Fed by the news media, our fascination and reverence for celebrities has reached shameless heights.
But when you add the element of royalty to the mix, celebrity worship can take off into the stratosphere, triggered even by an item as seemingly mundane as a dress.
This leaves me wondering -- and angered -- over what is happening to us and our priorities.
I'm referring most recently to the whirlwind North American tour this month of newly weds Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton (a.k.a. Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge), who seem to be a wonderful couple committed to fostering goodwill globally, and helping others, especially through promoting numerous charities.
But all during their tour (which sparked virtual media mayhem), U.S. news outlets seemed captivated by one thing, the type of dress Kate Middleton was wearing, pondering dutifully whether she wearing the one by Issa, Roland Mouret, Erdem, or Alexander McQueen, and which dress she may have worn twice. (In fact, Google has recorded more than 20 million results filed for the key words "Kate Middleton dress.")
All this attention to a dress! Even well-known TV news media figures such as George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts joined in the media gush-fest.
Where exactly are our priorities? And, through this incident, what are we teaching and telling our young girls? That they, too, should aspire to become celebrities, even princesses, to be judged and celebrated for their physical and material assets? We are setting young women up for shallow, unrealistic directions in life if we lead them down this path.
But equally important, what is the responsibility of the news media to give us responsible and timely coverage of realistic role models and heroes, such as scientists and engineers, who are helping to save lives, cure disease, keep us safe and improve our quality of life through unsung roles and achievements daily?
George, Robin and others in the media, I challenge you to begin covering "heroes" in these fields with the same focus and vigor that you granted Kate Middelton this month, giving young girls real, everyday role models that they can aspire to.
For starters, I'd like to suggest these cutting-edge innovators and the 30 others participating in the Nifty Fifty program:
- Angela Belcher, a noted bioengineer who is developing powerful biodegradable electric car batteries, durable computers that won't crash due to liquid spills on the keyboard, and advances in medicine -- all from genetically-modified microscopic organisms.
- Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer and the first astronaut of Iranian descent, who is now a serial entrepreneur helping to drive commercialization of the space industry.
- Cynthia Breazeal, a leading social roboticist who is creating intelligent, humanoid robots that will change our world, aiding humans in a host of situations from education and physical performance to family communication and surgery.
- Dana Perkins, a high-profile microbiologist who, in this age of bioterrorism threats, works with a wide range of entities, from the White House and Congress to our foreign allies, in protecting us against potential biological warfare attacks.
In fact, these accomplished innovators will be part of the elite Nifty Fifty presenters at the upcoming 2nd USA Science & Engineering Festival -- the country's only national science festival -- taking place next April. They will be among more than 100 other world-class scientists, engineers and biotechnology serial entrepreneurs serving as speakers in the event's exciting, hands-on schedule of activities occurring nationwide to inform and excite students, teachers and the public about the latest in research, and to inspire the next generation of innovators.
As one noted scientist once said, "We get what we celebrate in life," which leads me to ask, "Why not then celebrate science? Where are the heroes and role models in science for young women and men?"
In our media-driven society where youngsters eagerly tune in for Lindsay Lohan's latest public debacle or Shaq's masterful performances on the basketball court -- and, yes, for a glimpse of Kate Middleton's latest dress -- the work and achievements of scientists often goes unnoticed by kids, or deemed as nerdy, geeky and imposing.
This equation is not only wrong and out of balance, but it should anger you as it does me. And I'm calling on the media to work with us to change the scenario through responsible reporting that introduces kids, in meaningful ways, to some of the most inspiring and committed heroes and role models today: scientists and engineers.
We also ask everyone to join us now in taking another positive step in exposing kids to the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by participating in the festival next April, when professionals in these fields will demonstrate in exciting, hands-on ways how their work is applied to real-life problems and situations. The event, which also features engaging satellite festivals nationwide, culminates in a massive finale expo on April 28 and 29 in Washington, D.C. at the Convention Center, which will include myriad exhibits, demonstrations and live presentations -- all celebrating science and engineering. (Please click here for more information on the festival.)
Remember, setting the right climate for fostering real heroes and role models begins with all of us.