Commercialised media and decline of STEM careers

In the last post, I analysed how natural rules of the society make STEM careers not attractive to young people. Free market doesn’t restrict the work of natural economic rules, which sets price of each career only according to its popularity among the public. Government should compose laws to increase the salary of STEM careers mandatorily. And in this article, I will say something about the mainstream media and we will say how these media make STEM less attractive and even vilified.

Since 1980s, the media market in many countries has been gradually opened to private investors; and even state-owned media are attempting to make themselves commercialised and profitable. And now we see the harm of this trend. When the media and communication industry are over commercialised, they instinctively broadcast the programmes with less brain using to the public; because corny content are more popular among people, especially young people and can so that the company can make more profit; the classic and elegant content are reducing in most of public media because laziness is human’s nature and not many people want to use their brain to think of the programme’s plots. When the figures or the content of the programme has more popularity, the the more TV station can earn. As I talked about in the last post, if the business and government are always compromising on public popularity, there will be less motivation for them to improve the society and push it forward. And just because the media industry is over commercialised, the media companies compromise on public popularity, and one of the result is they tend to reduce the content related to STEM and people working in these fields.

During the process of the commercialisations of media industry, there is a trend we can see that more and more children and teenage entertainment stars have come into public view, such as Justin Bieber and so on (Sorry Mr. Bieber we talk about you again here). These figures are always attractive to the public. At the same time, the programmes related to entertainment have been increasing in nearly all mainstream TV channels maybe except KCTV of North Korea. One results of this trend is that more and more children and teenagers want to join entertainment industry.

This is an issue in China as far as I know. I spent primary school and middle school age in Chinese mainland in the first fourteen years of 21st century. I remember that when I was in primary school, most of my classmates’ dreams were to become scientists, engineers, workers, entrepreneurs and government officials. However, a decade later, a survey done among Chinese school kids recently indicated that most of them want to be music or movie stars! The Chinese society are totally shocked by this result and blaming the role of media in this issue; because there are too much entertainment content on Chinese media and almost all news indicates that one can become rich easily by becoming an entertainment overnight! As for engineers and scientists, many Chinese students told the surveyors that these careers require too much study finally earn extremely little.

It is not an individual case in China, but a common phenomenon in most of the countries in the world I reckon. Because the commercialised media like making young stars for their business interest, they are changing the sense of worth among young people. Every child and teenager wants to be famous and this is a normal psychological condition in that age. And the content of entertainment media are actually telling them the “best” way to achieve this goal: have a nice look, and learn how to show off, then you will become next star! And when they are convinced that becoming a singer or actor is the most effective method to get famous and rich under 25 years old, do you think they still want to jump into the deep pit of STEM? Compared with entertainment career path, STEM careers are really tough and rough: you have to work in a huge company or institute for many years and achieve some academic or technological stuff which are unknown to the public; most of scientists and engineers who have 30 years of experience and professor position are far poorer than a music star who has started singing only 5 years ago (only few Silicon Valley lucky guys can do this). Since the scene is like this, why do the kids in their teenage want to do STEM in their college or university age? Moreover, students loving STEM seem to be stupid because they just choose a long tough way to go.

The more disturbing case is that many media companies are vilifying the impression of scientists and engineers in their media products on the purpose to increase popularity. The most familiar one to me is Big Bang Theory. If I’m not mistaken or watching it with prejudice, the whole series are just fabricated with the stories showing how stupid the scientists are in real life. Their ability of dealing with daily life or talking with normal people is almost zero in the series. After watching the media programmes like this, do you think the middle school students still want to study STEM in college or going to take STEM as their career path? I doubt. My personal feeling is: if I had watched it years before, I would not have chosen engineering as my undergraduate course or learn astrophysics by myself.

I firmly cling to a view that media should spread the principle of how to improve our society, instead of merely compromising on public popularity. I have said that popularity among people might be a success of business but failure of society progress. If we want media give their voice helping pushing our society running forward, we must think of methods to force them broadcast the programmes which are not so popular, or to say tougher, force the public to love something. So the government should prevent mainstream media from over commercialisation. In other words, government is supposed to get the power to regulate the content of media and take it as a portion of government behaviour, instead of purely commercial behaviour.

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Free market to blame for unsatisfying salary of STEM careers

The salary, or to say income, of each type of career is decided by economic law. As a free market economic world, the income depends on a basic economic law called “supply-demand balance”. If we take careers as merchandise on the market, we can see that the popular “products” can earn more than those less popular. But the belief of free market economics theory is not helpful to ask people pay more attention to STEM careers at all. Because STEM employees can rarely be “popular products” for our society. And their value and income are both underestimated.

