Monday, November 29, 2010

French Brain Drain

A few days ago, FLG read this article about French academic stars coming to the States. It didn't really surprise him. Today, FLG found a discussion of the topic on He only got halfway through the first opinion before yelling at the screen.

Apparently, Peter Baldwin, "a professor of history at University of California, Los Angeles, and the author, most recently, of “The Narcissism of Minor Differences: How America and Europe Are Alike," isn't familiar with basic logical reasoning.

He writes:
Steady now, let’s resist being overwhelmed by smugness. Brain drains to U.S. universities are nothing new.

Ok, fair enough.

Even the French have been coming for a long time: Michel Foucault was likely infected with AIDS in San Francisco’s bathhouses during his stints at U.C. Berkeley in the 80's. Jacques Derrida, obscurantist philosopher of post-structuralism, pontificated at U.C. Irvine for years before his death, Olivier Zunz has been firmly ensconced at Virginia for decades.

Uh, okay. Perhaps you could've just said that Foucault taught at Berkeley. Not sure the AIDS and bathhouses connection was relevant.

But it goes the other way too. Berkeley has just lost the Nobel prize-winning astrophysicist George Smoot to Paris; my brother, an eminent biochemist, is at Jena; Lorraine Daston, a historian of science, runs an institute in Berlin; Peter Mandler – erstwhile Californian – is at Cambridge. Richard Sennett decamped from even New York to London.

Not sure the numbers cancel out exactly, but point taken.

And within Europe, British universities have long been soaking up all the talented, English-proficient, but domestically unemployable products of German universities. The faculty of the ETH Zurich (Europe’s M.I.T.) is well over half foreign-born, while only 5 percent of Stanford’s is. So let’s not exaggerate the direction of the flows.

This is where FLG lost it. ETH is in, you guessed it, Zurich, which in turn is in Switzerland, a country of, wait for it, 7,623,438 people. Stanford is in a country with 310,232,863. Stanford has a much better chance of creating a world-class university with only domestic professors.

This point is so fucking stupid that it destroyed the entire essay for FLG even though he was inclined to agree with it.

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