Obama kicks off massive science education effort!

By Phil Plait | November 23, 2009 10:45 am

I just finished watching a live stream of a speech President Obama gave at the White House, pledging more support for science education in this country.

Woohoo!

[Edited to add: the speech transcript is now online, complete with Mythbusters shout-out.]

Science, technology, engineering, and math — STEM — education has been struggling for years. This new effort, called Educate to Innovate, is "…designed to energize and excite America’s students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

There are several avenues being taken, including partnering with the private sector. For example, Discovery Communications (the umbrella org for Discovery Channel and its sister channels) will be promoting science literacy, including a commercial-free science block of programming on the Science Channel, and STEM support for teachers.

I was particularly excited to hear Obama announce an annual science fair to be held at the White House! As he said, it’s time that people who have made extraordinary achievements in science stand beside athletes and others honored at the White House.

And as if he were channeling my brain, President Obama said this:

"We’re going to show young people how cool science can be."

obama_mythbustersAh, hearing that is like a symphony to my ears. To which I’ll add: damn straight.

Also, I suspect that unlike many political statements, this is no mere lip service. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is involved with this project, and at the press conference were Adam Savage™ and Jamie Hyneman — I know they’ll work hard to make sure this happens.

And it’s up to all of us, too. As I find out more about this I’ll post info here, and see what we all can do to make sure this not only becomes a reality, but persists as a concrete effort that will not sway with the political winds. Our future relies heavily on how well we understand science and technology, and if you read this blog you know full well how people manipulate the public’s misunderstanding of STEM topics for political gain. This must stop, and the best weapon is an educated public.

Picture from Lara Eakin’s Twitter feed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Science

Comments (124)

  1. Great news. I saw Adam tweeting about the event as well. I am glad we are finally doing something about this.

  2. Motley

    I wish I was a friend of Adam. He’s cool as can be, man.

  3. Levi in NY

    I have a feeling President McCain or (shudder) President Palin would never have done anything remotely like this.

  4. Jim

    Partnering with the private sector? Doesn’t Obama know he’s supposed to be a socialist? That’s what all the respectable news organizations like Fox say! ;)

    But seriously, “woohoo” is right. Like MC Hawking says, what we need more of is science.

  5. THIS is why I voted Obama.

  6. Adam’s name is a trademark?

  7. Wayne on the plains

    As one of the more conservative readers of this blog, I’ll say that I agree with the President 100% on this. As with many things that either side says that I agree with, though, the devil is in the details, so I reserve final judgment until we see that this is not just a political gimmick.

  8. Charlie Young

    Political licks aside, this is exactly what this country needs. This should never have become a political talking point, it should always have been a part of our national agenda.

  9. Doug Little

    This is great,

    I can’t wait for the theocrats and teabaggers to self destruct over this one,

  10. I liked the ball throwing/catching robot that the students showed off during the press conference, but knowing that the Mythbusters were there I was wondering how Grant Imahara (with his battlebot experience) might modify that to up it’s power…. And how would they convince Tory to stand in front of it. ;-)

    Seriously, though, it was very cool to hear President Obama talking up science so much. Seemingly simple things, like science fair winners visiting the White House just like NCAA winners do, can go a long way towards getting kids interested in science.

  11. MJ

    Discovery Communications should kick off this new effort by canceling “Ghost Lab.” What a load of bollocks.

  12. Riley

    If Obama doesn’t robustly increase NASA’s budget, all this talk about science education will be just that … talk.

    NASA is one of America’s premiere science and technology assets, and one of the prime generators of knowledge and educational material on the planet. NASA also provides a substantial REASON for people to get an education in the first place. It needs a substantial budgetary increase.

  13. I love this initiative. I hope its first order of business is to require more science experiments that involve blowing stuff up or cutting up ballistics gel dummies.

    Seriously, science ed is hard to make fun because there’s a lot of cool things to do but there’s a lot of dry learning and experimentation as well. The Mythbusters clearly know their science but the show is all about the cool bits, which gives a slanted view of the whole subject. But anything to spark scientific curiosity in young people is a good thing to do. :)

  14. Kaa

    Is it really wise to trust Discovery with “science”? I mean, these are the people who, through TDC and TLC air shows that are the pure antithesis of “science.”

    If kids get used to actually trusting what they see on the networks, won’t that backfire when they talk about bigfoot and alien abduction and psychics and ghost-hunting?

    Color me “dubious.” You’ll find it in your Crayola box next to “skeptical.”

  15. Joe Meils

    The republicans reply: “This is all Obama’s fault! We should be teaching kids how to fear solar eclipses, that man and the Earth are at the center of the universe, and how to detect a witch in your local villiage, instead of wasting time on this “science” nonsense!”

  16. Iain

    Is he going to do anything about actual science education, or just hold a fair for a few students to attend? The Discovery Channel bit is slightly better, but you don’t learn science from watching TV. A real science education improvement program would fund teachers & labs in schools.

  17. Iain, did you read *any* of the links I supplied in the post? They answer your question.

  18. Have you had a look at the new NASA JPL “Be A Martian” site at http://BeAMartian.jpl.nasa.gov which, along with the Pathfinder Challenge, was announced by Vivek Kundra at the Microsoft PDC conference last week.

    This is a great example of a Federal entity working in partnership with the private sector to do something to educate, inform and inspire … it’s filling a gap in my daughters school education and will hopefully continue to grow and inspire her over time

  19. Charlie Young

    You know, there are some Republicans out there who do actually believe in the scientific method and actually go on to careers in, oh, medicine, physics, biology, mathematics, astronomy, and etc. I don’t believe this should be a debate about politics, it should be about improving science and mathematics education in our schools.

