When the Third International Mathematics and Science Study found last winter that American 12th graders scored below the international average in physics and advanced math, there was a predictable outcry from politicians and pundits. But the finding came as little surprise to those who consistently track education in the United States. For years, blue-ribbon panels have been decrying the low quality of science education in primary and secondary schools and in colleges.

Less well known--and potentially more troublesome--is the low quality of science education on the graduate level, which I recently observed as a doctoral candidate at a research-oriented American medical school. This surprised me because I had been led to believe that superb graduate training was responsible for U.S. predominance in the sciences.

What problems did I observe?

The funding crunch was seriously compromising student-faculty interaction. Professors, far from the absent-minded types of lore, were just absent, glued to...

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