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Science Majors: Enough, But Not Enough

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that despite conventional wisdom, there is no job market shortage for science and technology graduates.

At Campus Progress, I wrote that despite the lack of excess demand, we would still benefit from more science. It’s a classic market failure:

There’s an important distinction to be made between the market’s demand for science and our society’s interest in investing in it. Just because private companies aren’t hiring STEM grads doesn’t mean we couldn’t use more of them.

“Market failure,” is the term economists use to identify areas “where the free market won’t necessarily produce the optimal outcome,” Daniel Keuhn, one of the authors of the EPI report, said.

Often market failures result in too much of something. Pollution, for instance: If the government didn’t regulate it, the free market would produce way more than we want. For scientific research, though, it’s the reverse.

“If we left the market alone, we’d probably be producing less science than would be optimal,” Keuhn told Campus Progress.

For the reasons why, read the rest.

How We Connect

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Forgive the poor photo quality. I took it with my phone on a moving Metro train. Caption reads: “Cable. It’s more than TV. It’s how we connect.”

A bit scary, no? The ad is more than a bit hyperbolic, but there’s a grain of truth here. It’s empirically true that less human interaction these days is face-to-face; more and more is digital. For a thoughtful stab at the trouble with this trend, see Sherry Turkle in the New York Times.

Lunch… In a Cup!

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In Pixar’s WALL-E, future humans live a lifestyle so technologically advanced that they rely on machines for even the simplest of life’s tasks. That’s what I thought of when I read that a third of smartphone users are online before they are out of bed. Look at that picture; I know we still do our own walking, but the resemblance is eerie.

Tony Dokoupil’s recent Newsweek piece argues that constant connectivity—emails, social media, smartphones, texts—can provoke loneliness, depression, and even psychosis. The article is sprawling and often anecdotal in its evidence, but it has a wealth of thought-provoking nuggets about the way the internet impacts our brains and our mental health. Some food for thought:

  • “We are all cyborgs now.” We aren’t just tool-users anymore. Technology is such an innate part of us (think of what would happen if you lost access to all of your online accounts at the same time) that we are now animal-machine hybrids.
  • “Most young corporate employees […] keep their BlackBerrys in the bedroom within arms’ reach.”
  • Compulsive internet users display the same addicted behaviors as substance abusers. Like a gambling addict watched a card flip, “we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine” at the arrival of each text, facebook notification, retweet, and the potential rewards they carry.
  • Brain imaging shows that heavy internet users have a substantially modified prefrontal cortex, and changes in chemistry that mirror those of drug addicts.

Photo from mergy.org. I don’t know if they reproduced it with permission or not.