  20. Jesso

    I’m SO excited by this. Hooray hooray hooray!

  21. Doug Little

    Hey Charlie,

    If you are one of them then I suggest you try and take your party back. Seems to me that you have been hijacked by the ignorance of the religious right. Fight back man, do everyone a favor. Also, how the hell do you reconcile the anti scientific rhetoric of your party with your choice of career, if indeed you do adhere to the scientific method.

  22. Damon B.

    Speaking of Adam & Jamie, I’m DYING to know what the think of this “Ghost Lab” business. The Discovery Channel should be ashamed of itself.

  23. tim

    Phil, you should mention that scientists, engineers, and educators can sign up to help with National Lab day right here: http://www.nationallabday.org/

    I’m going to – I’ve had all kinds of fun in the past talking to students about being a rocket scientist; working with them on a science project will be even more exciting.

  24. scotth

    Apparently, Rush Limbaugh just said (in his radio show) this is the worst news for the world and the USA EVER. (via Rich Hammett)

    I see that as a very encouraging sign.

  25. You know, if one could make a real career out of it (re: get paid appropriately) I’d be teaching science right now. And loving it. Instead I’m here at NASA working with rockets. And mostly loving it. But I’d still trade it if the pay was even in the same category.

  26. samner

    maybe Adam and Jamie can do an episode of Mythbusters on why GhostLab is fake.

  27. Doug Little

    scotth,

    Yes, let the fun begin. Education is evvvillll, evviilll I tells ya.

  28. Charlie Young

    Doug,

    This will be my last shot here: Why do you think the loudmouth idiots like those at Fox News (an oxymoron, if ever there was one) and Rush Limbaugh represent an entire party view? Most Republicans don’t fall in the narrow cubbyhole that those extremists do. People in all parties actually can think for themselves and express a view contradictory to the blather heard in the press. And I’m out. Now let’s move forward with educating our future.

  29. ben

    I want to see more details before I dismiss this as lip service. We need robotics and computer programming courses as standard as English or History.

  30. The real hero here is Dean Kamen founder of U.S. First. His years of personal commitment to put science up there with sports are paying off.
    For this to work, we’ve got to do what Phil proposes–find ways to keep this momentum building. This can’t be a hit a run like so many “big” roll out projects are.
    I’ve been following this development closely for a few weeks and there are several key players involved, not the least of which is Tim OReilly–is he not-so-secretly running the world between his recent conferences, Gov 2.0, Web 2.0 and his Maker Faire? :) And let’s not forget the Sunlight Foundation.
    Keep it up!

  31. Pastabagel

    I find it a little odd that while the President says “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be,” he never actually found science cool enough to bother studying it himself. Maybe if he explained why he himself was never interested in pursuing science, we might get a better understanding of why so bright students turn away from STEM majors when they get to college.

    If the President really thought science was cool, the economic stimulus money would have been spent on projects that were more science or research intensive, i.e. space, energy, solar, medical research etc.

  32. CR

    Well, this is encouraging in the very fact that it happened. I do hope that it takes off & grows, but like others have said, it’s also up to US to keep the flames lit by letting our representatives in government (and people in the private sector, for that matter) know that we actually WANT science education & funding to continue. Having a big public kick-off is just the first step. (And oh, what a step! It’s about time!)
    ************
    I’m glad to see others taking Discovery to task for airing anti-science fantasy like Ghost Lab. I’ve been wanting to point it out myself, but never seemed to find the correct topic to bring it up; this seems pretty appropriate, though! Man, I hope that shows like that get their own channel for woo, or better yet, cancelled outright. What’s next? Flat Earth Fridays? Geocentrism Month? They could at least show the first Ghostbusters movie and keep us entertained if they’re going to show stuff like this. (Seriously, when I first saw the original ad for Ghost Lab, I though ‘Really? A serious version of Ghostbusters? What’s the fun in that? And why has the Discovery Channel sunk to these depths?’)

  33. Chet Twarog

    Not just NASA, the federal government also funds the National Science Foundation: an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through research programs and education projects.
    We’ll see if there are significant increases it its budget, too!

  34. Yep, I’ll second (er, eighth) the “Cancel Ghost Lab” sentiment. Bunk like that really undermines Discover’s credibility as an educational giant.

  35. Charles Boyer

    I find it a little odd that while the President says “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be

    Me too, especially considering he’s about to tear NASA limb from limb with budget cuts.

    “the agency has been told by the White House to consider cutting its 2011 budget by as much as 10 percent. Based on the agency’s proposed 2009-2010 budget of $18.7 billion, that would equal roughly $1.87 billion.

    That kind of cut would end human spaceflight for at least the next decade — and likely longer — according to a presidential space panel that recommended last month a $3 billion-a-year spending increase” — Orlando Sentinel.

    If that happens, I plan to relocate back to central Florida for the expressed purpose of making my vote for another candidate in 2012 have greater effect. As goes Florida, so goes the presidency.

  36. CR

    Forgot to mention another ghost show. Prior to seeing the ads for Ghost Lab, I noticed ads for a similar show geared toward–and starring–teen-agers on one of the kids’ networks, and lamented that it was being touted as a form of ‘reality’ tv. ‘Why are we showing children who are already too credulous stuff like this?’ I thought. A few days later was when I saw my first GL ad, and had the reaction I told you about in my previous post.

    The best thing about all of this is that my co-workers and I have fun making fun of how stupid these shows are. We’re now trying to lower our scruples enough to make our own scam-based ‘reality’ show and get rich. (Just kidding about lowering our scruples… we’re all still earning an honest living.)

  37. Cheyenne

    9th for “Cancel Ghost Lab”! How on earth do they think that makes any sense at all for their channel?