The government officials, experts and some popular media are calling us all to obey the natural rules of sociology and economics. But if we want to improve the society, we have to overcome these rules sometimes. The economic crisis from 2008 to 2009 is a good lesson showing what we can get if we are alway obeying the natural economic laws. Laziness is the natural characteristic of human, so most of young people at that time tended to study courses which are not STEM and then went to service industry. How about those who studies STEM? They were trying their best to get a job in service industry such as Wall Street or banks, insurance companies in other places, or go to Silicon Valley joining an internet company. Manufacturing industry fell far behind these new and profitable sections because being an engineer or scientist means low salary for young people. However, the society didn’t get alarmed by this abnormal phenomenon at that time. Experts and professors stubbornly insisted that the value of different careers should be defined by how popular it was; engineers and scientists earned so little just because those industries were not profitable in the market and should be abandoned; in the future, the industrialised countries would see their major industries are entertainment, media, finance and other service companies. Later the economic crisis came. Until then did people realise that we still needed STEM careers (have a look at the change in Iceland before and after crisis). Because we saw how strong Germany, Switzerland and Austria were during this crisis. These countries didn’t abandon manufacturing industry and engineers there could get satisfying payment and social respect. Meanwhile, how about STEM jobs in other countries? Their advertised salaries were far lower than a fundamental analyst in a small bank. Soon after, Obama carried out his policy to revive the manufacturing and more projects for NASA. But it didn’t work well and STEM degrees and careers are still not really attractive to graduates; because government politicians only put up a slogan but didn’t improve the treats to STEM employees. These politicians still stick to free market in terms of salaries of various careers. They insist that the payment for STEM careers should be determined by market.

To revive manufacturing industry and appeal for more STEM jobs, the government and big corporations should not let the society go with natural economic rules. Instead, they should use compulsory laws to increase the salary of STEM careers. Now I have to criticize about natural rules, not only natural economic or sociological rules. I agree with the saying that a decision should be made according to natural rules of the world, but natural rules can not push the society forward. Because the universal rule of everything in the universe tends to be negative. For example, we can easily demolish a building but can not expect those shattered pieces assemble themselves back to that building. If you don’t use a pump, you can not see water going upwards. Everything is going to the most stable status. Because an object can dissipate energy by itself but can not absorbing energy initially; physically speaking, the condition with lower entropy can only naturally go to a condition with higher entropy (organized system to less organized system). We can use the same model to explain human society. As I said above, laziness is human’s nature. STEM courses are harder than business courses (normally), so more and more people study business and there is lack of STEM students. You can not expect free market economics leads the society generate more young people loving STEM naturally because finding a job much harder to learn is totally contradict to our laziness nature. Thus, we have seen that the most frequently used methods to let most countries survive the crisis were in terms of currency or commercial policies, instead of investing in more manufacturing or technological projects in large scale. Because “natural economic rule” has driven smart people to business sections instead of STEM.

Same principle can also be applied to explain why the salary/income of STEM employees should not be judged by the popularity of their achievements. The nature of human is to enjoy the knowledge or art which are easy to understand, or to say, corny. In other worlds, people are more likely to enjoy the objects which require little intelligence or brain using. Here I have an example, which may not be really proper. Justin Bieber is much more popular than any scientists in NASA or ESA (European Space Agency), so based on the “supply-demand” principle, he earns far more than any employee in NASA and ESA because of far better popularity. Even though some scientists in these agencies have been well-known among the public because of their scientific communication, they are still far less popular than Justin Bieber. Because Justin Bieber’s songs are among popular culture, which can be easily accepted and understood by most of the people, especially teenagers and students in their 20s. In other ugly words, his achievement requires little brain using to understand. And turn our sight to those scientists. Even though some scientific publication TV series, such as COSMOS: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan, they still need your to think about the knowledge and facts talked about in the content. As for the professional works done by Carl Sagan, most of the ordinary people have no interest to know, and can not understand either. Consequently, they are less popular than Justin Bieber. Objectively speaking, Any scientist in NASA or ESA contributes much more than Justin Bieber to our modern society, especially in terms of new scientific exploration and relevant technologies (Perhaps Justin Bieber does use his voice to make us relaxed; but the improvement of the world is still based on the improvement of science and technology). But the former earn far less than latter. And the reason causing this result is natural economic rule and the nature of human. If we let the society, or specifically, the income distribution go with the economic rule which is based merely on “popularity”, we will see that young people don’t want to jump into the trap of STEM. No one wants to do a job which requires more effort but earn less, as I said in previous posts.

Therefore, to make STEM careers attractive again, there are only two ways of achieving this goal: first choice is we acknowledge the popularity of some achievements of some careers, but tax these popular products and people with a high rate so that to put this money onto those who are less popular but more important to the society; the other choice is to make those careers which are not popular now more popular in the future, which is the duty of all media, no matter state-owned or private.

Science, technology and commercialization

In my last post, I randomly talked about why most of young students have no interest studying STEM subjects/degrees or being scientists/engineers. I blamed a little bit about our over-commercialized society. Yes, our society obeys too much about what is called “natural market” or “supply-demand balance”. In this post, I am going to talk about more about scientific research and commercialization; I would reflect on a common idea, that is “good scientific research achievements should be those that can be commercialized”.

