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Connor McCall

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Science as a sport. Or; MIT vs. Berkley Robotics Championship 2015

The multibillion-dollar sports industry operates on a three simple principles.

1. A spectacle - the sport - generates revenue through ad dollars and viewership sales (e.g. tickets, PPV).

2. Local affiliation - college, city, and even national teams - fosters loyalties and makes the watching of the sport a part of the cultural consciousness.

3. The promise of fame and/or fortune encourages young people to train and participate in the sport, further embedding it in the cultural consiciousness.


Three common problems facing the sciences, at least in America, are very similar; sporadic lack of funding, lack of cultural awareness (or misunderstanding) of its content, and difficulty in engaging the youth. Addressing even two out of three of these would go a long way towards building a brighter future for our children and improving the human race as a whole.

As a thought experiment, consider the following hypothetical; a Robotics Championship is established, in which college, city, or state-affiliated teams build machines designed to compete at specific tasks, ranging from hazard navigation to "Battlebots" or "Robot Wars" inspired combat, using any device they can bring to the table.

The resulting matches are televised, publicized, and tickets are sold. Ad dollars are brought in. Celebrity scientists emerge and gain a clearer public voice, while children watch in wonder.

Commentary is intersparsed with explanations of scientific principles at play in the competition, informing and engaging the audience. People who didn't know the first thing about mechanics, who tuned in for the simple spectacle, find themselves learning things they may have never encountered before.

Do you think that science as a sport is possible? Might there be an international Science Olympics someday in the future? I'm certain this proposition is full of holes, but I'm always happy to be proven wrong.

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  • Jun 20 2011: Robotics competitions do exist, at least for high school kids.

    What fascinates me is a related "lack of cultural awareness," to quote the original posting on this topic. A robot competition would be engineering, not science. Why do we have a cultural bias such that engineering activity is often labeled as science?
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    Jun 1 2011: I support the idea of an intellectual Olympics.

    There was a show kinda of what you purpose
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IF5-AWIOIE
  • May 30 2011: Good idea, but I don't see it gaining much popularity in the U.S. any time soon.
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    May 29 2011: Sounds good idea to me. Needs a good marketing campaign to succeed.