We have an impressive system for seeking out basketball talent in this country. One reason promising kids are found young and -- this is key -- trained, is that there is much fame and fortune involved in being good at basketball.
The fortune part is partly a matter of entertainment value. Much of science doesn't lend itself to televised spectacle in the same way sports do. But fame is a slightly different matter. Every year, I see photos of the president meeting with the NCAA tournament champion basketball teams. But what about brilliant young scientists?
That's why I really appreciate what President Obama has been doing with the visibility of young scientists. He's been meeting with the finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search, bringing them to the White House. He's also been hosting a White House Science Fair for the past two years, and trying to make good news clips out of it. For instance, a number of news outlets wrote about Taylor Wilson of Reno, NV (a student at the Davidson Academy), who developed a low-cost way to detect radioactive material. This clearly has security implications, and Obama made sure to point that out.
Who knows what will become of Wilson's project, but we do know this will come of it: young people will see him on television and in the newspaper and get the message that if you do something really cool in science, fame of the sort often associated with sports stars can be yours. If we're really trying to "win the future" as folks keep saying, that's a good thing.