The recent presidential elections testify the increasingly important role that so-called minorities have in directing the course of US future. A couple of years ago the US Census data about newborns anticipated that US society would change its composition by the next twenty years: it will truly become a melting pot, this time with Caucasian Whites in the role of minority. A similar transformation is likely to invest the rest of the Western world, including Italy where I am from.
This shift in the social paradigm should not scare in itself but certainly represents a challenge for a future of genuine social integration and economic prosperity of the countries involved. A key role in economic prosperity can certainly be ascribed to science and technology: because today's minorities will be the majority tomorrow their absence from an active engagement in science and technology compromises the competitiveness of the entire host country too.
In this context education has a crucial role. It is certainly laudable to have a policy by which “no kid will be left behind” but it might not be enough to guarantee a world leading position to the US. What I am advocating for here is a type of informal education that I like to call “a marketing strategy for science”, which is characterized by talking the language people use, considering what interests them, going where they are rather than waiting for them to knock at the door of some Ivory Tower they might not even know it exists.
I had the chance to visit a few such Ivory Towers, whose name is a kind of a brand in the world of science: NASA and CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, where the famous particle accelerator LHC is operating. In particular CERN was founded by a small group of pioneering countries just after World War II, a group that comprised Italy. Unfortunately the sense of pride that I have for this effort of my home country is not shared by too many people, be them fellow nationals of mine or not: the typical street person argues that the money spent at CERN to search for the God particle, a.k.a. the Higgs Boson, should rather be invested in curing tumors. When I have the chance to talk to one such person I like to mention a one-line selling point for the entire particle physics endeavor. The LHC acronym stands for Large Hadron Collider, that in plain language means a humongous dodgem, where crashing cars are subatomic particles of a category dubbed “hadrons”; the same guys are at play in “hadron-therapy”, a technique of modern medicine that allows to treat deep cancers with the highest precision and least damage to healthy tissues. This happens because, driven by curiosity, mankind was able to uncover the existence and behavior of the subatomic world, thus finding that some nuclei can be better projectiles to be shot at tumors than photons, the particles that make up light, which are used in another curing technique called “radio-therapy”.
To invest in their future US need to specifically attract minorities, among all laymen, to become part of the scientific adventure and to feel its emotions. In such a context it is not a heresy to think of conveying scientific content by mixing it with languages that are either non-scientific or even non-verbal: music, theatre and dance, for example, or video-games or comics.
Few weeks after the elections many a challenge lies in front of President Obama: one of those is making sure that minorities are exposed to the fascination and excitement behind science and research so that they can take an active role in them; failure to do so means mortgaging the nation's future by wasting its major human potential. It is not just the minorities' future but also everyone else's in the US that will not have applications of ideas that did not get the chance to be explored, will not have the jobs derived from these applications, will not have well-being opportunities that go hand-in-hand with applications and, last but not least, will not have them, the majority, study disciplines that, by then, might look as appealing as an ancient dead language.
In conclusion what I called “a marketing strategy for science” could have as well been written as "building the future of US society, economy, and job market"; this is, I believe, the only way by which no Latino will be left behind.