Re: “The Girl Who Loved Journalists” by Eric Alterman (CJR, January/February). I believe the reason we haven’t seen an argument for “the books’ value as illustrations of both the difficulties and the importance of the journalistic profession” is because it’s a pretty weak argument. Blomkvist succeeds via illegal means—through the talents of a gifted hacker named Salander who has a photographic memory and other superhuman intellectual powers. It’s tricky to celebrate these books/movies as great PR for journalism because they are fraught with ethical problems. We shouldn’t hack into the hard drives of suspicious characters. Or their cell phones, as I used to think everyone knew. I don’t think readers/viewers of the Dragon Tattoo franchise walk away with admiration of journalists and journalism so much as they do with adoration of Salander the Superhacker Feminist Vigilante. But, alas, she is pure fantasy.
I almost cried while reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, in which the character Erika Berger, a female editor of a large daily newspaper, confronts her CFO. She reminds him that cutting staff would hurt the newspaper’s capability, therefore reducing its size and advertising revenue. They effectively tell her “not to worry her pretty little head” about it. How many times have we gone through that dance?
What I really took away from the first book was an ethical battle between hackers and journalists. Larsson makes the case that traditional journalists have checks and balances in place. Hackers like Anonymous do not. While his story does demonstrate the necessity of computer espionage regarding crimes against people across international lines, one could take away from the books that that sort of thing has more of a place in law enforcement rather than journalism.
I’m a scientist and technologist, and I find the persistence of the myth that there is or soon will be a shortage of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the US remarkable. The reasons for this persistence deserve some scrutiny, which this article begins to provide (“What Scientist Shortage?” by Beryl Lieff Benderly, CJR, January/February). There’s an aspect of the situation that the article doesn’t mention, but that is probably significant. It isn’t just that many employers of technical personnel are greedy, it’s also that they’re impatient (which, admittedly, may be a manifestation of greed) and a bit stupid. When they bemoan their difficulties finding the people they want, what they’re often bemoaning is really their difficulties finding people who have exactly the experience and skills they think they want, right now. Smart employers (Google, I’m told) recognize that what they really want is smart people who are accustomed to learning whatever they need to know in order to do whatever they need to do.
The low PhD and post-doc salaries in at least some of the STEM fields have little to do with oversupply of workers (of national or international type) and more to do with how much the government is able/willing to spend on science. The salaries are indeed very low for PhD students and post-docs in the STEM fields, and in the medical/biological sciences they are even lower than the engineering PhD/post-docs. But the problem is not a simple supply-and-demand dynamic that can be fixed by reducing the number of international students/workers. The vast majority of PhD/post-doc-level researchers, in the medical/biological sciences at least, are paid by government grants (e.g. NIH), not by private companies and universities. The government institutions providing the grants set limits to how much a PhD or a post-doc can be paid. The university/hospital research labs have very little flexibility on the salary of students and researchers at the PhD and post-doc levels. So unless the government grants and the institutions that provide them raise the ceiling, the salaries won’t change, with or without international students/researchers. For the government to increase the salaries, it needs to increase its spending on science.
Thanks, Mr. Pyle