After the end of the Cold War, the whole world has stepped into a “pure business” society. Commercial values are regarded as the only standard to measure an object. And the outcome is our society pays less and less attention to scientific research. Because those financiers and businessmen don’t have enough patience to wait for money. Those products that can generate huge commercial values must be those that have huge crowd of consumers. That is the reason why the most successful new companies are mostly internet service companies. It has been a declining trend in the past few decades: a century ago, the startups like Thomas Edison’s company invented countless new products that are still influencing our life today and their inventions were totally new to the world; in 1960s to 1980s, startups such as Microsoft and Apple tended to apply the science or technology which had already existed just to make those existed stuff work better; and after the beginning of 21st century, the startups are mostly like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon; they didn’t invent any new scientific or engineering achievements; they just use internet, an existed science or technology, to decorate our life with better methods to communicate or show off, which is merely a type of service. When the society only respect commercial value, the result is we enhance more on service innovation but don’t have patience for true scientific and engineering breakthrough; because it takes money and time.

In the last post, I analyzed why most of the breakthroughs of science main took place during the Cold War age. Because neither USSR or USA paid so much attention to the commercial value of their inventions. If USSR had asked about how to use Sputnik to make money, they would rather not launch such a “waste”. Meanwhile, Apollo 11 was a waste of money as well if we only regard it as a commodity. In other word, if the Cold War were a commercial society like today, we wouldn’t have seen people landing on the moon or the Voyagers passing Neptune by.

In the retrospect of human history, a scientific or engineering breakthrough could not have any business value when they appeared at the beginning. Because science and technology are mostly far more advanced than the contemporary industrial demand; only after a new scientific theory or engineering technology has been explored, could a new type of industrial production method which is related to the scientific discovery be exploited. Have a look at our story of all industrial revolutions since 1750s: Newton wrote the Principia first, then businessmen and engineers applied his theory to build and sell machines; Ørsted, Faraday and Coulomb started the exploration of circuit and electronics, then the industries various from electricity generator to today’s microelectronics spring out; Only after the physicists such as Feynman initiated the research of quantum physics, could we today start a new business or industry called “quantum computing”. Could we imagine that Newton, Faraday and Feynman etc did their research because they had already seen that their achievements could be commercialized later? If they unfortunately live today, would they be treasured by our society? If a “scientific research” can be seen with huge commercial value once it begins, it indicates that this research is just a small patch of a skyscraper.

I am not against commercialization; but I reckon when everything is commercialized, the value of science and scientists will be underestimated. Just as today, we connive the rule of “freedom of economics” and “supply-demand” rule and think the system of market should not be interfered, we see that scientists earn much less than those entertainment stars. And we stop the large-scale engineering or scientific explorations just because we are afraid of “waste of money”. And now we have the result: we have the products much more beautiful and convenient than those in 1970s, but they are using the same scientific principle; and we regard those internet service companies as “technological innovation”. The booming of internet companies, or to say, silicon valley startups, just comes up with more and more services, instead of true scientific breakthroughs. If we are still stingy about the investment of large-scale scientific researches, we will see science fictions are truly fictions in the future.

We have been kidnapped by what is called “political correctness” for so long time. And it leads to the abuse of humanity and kindness.

In 1960s, scientists predicted that cancer would be cured in 20 years; in 1980s, scientists predicted that cancer would be cured in 20 years agin…until now, doctors and scientists are still struggling to find the method to achieve their prediction. Why did we have our prediction failed? Because our society tends to ignore fundamental scientific research but focus on too much applied technologies which can be commercialised soon!

We do need to be tolerant and warmhearted. But we also need to take strict management and punishment in terms of those who have the potential to mess up a developed and peaceful society. When talking about punishing the criminals and terrorists, human rights are not supposed to take into consideration. The more brutal, the better. Many “human rights fighter” think this method will make those who want to become terrorists more hostile to the major society; humans have equivalent rights to be alive. Indeed, it is not. Brutal punishment, if can be extremely bloody, is a good lesson telling the result of threatening public security. I do insist that western society should give up what is called “human rights” to those who are threatening out safety. The true human right tolerance is to protect major group and kind people, instead of everyone without filtering. And it is a foolish method to be over tolerant to terrorists and less-civilised refugees but extremely strict to the immigration who have high education diploma and technical ability.

Rue de Strasbourg, Luxembourg

Those who are excellent won’t make a history; because they become “excellent” by obeying the rules made by others. Those who are not so excellent, however, may create a wonder because they are creating their own rules and let others to fit in.

Late April 2017

(P.S Just thought of Steve Jobs when I wrote this. If we hadn’t known he was so great, just having a look at his behaviours and thinking, we might have thought he was so rubbish)