  38. Quiet Desperation

    And now for the democratic response:

    “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

    I’m sorry, but my Spidey sense tingles when i read/hear stuff like this. You are going to write a check that reality can’t cash. The *results* of science, when photographed or plotted nicely, can be cool. The real thing is hard work. There’s no escaping that. For every Hubble mosaic there’s Mike Rowe doing a science related Dirty Job.

    Engineering is the same. Behind every cool gadget is years of development, arguments, meetings and paper pushing.

    I love the Mythbusters, but they are pretty fast and loose with scientific method. To their credit they redo things if there’s enough outcry, but I hesitate to really call that science. With most science, explosions tend to be a less than desired result. It generally means something went wrong, or, in the case of archaeology it means the Nazis are after Dr. Jones again. :)

    Besides, Stormchasers pwns Mythbusters in every way. ;-) Setting off some C4 (set up by bomb professionals) while cowering behind a wall? Meh. The storm chasers drive *into* tornadoes. On purpose.

    If you like things going boom the show Destroyed In Seconds is a guilty pleasure.

    How It’s Made is also a good show for people interested in engineering. Some of the automated production lines to create everyday items are astonishing.

    Anyway, science is an intellectual pursuit. If a person cannot accept it on that level I don’t think they are going to be very good at it. I really don’t like the whole “let’s make it cool!” approach. I’d be happy just to see this dippy culture begin to accept intellectual pursuits as something *normal* much less “cool”.

    And that’s why I rail against trying to use the words “geek” and “nerd” in positive manner. You can’t use those words and try to teach kids that it’s “cool” at the same time.

    I don’t think a lot of people realize that Discovery split into multiple channels a while ago. There is a Science Channel that has all the hard core science shows.

    What’s with all the fishing shows, though? Deadliest Catch. Lobstermen. That whale one South Park made fun of.

  39. Bill

    >How on earth do they think that makes any sense at all for their channel?

    sigh…it’s not about making sense. It’s about making money.
    Cynical? Me? Why do you ask?

    :)

  40. cyano

    Nice idea for the general public, but if the goal is to get more kids to jump into the STEM workforce, it’s pointless. There’s no shortage of STEM talent, and there’s probably an oversupply thanks to the way NSF and other agencies produce graduate degrees as a by-product of their research funding.

  41. Sili

    “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

    Oh goodie! Then all those young people can help him prove how gays are a danger to the fabric of society.

  42. Adam_Y

    “Besides, Stormchasers pwns Mythbusters in every way. Setting off some C4 (set up by bomb professionals) while cowering behind a wall? Meh. The storm chasers drive *into* tornadoes. On purpose. ”
    Actually, from what I understand its all smoke and mirrors. The real science is goin on using doppler radar and none of this involves driving straight into a tornado.

    ” With most science, explosions tend to be a less than desired result. It generally means something went wrong, or, in the case of archaeology it means the Nazis are after Dr. Jones again. ”

    You obviously aren’t a chemist. In a lot of cases violent reactions is desirable.

  43. Tommy D

    This is great but I hope that it will shows that science is more than blowing up things à la Mythbusters. The scientific method and how it helps us, mere mortals, to understand the world is what is important.

  44. SciGuyJoe

    39 said: “The *results* of science, when photographed or plotted nicely, can be cool. The real thing is hard work. There’s no escaping that. For every Hubble mosaic there’s Mike Rowe doing a science related Dirty Job.”

    I don’t think anyone would disagree that the “real thing” is hard work–but to get kids hooked, what side of science should we show? In today’s environment, science is up against professional athletics and pop stars. Sure, it may be on the pandering side to show flashy experiments and exaggerated explosions–but that’s the name of the game! If our competitors are going over the top, why can’t we?

    I could have sworn the other day that I read some anecdote that said something about having an interest in science was a greater indicator of choosing a scientific profession than having good science test scores. Any other readers come across that? If it’s true, we’ll catch more flies with explosions than equations.

  45. FC

    Aldo the Apache would say violent reactions are mandatory.

  46. MJ

    Well said, @SciGuyJoe. My seven-year old son has watched Mythbusters with me for years, and along the way has developed a keen interest in all things science and invention-oriented.

    His interest has been piqued, and he’s thinking critically on his own now, asking questions about why his “inventions” (generally comprised primarily of legos and the like) don’t work and how to improve them. I’m confident that he’ll continue expanding his interest in science as he grows up, and Mythbusters has played a big part in that development.

  47. Blondin

    ” it’s time that people who have made extraordinary achievements in science stand beside athletes and others honored at the White House.”

    This should be music to Dean Kamen’s ears.

    Now if only we could get the Canadian neanderthal federal govt to see the light…

  48. Zach

    Energize and excite? Want to energize and excite students about science and math? How about giving students some reassurance that after completing a difficult course of study like science and math that they will have a decent paying job? When people talk like this I wonder if they should be studying a little economics too. If people aren’t studying math and science it’s because they don’t think the risks outweigh the rewards.

    I studied math and went to work for a hedge fund. It wasn’t because I was greedy or because I thought that math wasn’t cool, it was because they were the only ones who offered me a job. (I have an advanced degree and a high gpa) I read story after story of outsourcing this and outsourcing that. Why would any student study in a field that constantly threatening to outsource your job? Students are graduating with thousands of dollars of student loan debt and that debt can’t be discharged through bankruptcy nor is it loaned at a particularly low rate. You’re probably getting a better rate on your mortgage.

  49. Doug Little

    Charlie

    Why do you think the loudmouth idiots like those at Fox News (an oxymoron, if ever there was one) and Rush Limbaugh represent an entire party view?

