Of All The Crazed Ideas – Wage Limits On Academic Talent Joining Industry


We have an interesting and useful proof of Feynman’s Contention here, that outside their own specialty scientists are just as dumb as the rest of us. Possibly worse given that their obvious intelligence in one field bleeds through into a belief in their competence in others where they’re ignorant.

Apparently we should have wage controls to make sure that good academics don’t go off and work in industry:

UK government urged to halt academic brain drain to tech firms
Imperial professor calls for tighter regulation on the salaries that tech companies can offer to researchers at Guardian event

Ghastly stupidity.

Maja Pantić told a Guardian event that in emerging fields such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, new materials and bioengineering, tech companies are offering “crazy” salaries which universities cannot compete with. She estimated that 10% of academics in these areas are being lost to the private sector.

“We’re experiencing a brain drain from our universities. A lot of people from Imperial, Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and so on are going into these companies, and we’re left without the next generation of educators,” she said. “That’s really a problem, because then you don’t have knowledge in public domain.”

Pantić suggested that the UK should look to countries such as Finland and the Netherlands, which have introduced salary caps based on education and experience. While these countries have lost tech talent to competitor nations, their experience underscores the need for regulation. “Shall we say to these companies you can only take so many of these people from higher education? I don’t know. But this is really something for the government to think about,” she said.

Well, yes, there’s part of the problem right there. If this country decides to limit salaries then that talent will go to other countries where the pay for talent isn’t limited. This does not benefit this country. There’s also that little problem of competence to consider. Given the excellence with which government dealt with the Windrush problem we do generally conclude that they shouldn’t have anything at all to do with anything in detail. Setting the wages for AI researchers is something of a matter for detail, no?

But now think of the grander point here. What’s the standard complaint about the British economy? That we’re good at the research, at the intelligent research bit, and lousy at implementing that in industry. We invent stuff and other people go make it, use it. Because, umm, something, possibly the historic sneering about trade. What’s the solution to this? More moving of knowledge – possibly even experts – from academe into industry. And yet here we’ve an insistence that we’ve got to have wage controls to stop this?

Feynman was right, wasn’t he?