The Secret Weapon of American Science

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator
It’s foreign-born scientists that keep the U.S. winning all those Nobel Prizes. But we can’t rely on their superior education forever.
  • Transcript


Question: Will U.S. science education ever improve?

Michio Kaku: Unfortunately, I'm rather pessimistic about the way we teach science. And some people ask me a simple question. They are visitors from overseas. And they say that, "Wow, America has so many Nobel laureates, but it has one of the worst education programs known to science." This is measurable. Our kids scored dead last of all the other developed nations. And our students ranked actually a little bit below the students of Jordan in science and math tests.

So my friends from overseas ask a simple question. Why doesn't America collapse? I mean, where do all these Nobel laureates come from, and these innovations come from that we see coming from Silicone Valley? Well, America has several secret weapons that most nations have never heard of. First of all, our secret weapon, the weapon that keeps us at the forefront of innovation and scientific progress and high tech, is the H1B. That is our secret weapon that most nations and people have never heard of. The H1B is the genius visa. You are "a genius," a PhD, you have wealth, you're an established figure, zoom you go right into the United States to energize Silicon Valley, which is 50% foreign born. Yes, you see Bill Gates. Yes, you see Steve Jobs out there, but 50% of the **** scientists behind Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are foreign-born. There's a brain drain. A tremendous brain drain into the United States. The top talent comes here. This is where innovation takes place and is rewarded financially.

But there are other reasons why America does catch up. First of all, America does "see the genius in the classroom." The young Bill Gates, the young Steve Jobs, the young Albert Einstein. These people **** because in the East there is an expression, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." In the East there is this Confucian tradition that you're not supposed to make your peers look bad by excelling and trying to achieve something beyond their abilities. However, in the West, we have another saying, and that is, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." So, the innovators, the real imaginative thinkers, they are rewarded in the American system, while in the East they are hammered down. And third, our college system is not so bad. Even though our high school system graduates generations of near-illiterate students, by the time they hit college, then that's when they begin to accelerate. That's when they begin to get up to speed.

But you know, we cannot sustain our scientific establishment this way. We cannot continue to depend on foreign scientists. We cannot continue to depend on the genius that may or may not arise, and we certainly cannot depend on college being a remedial high school.