    Prey do tell, Why do they? If they are only a fringe element and don’t represent the majority view where’s the outrage? Name a moderate, reality based, scientific friendly republican who has a chance at receiving the republican nomination in 2012. I hope you can come up with one at the moment we have:

    • Sarah “I can see Russia from my house” Palin
    • Mitt “I wear magic under wear” Romney
    • Mike “I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory” Huckabee
    • Bobby “I used to perform exorcism’s” Jindal
  50. @BadAstronomer: “The hate & teh stoopid in the comments to my Obama piece are, sadly, not shocking.”

    I have to admit, this comment confuses me. I’m not seeing it here. Is that a result of vigorous moderation? If so, may I suggest you leave some of them to the piranhas, a la PZ Myers? It could be fun.

    Of course, you may not want that kind of attention here, which would be understandable.

  51. Mike

    What’s with all the Ghost Lab hate? They have electronics which do beeps and like infrared and stuff and one time I saw a light and glowing eyes on their night vision camera! And why would they be so startled if something wasn’t there?

    ..

    Okay, that hurt to say. Cancel that damned show, please. I’ve been asking for this since before it premiered.

    Lastly, awesome on Obama. It would seem he gets it.

  52. Adam_Y

    @Zach
    “Energize and excite? Want to energize and excite students about science and math? How about giving students some reassurance that after completing a difficult course of study like science and math that they will have a decent paying job? When people talk like this I wonder if they should be studying a little economics too. If people aren’t studying math and science it’s because they don’t think the risks outweigh the rewards.”

    I’d hate to tell you Zach but you didn’t try hard enough. I got three different jobs in a five year time period before I even received my bachelors degree.

  53. rhY

    Great, now let’s get some real honest science about “Global Warming”:

  54. CamperBob

    “We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

    By killing manned space flight?

  55. I must agree – the only hatin’ on I see is toward “Ghost Lab.”

    My objection to these shows is not the premise that there might be ghosts. The question is inherently of interest – but the crappy way they “explore” the premise… It’s simply an excuse for a fright-show. Ooo! Spooky!

    Frankly, I think a good complement to “Mythbusters” might be a show called “Fringe Science,” examining the claims of people who argue that they are marginalized by the Mainstream of Science. It happens often enough that you could probably make the show interesting (since the outcome would not be a foregone conclusion) while in the process debunking all KINDS of pernicious quackery and pseudo-science. Call it a stealth course on critical thinking. :>

  56. As a kid, I watched and read Chariots of the Gods, and UFO stuff, ghosts, and bigfoot. Also followed Apollo and serious science. Sometimes you have to be exposed to the silly stuff to be able to see where it doesn’t measure up. It leads you into the real story. Mind you, I’m worried about adults who buy Noah’s Ark, and alien abductions, and all that.

  57. Seems pretty underwhelming to me. While making a nice speech about how the importance of science, he proposes cutting NASA funding. Talk is pretty cheap in my mind.

  58. Quiet Desperation

    Actually, from what I understand its all smoke and mirrors. The real science is goin on using doppler radar and none of this involves driving straight into a tornado.

    One team this season has a nifty little phased array radar on top of his vehicle to try and measure the vertical winds around the center of the main circulation. They need to drive up right to the edge of tornadoes to get decent data. There’s a guy in the back seat from the radar company crunching data in real time on a laptop.

    Only one of the three teams is *trying* to get hit. It’s headed by an Imax filmmaker who has been trying to get the shot of a tornado hitting his armored vehicle for ten years.

    So far this season, two of the teams have either been hit by a tornado or brushed by the edge of one. Guess which team was *hasn’t* had that? Yep, the one that is actually trying to get hit.

    I feel pretty bad for the guy. Ten years chasing one shot. That’s a pursuit of Captain Ahab/Moby Dick proportions. The guy really should have just been collecting all the good footage he could and released the documentary already.

  59. Gary Ansorge

    “Science and technology are hard.”

    Well, so is anything worth doing however, it you love what you’re doing, the hard stuff doesn’t seem so hard, which is why people who advise entrepreneurs suggest they concentrate on doing what they love to do in the first place.

    My Son started learning programming by breaking into Apple II game programs and re-writing the code so he could win more easily. Today, with his degree in computer science and nearly 30 years experience, he’s a software engineer with Apple. THEY seem to think he knows what he’s doing.

    I started learning everything there was to know about rockets and space travel at age nine . Not because they make big noises but because they were the means of getting somewhere that something interesting/fascinating/totally unknown was happening.

    Kids don’t think of learning as hard work, until we make it that way. If the learning is in pursuit of an engaging, interesting goal, the knowledge is acquired almost without effort. Just ask any expert on base ball scores, or the complexities of big trucks.

    GAry 7

  60. Quiet Desperation

    In today’s environment, science is up against professional athletics and pop stars.

    You can counter that with simple statistics showing how rare it is to become a famous sports or entertainment star, even after years of working at it. Technical careers (heck, most “normal” careers) can give back proportionally to what you put into it.

    Sure, it may be on the pandering side to show flashy experiments and exaggerated explosions–but that’s the name of the game! If our competitors are going over the top, why can’t we?

    Because you just wind up with kids changing their majors once the lie is exposed.

    There’s also the fact that being a famous pop star or athlete really is awesome and cool, or so I presume.

  61. Quiet Desperation

    My Son started learning programming by breaking into Apple II game programs and re-writing the code so he could win more easily

    Ha! That brings back memories. I used to rework the bitmaps to change the sprite graphics.

