I'll admit, what spurred this very long (and rambly - you have been warned) article was an article about the scientific achievements Natalie Portman in the 'New York Times' and the following discussion on Hacker News.
The article ends with the statement, "You can be a scientist, but if you want your name in lights, you’d better play one on TV."
I knew that the statement was questioning the negative stigma associated with doing science, particularly with ladies doing science. I'm not talking about the author of the article above in particular, but the frequency of the topic "women in tech" has occurred enough to give the impression that some peopel are complaning about the "problem" of not having enough technical folk in the hard sciences (whatever that means).
My immediate reaction to that was, "We could probably do good with having more popular, beautiful role models like Natalie Portman to erase the negative stigma associated with doing science, and encourage more young people, especially ladies, to take up the ardous task of pursuing science".
Alright, my thoughts didn't start off so eloquently (more like: we need more hot babes in tech!), but after further consideration, I don't think that's a long-term solution.
Science is hard, and it's only going to get harder. Moreover, as more and more people get empowered by technology, fewer and fewer people will know how the fundamentals of a particular technology mesh together to give it its magic. eg: You don't need to know how an iPhone works to use it as a journalistic tool. You don't even need to know how it works to build an app on it and make a million bucks.
Mankind has thrived on being able to abstract out the details for someone else to take care of. We can engage in our high level work because we abstracted out the details of disposing of your waste after taking a crap in the toilet. A few people understand the workings of the sewarage system, but it's a select few indeed.
I'd go so far to say that a select group of people have the passion and the ability to understand and further implement the inner workings of sewarage systems. The ability to combine that knowledge and experience with a concrete agenda - say, building out a modern day sewarage system in just-stabilised formerly warn-torn country - is what I'd consider as a form of modern day genius.
So what I'm saying is that science is still a means to an end. Moreover, it's something that is not for everyone.
Let's face it, the Scientific rockstars not only exhibit immense passion for their work, but have the computational brain capacity to just "get things". I can't explain this, you'll know it when you see that whiz kid in your computer science class come up with spontaneous Haskell Type checks on the fly.
We also know that variability in human ability is immense. I think it's safe to say that it is this variability that explains why some people succeed and others fail in fields we categorically term "science".
So what does all that mean?
So far we've got: - Some people think that the lack of technical people is a cause for concern - But science is geniunely hard (like everything else) - Fewer and fewer people will fully understand the inner workings of a particular field (as it is in every other field. eg: food, sewarage systems) - That is precisely the reason why we thrive. Less people are needed to generate more wealth in a particular field - It is lauded as such - But science is a means to a practical end - You've got to love your science to unlock those means - Some people just "get it" with science and can therefore pursue it => those who don't get it are doomed to be unable to pursue it (Contraposition)
which leads us to - There is no fixed path to the pursuit of science.
ie: Having role models is just one step in a whole system in getting people to pursue science. Moreover, the notion that everyone has to pursue science is flawed in itself. Everyone has to generate wealth, however that may be.
I'm certainly one for the notion that we should leave the real science to the scientists, however unpopular that view may be.
So what should we do then? Breed more. Settle socioeconomic issues. Try as best to eliminate poverty. Settle domestic issues of violence and unrest. Set up infrastructure that allows efficiency and effectiveness in education.
Do everything to set in place an environment where people's natural tendencies come through, while emboldening them with a general sense of good work ethic and respect for themselves and their colleagues.
But please, don't tell them what to do. Don't coax it with a pretty face. Don't bribe them with cookies. And Don't punish them for "misbehaviour". Just sow the seeds and let the flowers bloom.