Re: I must of missed
The US has a quite anti-intellectual culture and we have the elevation of athletes and things like "Revenge of the Nerds". It's little wonder that only dedicated geeks enter ANY sort of engineering or tech field. It doesn't help that most Engineering programs don't try to retain people but try to actively discourage them.
The seemingly anti-intellectual culture in the U.S. is something that I actually think about quite often, especially since it didn't always seem to be that way. I almost wonder if the resentment held towards science and technology by many Americans today has to do with our society's failure to reach the lofty goals that we had set for ourselves back in the 1960's. For example, in 1967, Time magazine declared the entire generation of people that were "twenty-five and under" their "Person of the Year," and wrote the following about them:
“He is the man who will land on the moon, cure cancer and the common cold, lay out blight-proof, smog-free cities, enrich the underdeveloped world, and, no doubt, write finis to poverty and war.”
Let's see how much of that we have accomplished since then:
Land on the Moon: Yes! However we haven't had a manned spaceflight to the moon since 1972. Bummer.
Cure Cancer: We have much better treatments for cancer than we did in the 1960's, with many of them extremely successful, but by saying "cure" in the article I think that Time was looking for something much better than that, such as a fool-proof prevention of all cancers. Unfortunately, we have not found anything close to that yet.
Cure the common cold: No
Lay out blight-proof, smog-free cities: No
Enrich the underdeveloped world: We could have done a whole lot more than we did
Write finis to poverty and war: Not even close
I mean think about it-- in the 1960's everyone was talking about how wonderful the "Space Age" was going to be, with mile-high cities made of gleaming steel and glass, jetpacks that you could fly yourself to work with, supersonic airliners that could fly us across the Atlantic in less than 3-hours, pills that would allow you to not have to sleep, doubling your productivity, a supply of nuclear power that would be so inexpensive that electricity would become a basic human right, robot servants, giant laboratories were scientists could permanently live on the bottom of the ocean, or in orbit, or on the moon... I mean people really believed that we could achieve that sort of stuff back then, and that science would eventually make almost anything possible.
It was that hope that inspired young people to join the scientific and technical fields during those days. Back then everyone wanted to be an Astronaut, a rocket scientist, a biologist working on cracking interspecies communication with dolphins, or a researcher looking for the next disease-eradicating miracle pill. Everyone wanted to be the next "Johnny Quest," and use super-science to save the world. But when it turned out that achieving those lofty goals wouldn't be so easy, and that to reach them it would take more hard work, funding, and time than anyone had ever imagined. I think that somewhere along the lines as a culture everyone started to become disillusioned. People began to stop viewing science as our great savior and the scientists as the great heroes who were going to bring those technological miracles into being. Pretty soon people stopped doing things for the good of mankind and started doing things only based on how much money they could make doing it. Businessmen and politicians starting looking for short-term research projects that could lead directly to a quick financial return, often neglecting the fact that sometimes scientific research done for research's sake can eventually lead indirectly towards greater more important discoveries. Think for example how NASA's support for the then fledgling semiconductor industry in the 1960's helped indirectly lead to the "Information Age" of the 1990's. Could solid-state computers have evolved to where they are now without the Apollo program's help? Sure, but it would have taken a lot longer if the research and funding required only became available through market forces.
Nowadays there is no need to want to be an Astronaut anymore because there is no manned space program. The pharmaceutical industry, whether fairly or not, is now viewed by most people as valuing their financial bottom line more highly than trying to rid humanity of plagues and disease. Our great supersonic airliners ceased their operations in 1983 (the Tu-144) and 2003 (the Concorde), respectively. Our great advances in Information Technology are now being used against us by corporations to profile every detail of our lives and deliver targeted advertising to us. And worse of all, we actually live in a world where we have to tell our children how we used to be able to send people to the moon and how we used to have airliners that traveled faster than sound. And those few young people out there who still want to get a degree in a scientific or technical field often find that the great research and achievements that their universities are responsible for are overshadowed by how good their varsity football and basketball teams are. Even when these students graduate their futures aren't certain-- with the short-term "how will this boost our next fiscal quarter results" kind of thinking that corporations and shareholders have today, many companies have moved much of their R&D to labs overseas where PhD's can be hired for cheaper, leaving the brilliant young technical minds here to get a job where they are treated like cattle in a cubicle farm at best, or left only being able to get a job at Wal*Mart or McDonalds (or no job at all) at worst. And all the while our politicians wonder why our students' math and science scores are slipping and people care more about becoming "famous for being famous" than actually achieving something that has any social worth.
To sum up my thoughts, I think that this is in many ways a top-down problem. I believe that more of our youth (including young women) would get excited about science and technology if there was something huge going on to get excited about. The U.S. Space program inspired a massive increased interest across all of the sciences during the 1960's-- there must be something along those lines, or perhaps several things, that either government or private enterprise could use to inspire the youth of today in much the same way. I think that if young people are given a compelling reason to "shoot for the stars" in math and science that they will put in the extra effort to do so on their own, and those drooping math and science scores would fix themselves.