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There is also the push by Post-Enlightenment Progressives (“the woke”) to subordinate science (allegedly patriarchal, heteronormative, colonialist …) to diversity-inclusion-equity activism. How much the humanities (including the training of university administrators) are now compatible with a healthy science culture is an open question.

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That's a wild reply to a postletter about how US science still stands tall above even Chinese science, and basically just needs more money.

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Culture warriors are so tedious. We try to have a conversation about quantum computing and Lorenzo replies with a string of nonsensical anti-woke buzzwords.

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As your comments have been nothing but culture war points, right down to the sneers and imputing to me motives I do not have, you are an excellent example of the principle of those who most complain about folk allegedly prosecuting culture war are avid prosecutors of it themselves. https://thecritic.co.uk/We-are-all-culture-warriors/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

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founding
Aug 21, 2022·edited Aug 21, 2022

This impacts science and engineering research how? I don't see how articles in Feminist Studies. which has been around since the 70s, impacts scientific research. I don't see any change in the quality or substance of research in Science and Nature. As Noah said, we are steadily spending more on R&D and I don't see NSF. DoD, Universities, non-profits, tech companies or anyone else reducing or even redirecting spending and efforts on science research due to "wokeness." What do you see and how great of an impact on science and engineering is it? Try to quantify your answer if you can.

What I have seen is politicization of science by the Republican Party, who is attempting to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming. Add to that the increasing efforts by conservatives to ban the teaching of evolution in schools, ban books teaching controversial ideas and a new anti-gay movement and you have a serious anti-science and anti-intellectualism that threatens academic freedom.

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Perhaps from the push to appoint for characteristics rather than capacity; the time wasting on Diversity-Inclusion-Equity courses, trainings and events; the language and ideas policing; the destruction of due process (look up the case of David Sabatini). But if you want a case study, try

https://retractionwatch.com/2018/09/17/what-really-happened-when-two-mathematicians-tried-to-publish-a-paper-on-gender-differences-the-tale-of-the-emails/ No one is likely to publicly say we hated the paper for ideological reasons, but there is plenty of hostility to any suggestion of innate differences between the sexes. As James Damore famously discovered.

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founding

Having worked at many tech companies, I would estimate that the effort spend on DEI is less than one percent and mostly the efforts of people who wouldn’t be writing code anyway. James was a mediocre programmer at best.

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One outgrowth of those feminist studies has been to let us make better use of women in STEM. There is progress. Technology Review had an article on a device that turns glucose in the blood into an electric current. The origin story: An MIT professor was waiting to get a routine glucose test to see if she had gestational diabetes. She was "one bored electrochemist", and this is what she came up with. Maybe this kind of thing will put paid to those old jokes that assumed doctors were all men and nurses were all women.

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Actually, that was mainly a result of the Pill and legal abortion. Once women had unilateral control of their fertility, they could invest in higher education much more confidently. And yes, one can point to instances where science not being a boy’s club has had definite positive outcomes. But let’s not oversell how much activism has had to do with this. Especially when it starts pushing to advantage particular characteristics.

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You’re right. My girlfriend whom I met at MIT 50 years ago lived in McCormick Hall. Catherine Dexter McCormick, the spice heiress, funded the birth control pill. After the pill was approved, she funded a women’s dorm at MIT. Years later we went to a talk by Bill Baird, not the puppet guy, and learned about the fight for birth control. He called its opponents thugs. He was right.

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founding

I don’t know how you can’t separate the feminist movement from women’s fight for control of their reproductivity. They have been part of the same struggle since at the beginning and remain so today.

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The women’s movement has existed since the C19th. The consequences of female control over their own fertility can clearly be seen in the vast changes since said control was achieved. Moreover, the consequences operate in countries with no significant feminist movement. So, easy to separate. Even easier as feminism acquires more and more baggage many women are not willing to sign up for. (The biggest poll on the subject in the UK found only 9% of women identified as feminist.) https://survation.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Fawcett-Tables-F-s5611.pdf

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Birth control is still associated with the rising status of women in their societies even if they don't have a feminist movement per se. The fruits of a political struggle often spread for reasons unrelated to the original struggle. India has a democratic political system even though it never went through a civil war establishing it as in England.

Feminists have been given horrible press. If you look at what they believe and what they do, saying they are not feminist is like them claiming not to be carbon based life forms. Look at all those protesters fighting against socialism, something else that has been given bad press, and against cuts to Medicare.

