t be attending it, though I wish he would, if only to see him react to someone asking Ken whether Behe ought to be writing a textbook on Klingon biochemistry. Not only would Ken answer in the affirmative, but he’d probably say that it’s his idea, which he had mentioned to me in private.).

Cheers,

John

John Kwok said:

That’s not really enough IMHO, unless they’ve gotten Rick Michod from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, to lead this tour:

Karen S. said:

Hey John,

I emailed the members department, and there actually is one event for Darwin’s birthday planned, one that I don’t recall seeing in the Rotunda. It is a members’ only free hall tour:

Darwin and Sex
Sunday, February 8 MH020809
3–4:30 pm

Free (Reservations needed)

Celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin ’s birth by considering his second key process in species transformation: sexual selection. Along with natural selection, sexual selection has changed species and created diversity throughout the world. With tour guide Wanda Finch, learn what sexual selection is and why it exists. Call 212-769-5200 to make reservations.

Darwin and Sex! Just think how the fundies will spin that– they’ll claim the museum is sponsoring an orgy!

btw, did you catch your friend Ken Miller on the Darwin Exhibition video? He’s also on a video in the (permanent) Hall of Human Origins.

-Karen

As for the Hall of Human Origins video, it is the same as the Darwin’s (using the same clips from all of those interviewed, including Ken). Ken wasn’t aware of the Human Origins exhibit until I told him about it, and I presume he has seen it by now.

Speaking of Ken, if you can visit the University of Pennsylvania on February 12th, he’ll be speaking there at 6 PM. There’s a link here:

http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/eve[…]p?which=1728

It’s part of what promises to be a very good Darwin Day celebration that Penn is organizing surveying the current state of evolutionary biology. Won’t be able to go myself, but of course I have a very good idea as to what he’ll be saying (I am certain Mike Behe won’t be attending it, though I wish he would, if only to see him react to someone asking Ken whether Behe ought to be writing a textbook on Klingon biochemistry. Not only would Ken answer in the affirmative, but he’d probably say that it’s his idea, which he had mentioned to me in private.).

Cheers,

John

Thanks for the info. Professor Ken Miller is most definitely my hero.

The AMNH just posted another event to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, and I’ll even get to meet Neil Shubin!

Take care,

Karen

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on December 25, 2008 1:09 PM.

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