Monday, November 12, 2007

Is there a declining interest in science? Over at Steve Sailer's blog, there was a recent discussion about a loss of interest in science. I wondered if it were true of the population in general and mined some data from the 2006 science module of the General Social Survey. Respondents were asked if they would be interested in a TV program on the polar regions. I calculated the percentages who said they would be "very likely" to watch the show by age range:

Percent who are very likely to watch a TV science program

18-30 25.1
31-45 30.7
46-60 41.8
61+ 40.1

Now, I can't tell if these differences show a dropping in interest in science, an age effect (a tendency to like science more as one ages) or a cohort effect (something--like landing on the moon--impacted specific age cohorts). It's not due to more TV watching in general on the part of older people: only seniors watch (slightly) more TV than 18-30s.

If younger people are turning away from science, it's not for lack of studying it in school. Respondents were also asked if they took a physics class in high school:

Percent who took physics in high school

18-30 41.0
31-45 34.0
46-60 24.4
61+ 26.7

Science is difficult, technical, and dry. Traditionally a nerdy white guy thing, most of those types I see on campus now don't have the discipline for it.


  1. I think it more likely that there's a less pronounced interest in science among younger people, rather than an increase of interest in in science as people age. People who are interested in science at 40 were usually interested at 20.

    So far as the percentage of younger people studying physics in high school, this could actually be part of the problem. I mean, there's physics, and then there's PHYSICS.

    Any physics course that 40% of the general high school populaton could take (and pass) isn't going to be much of a physics course.

  2. Anonymous7:19 PM

    I'm 30, my husband is 28, and we took physics together in high school. There is no way on God's green Earth that 40+% of our cohort took physics in high school.

    I think this survey shows that either young people, or this generation, are liars. Even if one comes up with the implausible idea that perhaps there are high schools offering dumbed down physics classes... there is no reason, unless you are college bound, to take it. Physics is way above any level of science that a school would require for graduation.

  3. Anonymous8:19 PM

    Scientific jobs need to PAY MORE to attract more talent.

    This is such a huge problem at the corporation I work for (no, I won't name them---my ass on the line if found out). We have beaucoup sales and marketing and management guys making much more money than our R&D folks do. Marketing and management seems to appeal to those ex-jock types (like me) who are usually larger men physically and can "dominate the room" with bravado over the R&D nerdy types. But you know what? Those R&D nerdy types drive what we make, not us in sales, management, or maintenance. The engineers that prime or upgrade our equipment and the designers of our new advances in our product DESERVE a bigger piece of the pie than what they get.

    What we have ended up with is a well-overpaide head and upper torso, over the heart, gut, and legs (the real drivers pushing us forward) of clay.

    We, of course, are IMPORTING alot of our "thinking" talent at the science positions from India, etc. We should simply pay more to these positions and pay less to the jocks (and especially our CEO, CFO, and board and everybody else over at corporate who make a damn killing). But it wont happen, they'll just keep on lobbying for more H1-B visas.

    I didn't appreciate science (much anyway) in high school. I was intersted in pretty girls and sexy cars and sports just like the next guy. It needs to be instilled in our youth how important this competitive advantage is and how we can lose it at our economic and miliatry peril. I honestly believe it just isn't stressed while our whacked out educators stress unimportant PeeCee garbage, leaving kids to beleive life and professions will be easy.


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