New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman suggested that the Intel Science Talent Search awards dinner be promoted and broadcast live on MTV, ESPN, or similar high-profile venue. His reasoning: we need to provided some stature and "cool" to this event and what it represents, as an inspiration for students who think Hollywood celebrities are the really important people to follow.
Nice idea; maybe it will happen. But I'll step back to ask: how did we get into a situation where the daily routines, ever-present scandals, or even deaths of celebrities are the leading, saturation news items, while the scientists and engineers who are the true innovators and creators are either ignored or scoffed at?
There is no single, simple answer, and these things never have an unequivocal cause-and-effect mapping. But I have my theory, which says the cause is simple: scientists and engineers unintentionally did it to themselves. It's another example of the law of unintended consequences.
Why do I say this? Step into the time machine and look at mass media from about 1940 to the late 1960s. Engineers and scientists were featured on magazine covers, TV shows, inspirational stories of hardship overcome, and much more. They were lauded as pioneers in advancing our understanding of the world around us, as well as developing labor-saving, life-improving products. The credit was earned, the applause was genuine, and the respect was there.
Flash ahead to the present. Engineers and scientists, if they get any acknowledgment at all, are looked upon as misfits, geeks, or nerds. A few get respect (Bill Gates) but that's the exception, for sure. It's a Rodney Dangerfield world in which the folks who make it possible "don't get any respect."
The lesson is that when you do too good a job, and make it look so easy, the audience's sense of appreciation soon fades away and, in fact, it takes a cruel turn. They not only expect such incredible advancements day after day, they become jaded and demand it. They think it's just normal and natural that these things happen, like breathing, with no sense of the sweat, toil, and countless disciplines it takes to make anything complex into reality. (Just try to think through what it takes in design expertise, materials science, metrology, and so much more to make an IC, which then sells for a dollar or less.)
I cringe when I see some reviewer assess a new handset, for example, and casually insist "they should have added this feature" or "they should have done this, not that." All I can think is: hey buddy, that's easy for you to sayyou didn't have to do it.
Bottom line: engineers and scientists have been diminished in stature over the last half-century because they succeeded beyond almost anyone's expectations, including their own. The writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." We've taken the magic and thus the awe out of it, and made it seem routine and effortless, but now we find out that making accomplishments routine and effortless translates into an outcome which is neither admired nor acknowledged.