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I know these people exist on twitter but they have no power. The anti-science right includes lots of Republican members of Congress. The anti-science left is a few obscure academics and some annoying social media users. They are not at all equivalent.

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In a highly polarised society, where demonisation is rampant, if something works for one side, the other is likely to start using it.

https://banished.substack.com/p/cancel-culture?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

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You whined about a bunch of buzz words "patriarchal, heteronormative, colonialist …) to diversity-inclusion-equity" when you are really just angry about rules against sexual harassment. That's not specifically a left wing thing or a recent thing. Republicans went after Bill Clinton for sexual harassment in the 1990s.

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Actually, the issue is due process.

Europe’s technological break-out was based on prestige from discovery not being constrained by a conformist propriety. (See Will Storr’s ‘The Status Game’ for an excellent discussion of this.) We are seeing a zealous, censoring propriety seeking to trump prestige from discovery. As we are very status conscious beings, this matters.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/14/rosetta-comet-dr-matt-taylor-apology-sexist-shirt

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One point you make is the importance of a rational immigration policy. The manpower supporting a 60+ year epoch of US scientific supremacy originated with refugees from WW II and has been maintained with a steady flow of high-skill immigrants. The two most important sources of scientific immigration to the US are now India and China. Current US visa policies are bonkers and urgently need to be revised.

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

The wake up call was 5G and Huwai. I think that for the first time in the history of telecoms, the US was not in the lead.

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I really can't see how 5G is better than Wi-Fi, or even existing 4G LTE, in any way. At least in China where 5G is already rolled out, it doesn't seem to be as revolutionizing as the introduction of 4G, which gave birth to Tiktok.

On the other hand Starlinks solves the real problem of internet connectivity in remote areas, and is a commercially viable business model.

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The main benefits of 5G over 4G/LTE are lower latency (the minimum time for a device sending a request to get a response back) at 5 msec vs 60 msec for 4g as well as higher maximum speeds (depending on which frequency bands are used) and a much higher limit to the number of connections to multiple devices. Starlink is fast, but has longer latency (average over 40 msec) and is much less mobile, can handle fewer devices in a given area and requires much more expensive and bulky hardware. If you’re just watching TikTok videos all work equally well. If you live out in the boondocks and can’t get wired internet for your house then Starlink is best. If you want to support lots of devices in one location without loosing performance (soil sensors spread over farm fields, IoT devices in apartment buildings or crowded stadiums, highly populated urban areas or a cloud of attack drones swarming through a forest) then Starlink won’t work at all and you will do much better with 5g than 4g.

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Starlink sounds a lot better than geosynchronous satellite internet, but the user reports aren't promising. Maybe when the satellite count gets a lot higher, then the bottleneck will be ground stations.

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

This is sobering reading, Noah.

Given your use of the present continuous in the title of your article, I'd (reluctantly, to be sure) probably answer "yes" (ie, we're in the PROCESS of falling behind). But I agree it's doubtful the US (or the West writ large) has fallen behind yet.

That said, I think there's a fair chance the folks who run that country will yet eff things up...

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Wokeness is destroying STEM in our universities. I completely agree, more gov research spending, better aim with our money, less identity politics.

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No, the chemistry department's Women In Science Coffee Hour is not destroying the department.

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Only white Christian men are allowed to play the identity card, and only for certain Christian denominations.

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Our overall failure to do this, and the other things needed to maintain technological leadership is so depressing.

This should be priority number #1 for American politicians. Maintaining scientific and industrial hegemony is a goal that basically every politician can get behind.

And yet instead of boosting research investment, pursuing deregulation needed for technological deployment (NEPA renewable reviews, nuclear, etc) , and focusing on attracting and retaining immigrant talent, most politicians and commenters talk about how Chinese innovation isn't "real", how the Chinese system isn't going to make it past [insert obstacle], and whine and worry about immigrants stealing jobs.

Just a total waste of potential for the dumbest possible reasons.

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Aug 21, 2022·edited Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It's Elisabeth "Bik" not "Bilk"

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author

Thanks, fixed!

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Great, keep it up with the great content!

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

The pandemic showed us that we need to become more self-sufficient. The new CHIPS bill is definitely a step in the right direction. The baby formula shortage was/is a perfect example of what can happen in a monopolized manufacturing system. And the tariffs on formula, and the USMCA restriction exacerbated the situation even more. I'm not totally against tariffs, but I am against stupid tariffs.

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Aug 21, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

The wake up call! I hope among your subscribers are people with influence over federal appropriations & immigration reform! While some might dispute your conclusions, if you’re right, the US will suffer (and also the free world).

