China Ramps Up Spending to Keep Scientists Home

Tired of watching the United States and other countries woo its best scientists away, China is increasingly fighting to keep them, The New York Times reports. The newspaper focuses on the recent luring of Shi Yigong, a Princeton University biologist who turned down a big grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to return to become a dean at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

When will people start believing?

Read this in the New York Times article:

Determined to reverse the drain of top talent that accompanied its opening to the outside world over the past three decades, they are using their now ample financial resources — and a dollop of national pride — to entice scientists and scholars home.

(The whole article is good and interesting, and it shows a broader picture of the cultural and economic context in which this recruiting is occurring. You should read it.)

China is an example of a country that is actively building its innovation infrastructure so it can directly compete with the United States. As the article says, nobody can expect to see such efforts make an immediate and dramatic impact on competition with the United States, but I think it’s fair to say that everybody can expect to see long-term and dramatic impact if Americans don’t do something about this.

I’m not talking about laws or economic counter-measures. I’m talking about culture and attitude. If China is, as Ms. LaFraniere writes, using national pride to motivate this building of scientific infrastructure, can’t we be doing the same? Shouldn’t we turn to a holistic and humanistic ‘scientific literacy’ as the New Patriotism?