Wednesday, September 9, 2015

OK, what gives? Intel drops its sponsorship of the Science Talent Search

Via Carmen Drahl, the New York Times is noting that Intel is dropping its support for the Science Talent Search (article by Quentin Hardy): 
SAN FRANCISCO — Intel, the world’s largest maker of semiconductors, is dropping its longtime support of the most prestigious science and mathematics competition for American high school students. 
The contest, called the Science Talent Search, brings 40 finalists to Washington for meetings with leaders in government and industry and counts among its past competitors eight Nobel Prize winners, along with chief executives, university professors and award-winning scientists. 
Over the years, the award for work in so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — has made national headlines and been an important indicator of America’s educational competitiveness and national priorities. 
[snip]   
Dropping support for the high school contest is a puzzling decision by Intel, since it costs about $6 million a year — about 0.01 percent of Intel’s $55.6 billion in revenue last year — and it generates significant good will for the sponsoring organization. Intel has also increased the size and scope of the award, giving more than $1.6 million annually to students and schools, compared with $207,000 when it began its sponsorship in 1998.
 [snip]  
Gail Dundas, a spokeswoman for Intel, could not say why it was ending its support, but she said the company, which has struggled with a shift to mobile computing devices but is still one of the tech industry’s most influential names, is “proud of its legacy” in supporting the award... 
A couple of comments:
  • First, why is Intel making this move? It doesn't make a ton of sense from a financial perspective. 
  • The article makes reference to Google perhaps being interested in sponsoring the fair. Over the years, the sponsorship of the fair has gone from Westinghouse to Intel; if it goes to Google, it probably follows the arc of economic history in the US...
  • Do we pay too much attention to high-end science fairs? I wonder if we do, although I suspect that the 20-year predictive value of the Science Talent Search for R1 tenured professors and future physicians and scientists is probably quite high. 
Readers, what say you? 

21 comments:

  1. i read somewhere that intel might be looking into making some sort of their own version of this search and making it into a TV show. probably a 0% credible rumor, but interesting nonetheless

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  2. Maybe they're going to continue the contest, but in India for Indian students? Then the winners get a green card stapled to the prize.

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    1. Nah, not as long as Andy Grove ("only the paranoid Survive") is alive. No green card for the winner, but an exciting chance to replace an American worker through an H1-B visa.

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  3. The STS is not what it was - nevertheless supporting it is crucial for whatever goodwill STEM might enjoy among the general populace. I hope a forward thinking company like Google does step in and pick up the slack.

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  4. Rumor has it that they fired their entire PR team a couple years back. This may be connected.

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  5. It's hard to de-conflate "predictive" with "self-fulfilling". Yes, the kids who do well at the Talent Search are generally great, but their experience there will get them into the best schools and paired with the best professors, which leads to a similar school and advisor in grad school, then post-doc, then R1.

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    1. FWIW, I agree with "self-fulfilling", but I presume academic hiring committees do not see "STS finalist/winner" as being a point in favor of hiring.

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    2. I would guess that to do well, you probably need help, so that some of the people that do well are likely to have been in a better position to start with, but it would seem like STS would at leat test for some of the things that might help in doing research. Classes in school and labs are substantially different than research, both in how you get knowledge, and in what kind of knowledge you get (wait, you mean most of the things I do in grad school won't work? they worked well in the textbook). Since a lot of the people entering academia are likely to have the starting advantages anyway (though maybe not to the same degree), but STS might correlate with factors more likely to predict success at research, and so participation would be a valuable indicator anyway.

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    3. At least i have (had?) more respect for it than Spelling Bees. What, memorizing lists of unused words isn't valuable?

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    4. Words only go unused because the national vocabulary is declining in quality and quantity - at every level.

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    5. Well, if you're in politics, yelling, the middle finger, and gunfire work pretty well without requiring much of a vocabulary. They don't solve many problems, but we're not interested in doing that, anyway.

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  6. I was a finalist in 1998 and the STS competition changed my life. I am a bit concerned about this news, considering that when Westinghouse dropped out, Intel was already lined up as the next sponsor.

    Regarding Wavefunction's comment that the competition is not what it was, I tend to agree. One quick thought on this: the STS is something of a victim of its success, in that people are trying to game the system. Some high schools have STS classes for seniors to prepare their projects and packages. Back in the day, you had to be self-motivated and a number of geniuses really stood out. Today, there is much more noise.

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    1. On the other hand, I didn't even hear about the Westinghouse competition until three months into my senior year in high school, which was a well-respected school in a state known for the high quality of its schools.

      I haven't looked through the sorts of projects in 2015 and 1998, but I suspect that even back then most of them couldn't be done with the resources available to a typical high school student.

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    2. A friend and I approached our principal to keep our high school's chem lab open for the summer. We had to recruit enough classmates to pay summer-school tuition before the school agreed. I think there were 6 of us.

      I was fortunate enough to go to a great science high school with a number of chemistry resources. We had fume hoods, an LC, an IR, a stockroom full of chemicals, and an awesome teacher with a Ph.D. and plenty of ideas for projects.

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  7. "Gail Dundas, a spokeswoman for Intel, could not say why it was ending its support..."

    Wouldn't that be something you should have told your PR people before announcing that you were cutting support? It's not like no one was going to ask. If you weren't smart enough to come up with a semi-plausible reason beforehand, then it doesn't look good for management - either they're dumb or the reasons for dumping STS don't look good for Intel.

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    1. LOL at the response there. "I don't know why we did that but one thing I do know, is we're proud of our support for this ... just not to the degree that we're interested in continuing to do so...."

      Ah, she's on twitter. any of you connected types want to continue the questions?
      " Gail Dundas @gaildundas Thrilled to do comms at Intel, sharing stories about our workplace and how we inspire kids to love math and science (opinions:mine only)"

      How do we inspire kids to love math and science? By cancelling our support of the Science Talent Search. STEM Shortage! Woo!

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    2. "How do we inspire kids to love math and science? By cancelling our support of the Science Talent Search. STEM Shortage! Woo!"

      Well, it will prepare them for life in academia. Industry and the public both love science... until they are asked to support it. Now back to my NSF application.

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    3. Industry by its very nature is in a position to support science (and frequently does).

      It's generally when the public and government get involved that ridiculous, political b.s. gets supported and dollars disappear off to dubious destinations. The Intel decision is a case in point.

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    4. A lot of the things we take for granted started from research that businesses wouldn't undertake - the Internet for example. Businesses want research that will generate products, soon, and lots of science isn't going to do that, ever or even in the distant future. In addition, businesses are not immune to stupidity; though they aren't as likely to be susceptible to political pressure, they can do lots of other dumb things.

      This could be a dumb move on Intel's part, or not. I sort of figure when businesses are looking for diversity, it probably means that the people who have better choices don't want to work for them anymore, and they need a big enough labor pool to keep labor costs down, so it depends what will do that for them best. (It might be relevant to note that because of the amount of money involved, they didn't have to get rid of IST support to make money for other initiatives, so the diversity stuff they're paying for might be irrelevant to why they kicked IST to the curb.) What is interesting that the cutting of IST support appears either to be poorly thought or mean.

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  8. Here's a link to a conservative take on Intel's move at Brietbart:

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/09/10/intel-cuts-300m-in-jobs-research-education-and-talent-to-fund-feminist-frequency/

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