The North American Free Trade Agreement notwithstanding, when Canada's graduate students learned last summer that their theses were being sold to the public by an American e-tailer, they wanted an immediate embargo. And they got one. Nearly. The students successfully lobbied the National Library of Canada to seek a halt to the practice. It wasn't the library, however, that had arranged with Contentville.com—an online purveyor of written archival information, ranging from dissertations to legal opinions to rare books and magazines—to sell the 200,000 Canadian theses. Contentville got them in a more roundabout manner.

The national library has a longstanding contractual arrangement with UMI Dissertations Publishing to "publish" and sell theses. UMI also contracts with most U.S. graduate schools and offers 1.4 million American theses for sale. And it was UMI that agreed to let the dissertations be sold by Contentville, which was launched in July. Three groups representing Canadian grad students claimed the profitable sale of their academic work, which was funded by Canadian taxpayers, was ill-advised. Although Contentville said it would honor the library's request, as of mid-October the Canadian theses were still available on the site and UMI's lawyers had issued a "cease and desist" order.

David Balatti, director of bibliographic services at the library, says he remains happy with the institution's arrangement with UMI though admits he "was not pleased" that the publisher made the deal with Contentville without notifying the library. Balatti called the step an interim one, because the graduate-student groups realize that preserving and making publicly available academic research is "an invaluable service." And he didn't rule out some new deal that would let Contentville sell Canadian dissertations, subject to author approval. Free trade may still rule, after all.

star power

This year's National Medal of Science and Technology Laureates received their awards from President Clinton in a December 1 ceremony. For more information, see www.asee.org/nstmf.

National Medal of Science Laureates

  • Nancy C. Andreason, University of Iowa
  • John D. Baldeschwieler, California Institute of Technology
  • Gary Becker, University of Chicago
  • Yuan-Cheng B. Fung, University of California at San Diego
  • Ralph F. Hirschmann, University of Pennsylvania
  • Willis E. Lamb, University of Arizona
  • Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Princeton University
  • Peter H. Raven, Washington University
  • John Griggs Thompson, University of Florida
  • Karen K. Uhlenbeck, University of Texas at Austin
  • Gilbert F. White, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Carl R. Woese, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

National Medal of Technology Laureates

  • Douglas C. Englebart, Bootstrap Institute
  • Dean Kamen, DEKA Research & Dev. Corp.
  • Team of: Donald B. Keck and Robert D. Maurer, Corning Inc.,
    and Peter C. Schultz, Heraeus Amersil, Inc.
  • The IBM Corporation
fewer math opportunities

Many minority students in America's grade and high schools face a mathematical conundrum. While they are keener than their nonminority peers to take advance placement (AP) math courses, they actually have fewer opportunities to do so.

A recent Harris Interactive survey conducted for the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering found that 41 percent of fifth- through eighth-grade minority students cite math as their favorite subject, compared with just 30 percent of their nonminority classmates. Among high schoolers, 31 percent of minority students, versus just 17 percent of non-minority students, favor math over other courses. Seventy-three percent of minority students said they would take AP math, but only 44 percent were enrolled in schools offering advanced math. Moreover, the study found that minority students place a higher reliance on teacher influence than do nonminority students.

Yet, the survey concluded, teachers are less likely to encourage minority students to take college-level math. John Brooks Slaughter, NACME president and CEO, says this has led to an achievement gap in mathematics between white, African American, and Mexican American students that can ultimately affect the quality of America's workforce. "We really need policies to ensure that all students have access to higher-level math," Slaughter says. NACME says that teachers should be encouraged to help more minority students take advanced math, and also supports calls for national math standards that would require all schools to offer AP math courses.

gov't scientists go for the green

No one ever got rich working for the government. It's after leaving public service that the big bucks roll in. Just look at the plethora of well-heeled lobbyists and consultants whizzing around Washington, many of whom gained their expertise (or contacts) as government or elected officials.

Now it seems that government scientists are no longer immune, either. Engineers and computer scientists at America's national research laboratories were once often happy to trade smaller paychecks for a chance to do cutting-edge science. Now, however, they are finding the siren call of the high-tech industry's fat salaries and even heftier stock options more alluring.

Government labs have helped spawn many advances, ranging from the Internet to microchips to breakthroughs in genetics, that once helped keep their brain trusts intact. No more. For instance, at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, the attrition rate at one time rarely budged from 4 percent. Now, the rate in its computing groups is 11 percent. The rate within sectors of the Lawrence Livermore lab is 12 percent while 14 of 34 employees—41 percent—in the Advanced Computing Laboratory at Los Alamos have headed for the exits.

There are worries that the exodus could play havoc with federally funded research into technology and science, and thus on national security. "If the attrition continues to escalate, at some point you get behind the power curve, no matter what you do," David Pehrson, deputy associate director of engineering at Lawrence Livermore told The New York Times. "It's a slow, creeping kind of thing." But some observers think those fears are overstated. "The scientists and engineers who leave are often still involved with the labs," notes John Yophelson, president of the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, a nonpartisan group that's actively supported increased government spending on research and development. "Many of them continue to do collaborative research projects and we are seeing increased partnerships among industry, government, and higher education that promote economic development." Despite that comforting view, perhaps the best the national labs can hope for is an economic slowdown that takes the shine off tech share prices and reins in Silicon Valley's free spenders.

more briefings