Letters to the Editor: A Cable Network for Science/Math/Engineering?

December 13, 2001

To the Editor:

I've been a member of SIAM for close to twenty years. I am an engineer who truly appreciates the value of mathematics, both in my profession and as an interest. I'm also a Senior Technical Specialist in computational dynamics (at the ZF Group's Technical Center in Norville, Michigan) and an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at Wayne State University. I read with interest Sara Robinson's article on the media and its relationship to science, math, and engineering (Math and the Media: A Disconnect, and a Few Fixes, Emerge in San Diego Session," SIAM News, October 2001). I've spent about twenty years trying to get recognition for SME (science, math, and engineering) people. I've written articles for local newspapers, television networks, and journals pleading the case and getting little response.

I am now beginning to see the effects. I teach graduate engineering and have virtually no American students. Most of my classes are occupied by foreign students. I understand that this is typical in most universities. However,American enrollments are exceedingly high in MBA programs and law schools.

I believe one reason for the low American enrollments is the publicity SME receives---practically none. I also believe the media are largely responsible for the lack of coverage. True, it is not their position to educate, but they seem to give a lot of air time to medical shows, law shows, running-a-company shows, police shows, and so on. I realize that SME has a tainted reputation---the people are too dorky, nerdy, geeky. Few have the charisma of Hollywood stars. But these are the people responsible for everything that has advanced the quality of life in this country and the world for the last 500 years! Surely the media can find something of interest to present to the general public.

I blame the media, but I also blame SME for not aggressively attacking the problem. We need more people from our own ranks to present the issues clearly and interestingly. We need SME people to communicate and make clear to TV and news agencies what we are doing and why it is of interest. It's time for SME people to come out and shine and use their intelligence to inform and explain. Waiting for the media to respond is futile: They don't have the background.

The United States has nurtured many of the world's most prolific SME people. But our future is being neglected as American students, in general, fall behind in math, science, and engineering. SME will never have the popularity of a sports event, but I think it's a shame that the media---a technology created by SME people---give little service to it.

I found Sara Robinson's article an attempt to deflect the criticism. She didn't convince me. True, teachers have an impact, but what the kids value most is the stuff they see on televison, videos, and the Web. SME must get more attention from all venues, not just academia. Rosie O'Donnell has already publicly stated that math should be banned from education. The scary thing is she can say that because of her position in the media. SME needs a huge voice on this matter, and I will give my support and time to the cause. It is critical to the American way of life that our children get a healthy dose of media-sponsored programs about SME. Maybe SME should start its own cable network.

Allen P. Kovacs

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