    Bobby “I used to perform exorcism’s” Jindal

    Silly, superstitious nonsense, but bizarrely awesome. I’d totally vote for him for that. Why? I have shifted from “the best candidate” to “the candidate this stupid city/state/country deserves” method of voting. ;-)

    Yes, I’ll probably be retiring overseas. :-P

  62. As an erstwhile planetarium professional who loves nothing more than teaching astronomy in creative and memorable ways, this gives me the best hope in years for a post-Sputnik-like science ed resurgence in the U.S. Here’s hoping more planetariums start going up than closing down.

  63. @QD
    You can counter that with simple statistics showing how rare it is to become a famous sports or entertainment star, even after years of working at it.

    Yeah good luck with that. You’re up against that all American can do we can be anything if we really work hard enough and believe and that includes being a pro-athlete or popstar or president attitude.

  64. TFury

    I am surprised at Obama – this is uncharacteristically short-sighted of him. We have a glut of well-trained technologists. We have a dearth of well-_paid_ technologists. The problem is not in the education. The best and brightest get seduced into other fields with better job security and compensation. President Obama, if you really want America to nurture science and engineering talent, make it lucrative to practice and give them an incentive to stick around. With outsourcing, salaries and patent/IP agreements that overwhelmingly favor the company over the inventor/engineer, it is no wonder that we have fewer genuinely talented people who see the value in applying their intellect to designing the future.

  65. Zach

    @Adam_Y”I’d hate to tell you Zach but you didn’t try hard enough. I got three different jobs in a five year time period before I even received my bachelors degree.”

    I hate to tell you Adam but I probably make more than all three of your offers combined.

  66. tim

    My favorite response that I’ve heard to the “I’m gonna be a sports star so I don’t need to learn math” complaint that kids come up with is this: If you’re going to be a rich sports star, you’re going to need to understand how to negotiate your contracts and deal with agents, so you will need some math skills to make sure you don’t get screwed.

  67. Charlie Young

    Then again, you have your college drop outs like Bill Gates who can’t get a good job but make a better one on their own. But even Bill Gates had a sound background in science and math at an early age. So Zach, whats your point? You took your advanced degree in math and made a lot of money. Nothing wrong with that. You didn’t find it rewarding enough to go on the tenure track at some public university. There are others out there who will find the pursuit of knowledge reward enough.

  68. Amanda

    @Zach – there’s the heart of our capitalist society: is it SO more important to be paid better than to do what you love?

    Sure, we’d like to find that middle ground where you’re doing what you love and getting paid reasonably well for it.

    Part of aims like this by a government is to adjust capitalist behavior which got the world into recessional holes like it is now, by creating realistic education and job goals for all people. Can’t be a rock star? Not the end of the world.

  69. SciGuyJoe

    58 Said: “You can counter that with simple statistics showing how rare it is to become a famous sports or entertainment star, even after years of working at it.”

    So that makes our PSA: “Kids, don’t go into sports–it’s a statistically unwise choice. Instead, you should go play with this protractor.” STEM careers generally carry a stigma of being boring, stuffy jobs–and thereby undesirable. If a few televised explosions by a zany duo can jostle that–I’m all for it.

    “Because you just wind up with kids changing their majors once the lie is exposed.”

    That seems like kind of a far leap to me. I think that what we’re talking about here is opening minds to the capability of science to be “cool.” There’s a lot of respect and admiration dedicated to professionals of other fields, and it seems like this initiative seeks to settle things up a bit.

  70. Ganzy

    All of a sudden, the tumbleweeds were chased away and replaced by a bright and relentless oncoming, the likes of which no one had thought would ever arrive… Until now!

  71. C W

    Great theory. Decades past due.

    But I’m right there with Wayne and Ben – I’d like to see the details.

    Too many of the science teachers I know, both personally and because they have been my son’s teachers, are not fluent enough in basic math and science concepts to know how to make it fun on their. They do little more than read from a script, and complain that there’s no money for experiments – even when $100’s of dollars are offered and not used. So who is writing the new fun scripts? And making sure the fun stuff happens too?

  72. Sorry, the stuff I mentioned on Twitter was in part due to some short-sightedness I saw in various places, including Twitter. But I’m a little taken aback at people who think this is only to generate more science-trained workers. As Obama said in his speech, our lives rely on making decisions about science and tech, and having a science-educated populace is a good thing.

    I’m sorry if I offended or put anyone off.

  73. Ben

    This new policy doesn’t excite me in the least. In the speech, Obama mentioned the way that teachers in China are well-paid and revered and then failed to connect the dots; lots of very talented people who could teach these subjects don’t seriously consider it due to the low prestige and pay. I’m convinced that whatever other policies are in place, science education could be more significantly improved by making teaching more competitive with other careers that talented scientists, engineers, and mathematicians might choose.

  74. David

    Does anyone else remember when PBS was well funded enough to be a round the clock commercial free “science block”?

  75. Ganzy

    Whats the difference between skeptic and cynic?

  76. Also, I just reread all the comments, and see now I misread a couple from earlier. So I apologize for my tweet. I was wrong.

  77. I figured it was a matter of a very busy guy and a lot of small text. No worries.

  78. Valerie

    The problem is two-fold — getting kids interested and having qualified teachers in the schools. Sadly, for the age where learning is so critical, most of the teachers are there because teaching was all they could do with their liberal arts degree.

    Hopefully they’ll do something different than STEM, which just threw money at the problem and solved nothing. Grants for women and minorities to major in science is not the solution. Scholarships for students who excel in math and sciences (WITHOUT preference to race or gender) would help, since they’ve already proven interest and ability.

    My husband is an elementary school teacher and he loves teaching science and math, and his kids score a full 20% higher than the rest of the school (consistently). Of course, he loves teaching in general, and his kids actually score higher in every subject. (He became a teacher after 22 years in the Navy.)

