Friday, October 21, 2005

Yay for Chinese PhDs

I am getting extremely tired of reading the following little prediction. "By 2010, China will produce more science and engineering doctoral graduates than we will." I've read this and paraphrases thereof many times; this is merely the straw that broke the camel's back. The prediction is always accompanied by handwringing about how the United States is losing its leadership role in science and how we're on the wrong path in various other ways, making it all too easy for the China juggernaught to surpass us. Yet, all things being equal, the ratio of Chinese to Americans among new doctoral graduates in any given field should be 4.4, simply because for every American, there are 4.4 Chinese. But things are so unequal that folks are losing sleep at night at the prospect of the ratio exceeding 1.

We should be rejoicing that there are so many Chinese scientists. The entire world, including us, can benefit from their published research. (And the better stuff is published in English.) Similarly, we can enhance our productivity using the new and/or better widgets designed by Chinese engineers. If we're really clever, we'll modify our immigration policy to encourage more of these well-educated Chinese to work in America. Also, as Chinese intellectual output increases, it seems likely that their intellectual property laws will be better enforced, making it more profitable to license our intellectual property to them.

In short, science and technology have positive externalities. Those who fund R&D subsidize those who don't. Rather than dreading a deluge of Chinese researchers, our attitude should be more like, "you Chinese have freeloaded off of our research for too long already; hurry up and pull your own weight."


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