Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The most frightening sentence I read today

As an organic chemist, you get steeped in the traditions that started with Wohler, flowered into full bloom under Woodward and Corey and are continued in labs across the world today. On good days, that's what I aspire to. So it is with that in mind that I read this terrifying sentence about our potential futures as chemists:
One of the most painful things about markets is that they often make fools of our fathers: Sharp operators with an eye for trends often outperform those who carefully learn a trade and continue a tradition."
(from a political essay by Jim Manzi, a software CEO and a right-leaning political writer.)

It is difficult to arrive at a more succinct description of my desires as a synthetic organic chemist: to carefully learn a trade and continue a tradition. Let us hope that the markets are kind to all of us.

3 comments:

  1. Define "outperform".

    It's an old (but valid) saw: You'll never get rich working for someone else. So unless you start your own chemical company...

    Metallurgy has been around for what, 10,000 years or so? There are still metallurgy departments at all major universities. Chemistry won't disappear any time soon.

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  2. Speak for yourself, John. I'm an unemployed PhD organic chemist. There are a lot of people like us around.

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  3. After reading the essay, that quote makes a lot more sense. Though John says we still have metallurgists, there may be far fewer needed now than ever. Innovation makes many skills extinct. We make a big deal about outsourcing but most jobs have been lost to outright productivity (see the graph). The important thing about that essay is that we need to learn how to embrace innovation and stop sticking to old models. We also need to stop thinking the government can fix our problems, it just can't, it needs to get out of our way.

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