  79. Adam_Y

    @Zach
    Yeah…… Zach. That isn’t saying much considering the fact that most people in my field on average makes three times more than the pay rate of the three jobs combined. Though the third job led into me getting into graduate school for free so right there is the problem in comparing pay rates. Can you afford graduate school?

  80. Mooch

    I don’t see what the point is. Even if kids get into the industry they still will be unable to get a job in this economy. I’m a starving engineer as it is trying to make it in the electronics industry and things are grim.

  81. Michael Suttkus, II

    Skeptic: “Support your claims.”

    Cynic: “Your claims are bunk.”

    Skeptic: “I doubt.”

    Cynic: “I deny.”

  82. Ben

    @Mooch

    Hopefully by the time kids in middle school are adults thinking about what they want to do with their lives, there will be some more jobs. Failing to educate kids because the economy is bad now is shortsighted; they aren’t entering today’s job market.

    Also, a scarcity of jobs for people with certain skills doesn’t mean that those skills are not valuable, just that it’s hard to find people to pay you for using them.

    @Zach

    I don’t know what your degree is or how many places you applied to, but a lot of places won’t take mathematicians with PhDs because they have no work that requires that level of knowledge or skill and an overqualified employee is often a dissatisfied employee. Also, there’s probably a difference between what you and Adam_Y are talking about; he seems to be talking about just getting _any job_ and you are talking about getting a job based on your education.

  83. Thoughts about Discovery Education press release::
    I don’t want to appear to be cynical here, but instead of doing all that stuff listed above, one thing Discovery Education could do RIGHT THIS MINUTE would be to make their online content free for all schools.

    Here is what is going to happen: They are going to produce a whole lot of stuff, listed above, then sell it back to schools as part of their United Streaming/Discovery Education package. How many others have gone down that path before, where the big educational push is really a disguised marketing effort? If they TRULY wanted to help schools, they would be offering everything in these packages for free. As it now stands, a BASIC package in Texas costs $45,000 a year for a school district.

    Anyway, I think everyone in the ed tech community needs to keep watching all of these companies that jump onto this bandwagon and hold them accountable.

  84. Eric

    @Valerie “most of the teachers are there because teaching was all they could do with their liberal arts degree.”

    That is a bull___ comment. Most teachers are there because they want to be teachers. They want to have an impact on children. Too many teachers (especially in science and math) leave the profession because of people like Valerie — people that assume that the “problem” is lazy teachers.
    Just like any profession, there are science teachers that shouldn’t be in the classroom. However, most science teachers are good, dedicated and hardworking. There are many places where science teachers do not have a a strong science background — but that is the fault of a system that can’t attract or retain science and math teachers in “high need” areas. Most secondary science teachers have an undergraduate degree in a science discipline.

    The problem is that we live in a society that knows that science is important, but doesn’t really value thinking. Other countries are making huge strides in their education systems because they focus instruction on inquiry and critical thinking while making sustained investments in teacher education and development. We throw tons of money around in an incoherent manner. We’ll fund an education project to the tune of $10 million over 5 years…and then, just as the project really starts making an impact, we pull the plug. We’ll spend millions of dollars for “new and innovative” projects, but won’t spend a dime to fund a project that uses the successful approaches developed in the last funding cycle. We’ll spend hundreds of millions of dollars testing kids about basic facts and partner with Discovery Channel so that they can sell their content at $800 per school, but can’t find the money to buy stop watches and balances for an elementary school. Now, we are going to “Race to the Top” by having states compete against each other for short-term funding.

    It felt good to hear the president talking about STEM education. This might be a good first step. I’m all for raising the “profile” of science. I’m all for a “National Lab Day.” But if there isn’t a serious and sustained systemic investment in good teaching, we won’t get much more than a warm fuzzy out of this.

  85. Mark

    This is moronic. There are very few jobs for scientists in this country.

    Oh, and, “Also, a scarcity of jobs for people with certain skills doesn’t mean that those skills are not valuable, just that it’s hard to find people to pay you for using them.”

    If people aren’t willing to pay you to do a certain job, that means it is not valuable. It’s called supply and demand.

  86. Vince

    Phil, you nailed it right here…”having a science-educated populace is a good thing.” and it ‘s essential for our country to move forward. Yes, I did spend 33 years teaching science, and science literacy is what it’s about.

    However, we have a problem here in New York State as the Governor proposes, as a solution to the state budget problems, mid-year reductions in school aid instead of exploring other ways to reduce the deficit. The attitude of looking at education as an expense to be cut, instead of an investment in the future, has to end at all levels of government. Obviously, other states also have this problem. and Ben (85) has it right about failing to educate kids being shortsighted.

    And the argument…you can’t continue to throw money at the schools…I suggest they try teaching effective science in a crumbling building, or about microbes without working microscopes, or about opening the hood on a real vertebrate without frogs to dissect. (Readers – Don’t even bother with objections to dissections, I don’t buy it. Do you want your doctor interning on a computer model? Or your auto mechanic learning about a car only with diagrams? Get real, get over it.)

    Phil, a sincere thank you, and to Discover magazine, for your long-term support of science education.

  87. kp

    Does it bother no one that the President is out there once again apologizing to the world for ‘our’ poor performance? It seems that for such a poor place of education, we have many people who come here to use our education system. There are thousands of people here in the US on education visas. If we are so crappy at it, why is that?
    Also, either President Obama is a master manipulator or somewhat ignorant when he says with such reverance, that the teachers are paid the same as the doctors in China. Hmmmm, what are the doctors paid? From what I can find, not that much. By making this statement to an audience in America, where physicians are paid on a different scale than educators, he is trying to nuance and influence what we think. It is a sound bite statement. Why does no one ever notice these things??
    Science is important, yes. Are they doing it so much better in Asia, not so sure. There is a difference between people knowing facts and people being able to think outside the box. I do not believe that the Asian education teaches innovation or anything other than the facts.

