Letters from the November 17, 2007, issue of Science News

Unequal opportunity

“The Wealth of Nations” (SN: 9/1/07, p. 138) describes the difficulty of moving from exporting one product to exporting another in terms of a “distance” between various products. I would imagine, however, that a nation that already manufactures computers, for example, could easily move into calculators, but that the reverse might not be true. Did the researchers consider the directionality of their links?

Jesse Ziser
Austin, Texas

Cesar Hidalgo of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana says that although the model described in the story didn’t have directional links, he and his colleagues are working on a version that would include this possibility.—D. Castelvecchi

The Sputnik effect: then …

In Rio Linda, Calif., on Oct. 4, 1957, my seventh grade classmates and I (the front edge of the baby boom) were busily clipping news accounts of Sputnik for our daily current-events assignment (“Sputnik + 50,” SN: 10/6/07, p. 216). Less than a year later, we became the first eighth grade class in the school’s history to enroll in Algebra I. Our personal race with the chess-playing Soviet students had begun.

Mary Lou Mongan
Sausalito, Calif.

… and now

The budding scientists and engineers of the sixties who were the recipients of the Sputnik-inspired money “poured into math and science education” are now aging baby boomers. We are in a catch-up situation all over again. There is a frightening lack of young professors of science and engineering. Fully half or more of our graduate students in science and engineering are foreign nationals, who heretofore have remained in this country. However, globalization and the wealth of opportunities in their home countries have meant that even these bright technologists are leaving, creating a more intense vacuum in technological higher education. Without new investment similar in urgency and magnitude to that of the late fifties, the United States will fall further behind in one of the few assets keeping our nation and economy vibrant: an edge in technology and innovation.

David M. Hirsch
Providence, R.I.

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