I haven't looked at statistics but I have to think that in this economic downturn more people have been changing majors or just going into scientific (and especially medical) fields, the last bastion of safety in what seems to be a withering, consumer based economy.
And while I believe a good scientific background is important for everyone, I notice that there is a very noticeable lack in enthusiasm for science, with emphasis only on the immediate application of whatever is being studied. While this makes perfect sense (hey, we all needs jobs and paychecks) I feel a bit disheartened that the passion for exploration and discovery, simply for its own sake, seems to be lost.
If anything this passion seems to have been slowly withering away since the death of the Space Age. Maybe it's because the Soviet Union collapsed and now we don't have anyone to compete with; after all, our enemies are depicted and considered to be insane religious radicals, therefore making science something of no concern. Anywhere where there are achievements in science (the Hadron Collider, for example) come from other countries that aren't seen as enemies or threats.
I find this kind of sad, and I sort of wonder sometimes if this speaks in any way to the "American character", wherein competition is used as a way to drive the search for knowledge and discovery. But then...that can't be true, can it?
In relation to my other post about the rise of religious extremism, I do think that that has a very important impact. After all, you can't really learn about science and really feel passion for it if you're raised to think that it's a liberal, athiest conspiracy to destroy God and push evolution on everyone (that said, they do pick and choose which theories they want to accept or deny, so...who knows). Because what this really seems to have caused is a push in learning "simple" applicable sciences while pushing ignorance and disbelief for anything that conflicts with religious politics.
I keep continually depressing myself with these rambling posts of mine :/
A picture that I find oddly relaxing and certainly beautiful: