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NSF shortage study called 'bad science.' (National Science Foundation) (Brief Article)

A 1987 National Science Foundation (NSF) report forecasting a "shortfall" of 692,000 scientists and engineers in the United States by 2010 is unfounded and untrue, scientists told a congressional subcommittee hearing April 8 in Washington, D.C.

Although NSF never published the report, it was widely circulated throughout the organization in draft form. Furthermore, former NSF director Erich Bloch cited the study in numerous speeches, said Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), chairman of the investigations and oversight subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Bloch's reference caught the attention of both the media and policymakers, who began to cite the study in arguments on education, immigration and employment policy, Wolpe said.

Report author Peter House testified that his predictions were purely hypothetical and intended solely to indicate the number of future graduates with science and engineering majors. The study did not consider demand for those degree holders, conceded House, who serves as deputy director of NSF's office of planning and assessment. "We did not do a market analysis that related to jobs," he said.

"I am absolutely stunned," Wolpe responded. The study was intentionally misleading, Wolpe asserted, and has been used as leverage for NSF budget requests. The chairman criticized House for ignoring scientists' warnings that the study was flawed and for failing to inform anyone that the data were being misused.

Several scientists brought in to testify to the study's validity pointed out its inaccuracies. "The public has been exposed to very bad numbers," said Rustum Roy, a materials scientist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Rather than facing a shortage, Roy said, "We probably need a few less [scientists and engineers]." He called the study "bad science."

"If we produced more engineers, there would be no work for them to do," said Richard A. Ellis, director of manpower studies at the American Association of Engineering Societies in Washington, D.C. Both he and Roy noted that if a U.S. shortage ever did materialize, large numbers of scientists and engineers from other parts of the world would be waiting to fill the vacancies.

Wolpe blamed an inadequate review process for failing to squelch the draft report before it was circulated. Walter E. Massey, who became NSF director after the study was completed, told the subcommittee he plans to install stricter review procedures to prevent such mishaps. "I am always willing to learn from past mistakes, either mine or others'," he said.
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Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 2, 1992
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