Our generation was brought up with very few career choices to pick from, particularly in middle class homes. Engineering and Medical studies were the only so called respectable careers possible. That in itself is so ludicrous and tragic! But worse still was the fact that both being based on science, the love of science that many of us developed was not a love but a compulsion for us all. Not one of us can make out if, even after having spent a lifetime in service of science, science would really have been our first love, had we had the choice to love something else.
No wonder people who don't take up science as a career seem to shun it like a disease. The essential nature of science -- that of asking questions, and using enquiries based on logic and experiments to find their answers -- is completely hidden from most. Instead, what has got ingrained in most of us is that science is what distinguishes the smart ones from the others. Therefore, those who didn't pursue science as a career for whatever reason develop a hatred for it. Who will be stupid enough to accept one's stupidity simply because they didn't become scientists (or technologists). For most, Science appears as a thing which intelligent people make a career out of, and in their spare time, use it to scare and demean others. Most people wish to have nothing with science unless it creates technologies which bring value in terms of entertainment, healthcare, comfort, lifestyle and convenience. That science is by itself a beautiful thing is never considered. And why would it be, when the way it is introduced into our lives is so ugly and distorted?
To some extent, intelligentsia in general, and scientists in particular, are also to blame for this predicament. Most of them carry the illusion that it's their tremendous intelligence which makes them what they are. However, if you look closely, scientists use pretty much the same set of skills which others use to accomplish their tasks. Intelligence is just one of the many properties of a scientist. And I don't see why it should be assumed that pursuing science requires any more brains that anything else? Similarly, the joys of pursuing science are very similar to that of pursuing any other activity. The elitism associated with science is also its greatest undoing.
TV is a potent medium which brings in front of us a wide choice personalities and lives which we and our children could treat as our role models. With the state of affairs as described above, TV channels find it unnecessary and uneconomical to give much of their time to talking about intellectuals, particularly scientists. Probably Discovery and Nat Geo do give some coverage. But I am not sure how close things there are to the spirit of science, with the element of sensationalism they induce. The effect of this on who our children will idolise, and in turn will want to be like, is disastrous I think. In general, mass media, being in the hands of people who are away from science, give a very skewed picture about the population crowding the world, and important things happening around. The people whose images are flashed are mostly movie-stars, sports-stars and politicians. Models. To some extent businessmen and artists. And these days, reality show starlets. But hardly ever intellectuals like scientists, engineers, doctors and authors get any coverage. Similarly, people are always perfectly up-to-date about the movies being released, the wars and protests (sans any indept understanding of the real issue behind them), what's the latest cream in the market which will help keep your skin glowing, how the dance item the starlet presented brought tears to the judge's eyes. Who cares about what interesting ideas researchers are dabbling with, what new secrets about the way the universe works they are trying to unravel, what beautiful thoughts an author is playing with to write his new novel, and what he is trying to say through his stories?
I feel our kids would have got a much more balanced picture of what all could be done with all the time available in a lifetime had there been less fear of science in the current generation; had people looked at it as another way of having fun and expressing oneself like various art forms and sports. In general, I wish we had known how to dissociated the notion of being intelligent with science and intellect. I wish we had identified science for what it is: being curious, asking questions and seeking their answers.