Study Predicting Shortage of Engineers Called Flawed

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A frequently cited study by the National Science Foundation claiming that the nation will experience severe shortages of scientists and engineers until early in the next century was pronounced "seriously flawed'' and misleading last week by a panel of experts.

The shortage--which was expected to have begun in the late 1980's and to have produced a "shortfall'' of 675,000 scientists and engineers by the year 2010--"has never materialized.'' Indeed, the panel said, many fields currently have a surplus of trained workers.

The experts, whose testimony contradicted widely held assumptions about the workforce of the future and the steps that educators at all levels should be taking to meet those needs, presented their findings to the subcommittee on investigations of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

The critics, including representatives of government agencies and members of the scientific community, argued that the study, released in 1987, unwisely used a period of peak supply between 1984 and 1986 as an indicator of future demand.

Representative Howard Wolpe, Democrat of Michigan and the subcommittee's chairman, argued that the agency's miscalculation was driven in part by those who believe that "the demand for technically skilled manpower ought to be greater than it is'' and by the ambitions of the former N.S.F. director, Erich Bloch, for a larger education budget.

Peter House, the N.S.F. employee who did the study, argued that it was intended to depict a hypothetical situation and was never intended to forecast actual supply and demand.

But he conceded under questioning by Mr. Wolpe that he boasted in a book he had co-authored of the widespread acceptance of the study's assumptions in government, academia, and the press.

Walter E. Massey, the current N.S.F. director, agreed that the study's projection "has been used by others well beyond its limited utility.'' The agency has begun a program to improve its research methodologies, he added.

Richard Ellis, director of manpower studies for the American Association of Engineering Societies, testified that many experts "simply presumed ... that [the findings] were without merit.''

But, he added, "I believe that their dissemination did serious damage by misleading the public as to the nature of the serious issues of technological policy faced by the nation.''

Vol. 11, Issue 30, Page 16

Published in Print: April 15, 1992, as Study Predicting Shortage of Engineers Called Flawed
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