Draining Brains

Your piece about the "brain drain" from NIH (November 14, 1988, page 1) illustrates how silly and ineffective bureaucracies can be in dealing with professional and creative people. My own brain drained from Australia in the mid-1960s because general conditions for academic and scientific work here offer so much more scope and freedom than in Australia; I was not at all dissatisfied with my salary or with our standard of living in general. So with most of the people who have come here in the la

Feb 20, 1989
Henry Bauer

Your piece about the "brain drain" from NIH (November 14, 1988, page 1) illustrates how silly and ineffective bureaucracies can be in dealing with professional and creative people. My own brain drained from Australia in the mid-1960s because general conditions for academic and scientific work here offer so much more scope and freedom than in Australia; I was not at all dissatisfied with my salary or with our standard of living in general. So with most of the people who have come here in the last few decades from many parts of the world.

Within the U.S., too, salary is by no means the most important factor; if it were, then universities would have no good people teaching engineering or computer science or a number of other subjects in which industrial salaries can be twice as high, or more, than academic salaries. Working conditions are crucial, and surely one of the most damaging things to happen at NIH was the firing of the scientist-turned-administrator [Edwin Becker] who had arranged that supplies and equipment could be purchased promptly.

Government and university administrators in particular should recognize that a small amount of money used to make working conditions more appealing can be more effective than many times that amount of money used for salary raises. Of course, salaries must not become too noncompetitive; but scientists do not work for bread alone. Nor, for that matter, do many other people; congressmen, for instance, would surely deny that they are in it for the money - and congressmen have not in fact "drained" to other occupations as their salaries have eroded to inflation since their last increase; why cannot they recognize that this is also true for certain other people, who would gladly swap some extra salary for some of the working conditions that congressmen enjoy in the way of staff, travel, and postage subsidy, and ease of buying needed supplies?

Increase those salaries at NIH by all means, but also employ enlightened administrators and enshrine enlightened regulations if you want creative people to work "for" the government.

HENRY H. BAUER
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Va. 24061