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Education in America has been strangled by political infighting and corruption. The dumbing down of Americans has been going on for a few decades and the results are becoming more obvious day by day. The most brilliant students I’ve encountered are from Finland and China. In the 90’s, I heard two 10 year old boys in Hong Kong intelligently discussing the stock market. America is strangling its future by denying everyone the right to a decent education. Not to mention the dangers of being a teacher there.

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Massachusetts was generally doing better than Finland in standardized international tests. Maybe we should adopt their model.

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Aug 22, 2022·edited Aug 22, 2022

The first paper in the first section on quantum computing ("Solving the sampling problem of the Sycamore quantum supremacy circuits") doesn't say what you think it does. The researchers showed they could outperform Google's quantum computer using a *classical* supercomputer.

More generally, while some research groups in China have made good progress in quantum technology, it's not correct to imply that any of their results have "blown away" what US-based groups have achieved. It also misconstrues the way in which quantum technology scales. By their very nature, the performance of quantum computers scales exponentially in the number of qubits, so adding a few qubits (modest technological progress) can make things look a lot more impressive. I would also add there is a much richer ecosystem around quantum computing and quantum technology more broadly in the North America and Europe than in China. While not so apparent in simple comparisons about "who is winning the race" now, this will be critical in scaling up and applying the technology (overcoming errors using error correction, for example) over the longer term.

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Agreed. I don't work in quantum computing, but in "deep tech" investing which doesn't usually include quantum computing, but sometimes does.

I was actually going to comment on this exact point, and glad you mentioned it.

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founding

During the period of 2000-2017, the United States grew our R&D spending by 4.3% a year while China grew 17% in the same period. Spending trillions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of productive uses really gave China the chance to catch up, in this and many other areas.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00084-7

The graph is particularly instructive.

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yes on the DARPA model which is already being applied more broadly (ARPA-e, ARPA-H) but far too complacent about the value of the National Labs. There remains a Bell Labs shaped hole in the U.S. R&D ecosystem, and FFRDCs are no substitute. Nor are research universities and their ally the NSF. Incremental, disciplinary-based basic science research is indispensable, but in isolation yields breakthroughs only slowly. We need new institutional designs and new funding models.

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Places like Bell Labs, Watson Research and Xerox PARC were funded as a response to fear of antitrust enforcement. AT&T, IBM and Xerox argued that letting them retain most of their monopoly profits let them fund amazing research. It would be great if we could get serious about antitrust enforcement again, but I doubt we'd see great corporate research labs again since they wouldn't necessarily benefit the shareholders.

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Folks should be very skeptical of Quantum Communication claims of relevant applications. Realistic versions of this system are actually just doing cryptographic key distribution (as the linked article mentions), which is largely a solved problem for military applications without needing any fancy Quantum hardware (you physically exchange symmetric keys, and maintain physical security of the device, like you have to anyway).

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Maybe not a topic for polite conversation but we ought to also be discussing defection.

i.e. how to attract top Chinese researchers to the West, make them want to come & stay and, especially, refuse to participate to the military build-up of this new China.

And, sure, if we make this a concerted effort, we'll have to deal with a few provocateurs or spies but the more difficult part, I suspect, would be to get researchers in China agreeing with us that they are working for the new Evil Empire and that is not a good thing.

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You want to attract people from China whilst telling them that their kind basically sucks. Good luck with that.

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right. because no German could ever be convinced that the Nazis suck...

nb: that's me dignifying your comment with a response but, honestly, it pissed me off. I never said anything about "kind". I said "China", meaning the government, the state, not the people. People are the same everywhere.

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Aug 22, 2022·edited Aug 22, 2022

> I said "China", meaning the government, the state, not the people.

The problem is that when you say this they don’t believe you. Also, Chinese people do believe their government represents their people.

Americans’ rhetorical opposition to their own governments is a kind of oppositional defiant disorder other countries don’t have.

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Despite the first reported cases of COVID-19 coming from China, there were no significant vaccine advances (in fact all the Chinese vaccines have done quite poorly in conferring immunity) or therapeutics. I've not seen any significant new drug and biologic development from China even though there are a significant number of well trained scientists there. The Chinese seem to do well in applied sciences such as engineering yet they still have not built a commercial passenger plane with their own technology.

China has been a low cost manufacturer of a lot of different things but even that is changing as companies are constantly looking to move manufacturing once lower costs areas are found.

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