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No-USSR Taught Scientific Diversity

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Posted by Richard Ruquist on January 3, 2002 15:32:52 UTC

However, Einstein who was trained in relativity having invented it was adverse to quantum mechanics. So one of your premises may be correct.

BTW, in high powered lasers, the only technology that I am intimately familiar with, the USSR engineering was much better than ours. I think the reason is that once they started doing something they never stopped; whereas in the USA, funding was off and on, over and over. So engineering teams had to be constantly reassembled. One company I worked for, which had developed the highest powered lasers in the world in the 1960s, no longer exists. The US just gave up on all that research and technology. In fact, more than half the companies I ever worked for no longer exist even though at the time they were the best in the world- like ITEK who built the KECK telescope.

Sometimes that was however detrimental to the USSR- for example, the use of high powered lasers to clear holes in clouds. In the USA, Shelley Glickler invented the field with an elegant paper. But about 4 US papers later it was found that that approach to cloud clearing could not work. However, in the USSR that research continued for years producing over 200 theory and experiment papers, even though their results were always negative. Laser propagation was always worse after the clouds were burned away because of induced turbulence.

I once asked the head of that USSR program why that research continued in the USSR when the results were always negative; whereas in the USA it was cancelled immediately. He hemmed and hawed for awhile, but finally said that it continued because it was such interesting research. So in the USSR interesting research was allowed, but not in the USA. In the USA research is cancelled if there is not a financial pay-off. Research is supposedly free at universities. But they all work off govt contracts and corp contracts.

The corp contracts are the worse of the two in terms of freedom of research. For example, the oil money at MIT compels the ME dept there to not work on alternative energy sources. That may have changed by now. But back in the 1970s a friend of mine who started alternative energy studies at MIT was driven out of the school by the oil funded faculty.

So there are pros and cons in the both systems for scientific research. If in the former USSR, I certainly would still be doing worthwhile research on lasers now. But all that funding stopped in the USA in 1990. So since then the investment that this country made in my education- for 11 years beyond HS- has been wasted. I got to do good research for only 25 years. But in the former USSR I could have done so for 50 years, and could have stayed in the same field for all that time. Even in my 25 years I had to switch fields three times as entire fields of research were cancelled by the US govt, just as they cancelled high energy experimental research.

Corporate funding is just as fickle in the US. Right now in the Boston area, half the people I know who worked in computers are laid-off. That was never supposed to happen in computers.

So to end with a play on words, it's not diversity in western schools so much as it is adversity.

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