  88. Chris A.

    @64 Mark Bourne:

    “Here’s hoping more planetariums start going up than closing down.”

    I agree. But I worry, given that just last week, a U.S. planetarium (who shall remain nameless) sent out a job notice seeking to hire someone with a Master’s Degree, offering only $28k/year. Not a good sign for the industry.

  89. .
    The first thing we do is release the ROMAN LIONS!
    .

  90. A bit of relevant history.

    Ronald Wilson Reagan was the most uneducated and scientifically illiterate U.S. President in the 20th century and he is now considered the “hero” of the creationist, anti-science, anti-education, Republican Party which exists today.

    In contrast, Republican Richard Milhous Nixon in a three year period signed into law the four most landmark conservation and natural resource laws on Earth: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.

    And Republicans of today revile Nixon for signing these bills. In contrast, Reagan pledged to repeal and gut all of them, for which he is worshipped by Republicans, who greatly desire air they cannot breathe, water they cannot drink and no wildlife except that let out of cages so Dick Cheney can shoot it and his buddy.

    This, of course, is a message to those of you who still consider yourself Republicans to take back your party and make it pro-science, pro-conservation, and pro-forward looking once again.

    It was only taken from you 25 years ago. You can take it back.

  91. Lastly, awesome on Obama. It would seem he gets it…

  92. Bob

    Now if Obama’d set up some funding for the US to one-up the LHC, we’d have something exciting to get kids interested in science, and something to be proud of. Remember when Fermilab was the premier center for particle physics? Good times.

  93. Alex Ciobica

    It’s incredible how different this president is from the last one. I hope this nation will wake up and never make mistakes as big as “George W Bush”

  94. @Graphictruth,

    That “Fringe Science” TV show would be great. Of course, they shouldn’t begin and end at just showing whether or not something works. They could begin with explaining how the inventors claim it works. Then, they could test it. Then, if it works, they could explain why (whether it is via the inventors’ method or something else). If it doesn’t work, they could explain why it doesn’t work and what, if anything, it would take for something like that to work. With the proliferation of “super secret, Scientists don’t want you to know about this” inventions online, they should have no shortage of things to test.

  95. I also think that it is interesting who is NOT involved with this. Did anyone see NSTA? NSF? NCTM?
    Hmm…slap in the face to the organizations that have been carrying the torch for so long.

    As for the “games” piece, the feds have cut $$ to the MMP science games like Nanolegends and such. So this sends a mixed message as well.

    The more I look at this, the stranger it seems to me.

  96. Not only is the transcript available now, but the full video is as well:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/president-obama-kicks-educate-innovate

    The Mythbusters shout out happens at 2:33.

  97. Quiet Desperation

    So that makes our PSA: “Kids, don’t go into sports–it’s a statistically unwise choice. Instead, you should go play with this protractor.”

    Well, no, that’s not remotely what I said.

    STEM careers generally carry a stigma of being boring, stuffy jobs–and thereby undesirable. If a few televised explosions by a zany duo can jostle that–I’m all for it.

    OK. I’m just skeptical of how the Explosions = All Science Awesome equation really works out in the long run. I think people just like to see things blow up, and then they get on with their lives. Hey, I’m just maintaining my skepticus operandi on all fronts. ;-)

    And you know what? Some of the jobs *are* boring and stuffy- sometimes quite often when there’s data to be crunched. I work with scientists. Not all of them would take the same career path if they had it to do over. We need a different tactic here.

    I think that what we’re talking about here is opening minds to the capability of science to be “cool.” There’s a lot of respect and admiration dedicated to professionals of other fields, and it seems like this initiative seeks to settle things up a bit.

    OK, but, again, I don’t see how blowing up cement mixers and crying “Hey, we’re cool, too!” leads to respect and admiration. Hey, maybe we can get a cartoon character or a talking dog or something as a mascot. :-P

  98. Quiet Desperation

    Here’s hoping more planetariums start going up than closing down.

    I love a good planetarium, but you’re up against things like this:

    http://www.stellarium.org/

    It’s open source, so a kid can have the universe in his iMac for free.

  99. steve

    useless policy and a massive waste of time. you cant force someone to like a field if there is virtually 0 chance of attaining gainful employment (yes that means more than $10 /hr) to crunch complex math problems.

    The solution is to create the situation where the industry that needs this type of worker can be easily capitalized, gains government financial support and is not inhibited by the american patent system.

    surprise surprise, when you create a demand for a type of job and pay those people well guess who starts wanting to become a scientist! thats right, little johnny boy.

  100. Phillip M

    Too bad it will all go for not. Does it really help to promote science and at the same time slash NASA’s budget.

    And the discovery channel? Don’t they have a show called Ghost Lab?

  101. CaptainJeff

    To those that have issues with the non-rigor of MythBusters, I offer a humble retort.

    http://xkcd.com/397/

  102. mike burkhart

    Its about time he did something hes only been in office a year

  103. Eric

    Tim Holt Says:
    “I also think that it is interesting who is NOT involved with this. Did anyone see NSTA? NSF? NCTM?
    Hmm…slap in the face to the organizations that have been carrying the torch for so long.”

    NSTA and NSF are both sponsors of the “National Lab Day” initiative. NSF has also received increased funding for STEM Education initiatives…so has Dept. of Energy & most other federal agencies.

  104. jorge c.

    doug little ref. your comment about republicans. if mr gore can say that: the core temperature of the Earth is “several million degrees” they can say anything!!!!

