Why do you think the arts and sciences are so undervalued?
Tamara: My instant response is that those in power got there by making money, so they will only invest in businesses that guarantee a quick return. However, more careful thought tells me that businesses can’t exist, let alone make profits, without arts and sciences. An understanding of the arts means an understanding of culture, which is vital for marketing. Science is how you beat the competition, by improving your product. So why don’t people seem to care about geeky stuff? My guess is that... we do. The thing is, geeky topics are so diverse that people’s geeky interests are scattered. Our only common interests seem to be the simple stuff that comprises the mainstream.
Ewen: In general people tend to undervalue things that don't have an immediate, obvious (monetary) value. Unfortunately it's entirely too easy to make money by finding cynical substitutions for art, and it's very easy to ignore science when it's convenient. American entertainment is getting to involve a lot of things like reality TV and fill in the blanks horror movies that make a lot of money but are creatively void, and it's doubly frustrating to anyone who works hard at being creative because it shouldn't take all that much effort to find a *good* script for, say, the next SyFy Original Movie even if the budget is going to be miniscule. Being creative and making money are not mutually exclusive (thankfully!), but we have a lot of businesses that put money first by a very hefty margin. Science starts with the disadvantage that without a sufficient understanding it seems irrelevant to how people live their lives. It's easy to look at the Theory of Relativity and think it has nothing to do with Real Life since we're not getting near the speed of light any time soon, and yet every smartphone owner has a GPS in their pocket that depends on exactly that knowledge to function. And that's without getting into how some people deliberately put things like profitability or religious beliefs ahead of a scientific search for truth.
Serdar: People, by nature, are conditioned to look for immediate payoffs. It takes a lot to get them out of the habit of expecting such things. We don't think about what will really happen in a generation or two, because we give ourselves all these reasons not to pay attention to any of it. There seems little immediate benefit in building a bigger collider, or funding a public works project, or teaching a generation critical thinking. And yet we somehow managed to make THREE equally worthless "Transformers" movies -- which isn't art, let alone science (ILM innovations notwithstanding); it's commerce in another guise.
Steve: It's multifold.
First, this is not always the case in history (even recent history). It's important to keep that in mind. However arts and sciences are also about long-term payoff and stability/cultural stability - and that's not overly valued right now. Science (and at times, art) also remind us of inconvenient truths, and that is also not always popular.
Bonnie: It's an unfortunate trend in American culture that physical strength is valued more than mental strength - I once read a study that traced the origin of this attitude back to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where the physical Brom Bones was considered a "better" person than the mental Ichabod Crane. We see this trend in the fact that sports programs are always given funding, but arts programs are the first to get the boot. The tide may be turning there, though - note the increased emphasis in schools on gifted and talented programs and activities.