  105. Chip

    Educate to Innovate is a great and positive step. I’m encouraged not only by the project and the people associated with it but also by the other science advisers and appointees that the Obama administration has brought in.

    The expected quota of snide remarks and negativity in this thread only comes from the same dull bunch that criticized Al Gore’s movie, (because the global warming warning came from Al Gore,) and ignore the fall toward economic ruin brought on by 8 years of Bush, which Obama is working to pull the country out of.

  106. John P

    Kids already know that science is cool. What they–and adults–need to know is, can they earn a good living with a career in science. For way too many today, in the US, that answer is “no.” Too many postdocs work slave-labor jobs because they love the science and are committed to it. Universities send out highly trained graduates into a hostile economic enviornment. This needs to be examined, our national goals refocused. Let’s get real here.

  107. Damon

    “If that happens, I plan to relocate back to central Florida for the expressed purpose of making my vote for another candidate in 2012 have greater effect. As goes Florida, so goes the presidency.”

    I had to laugh at this comment. So you’re absolutely sure it’s going to be a 50/50 v0te every time, huh? Newsflash: Ties don’t happen in real life. The last three presidential races have been so obviously manufactured it’s insulting to the intelligence. Sickening, even. Anybody with an ounce of sense (or who lived through the Kennedy assassinations) knows that conspiracy is everywhere. President Elects are picked months in advance, know it, and the “race” is staged bologna to give the sheep the complacent impression that they still live in a genuinely democratic institution and not under a shadow government.

    See, I can use specious reasoning too.

    Also, props to Discovery for having the courage and creativity to apply the scientific method to Ghosts to see what happens. Why is this such a crime? Let’s be honest– ghosts are a real, legitimate, and by definition of their reality, natural phenomenon, albeit a very unpredictable one, so why is everyone so offended by the idea of applying special laboratory conditions to Ghosts?

    Oh, and great news about the science-education effort.

  108. Nate R.

    This is the first thing that Obama has done that I agree with. This sounds like a great program and something that is long over due. I’m sure we are paying a premium price on it, but improved education in math and science is worth it.

    On the other hand, giving American rights to terrorists, the Healthcare bill, and rampant govt spending are some of the worst and most horrific policies I could dream of.

  109. Quiet Desperation

    To those that have issues with the non-rigor of MythBusters, I offer a humble retort.

    Already saw that one. I said I *liked* the show. What, we’re not allowed to be critical? Some folks are immune to the skeptical eye because they blow stuff up? Some animals are more equal than others? Please.

    The expected quota of snide remarks and negativity in this thread only comes from the same dull bunch that criticized Al Gore’s movie, (because the global warming warning came from Al Gore,)

    [citation needed]

    Not for anything to do with GW, but your assertion that you know who we all are and what we think. There’s an easy million dollar prize for telepathy of that magnitude.

    and ignore the fall toward economic ruin brought on by 8 years of Bush, which Obama is working to pull the country out of.

    Wow. Where did that come from? Welcome to the thread, Captian Non Sequitur! Did you just arrive from the Fortress Of Stochastitude?

    FWIW, I voted for Obama.

    As for the economy, well, Congress was in that mess somewhere as well seeing as they, you know, pass all those spending and budget bills. It’s sort of their thing. Seems those other guys were in charge for a bit as well, claiming it was all going to be great.

    I know blaming one person or Party for the mess is easier than dealing with the deep and complicated reality of it all, but it sort of undermines your attempt to accuse other of being dull.

    That’s the best thing about all this: so many on the left desperately trying to scrape the “Dissent Is Patriotic” bumper stickers off their cars. ;-)

  110. Zach S

    I’m glad to see that FIRST Robotics is getting more attention. I was in FIRST in high school, and my experiences there helped me to decide to become an electrical engineer. It is a great program that can help a lot of kids. Hopefully this initiative will bring more programs like FIRST to our high schools.

  111. Chip

    Name calling again? (Likely perturbed at recognizing yourself.) :P

    Quiet Desperation Says: I know blaming one person or Party for the mess is easier than dealing with the deep and complicated reality of it all.

    Yes, we agree here. i.e. Snide remarks and negativity in this thread only comes from the same dull bunch that criticized Al Gore’s movie, (because the global warming warning came from Al Gore.)

  112. dcurt

    In light of recent events, maybe they can stress the importance of integrity in the sciences. Especially those that are government funded.

  113. Matt

    Quiet Desperation your my hero. Just saying. As to Obama presser Science is good and we need more of it, but every president since Carter has tried in his way to make science “cool.” Its a good goal, but this feels more like a something that will be forgotten until the next be push it make American kids care about science.

    Even those most gifted won’t stay in the sciences if there isn’t any pay off in the end either in enjoyment or pay. One of my friends went into law school after his physics undergrad, others have left the field completely losing all joy in it. Of the people I graduated with only about 1/3rd are still in physics related fields. From the wide eyed ideas of children to programing and piles of math. The attrition rates are high and being cool might get more people in the door but its unlikely to get more out.

  114. itskurtins

    I owe my interest in STM education to my teachers in high school. In spite of some truly bad grades they never stopped trying. And I am glad of it. After many years I came out to California because community collages here were still free. And I found more great teachers here in the Peralta School system, where the physical teaching plant was really up to supporting them. The anatomy class had two corpses, though only 3 or 4 of us took advantage of this. All of the labs were well equipped, and where their was some lack we went to the local university to see first class research equipment: electron microscopes, MRI, not to mention access to a major university library system (UC Berkeley). As I left the system they had started breaking it down eliminating whole departments. But that is another story for another time.

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