This essay is all about how society perceives scientist. From many different perspectives. I ask and try to answer the question. Why does science hold interest for so few people?
Do a quick google search of the terms stereotypes of scientist. What you will find is many links about various studies. They speak of the pictures that children draw when they think of a scientist. Consider the following: 
Children from western industrialized countries tend to draw "a bush-haired man wearing a lab coat, surrounded by test tubes, precariously connected items of equipment and exploding Erlenmeyer flasks. A child from Nigeria...draw[s] a scientist as a helper and a cornerstone of the community...more than likely a woman (Sjoberg, 1997). The DAST has also been used in a nationwide evaluation of the public television show, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Images drawn by children before and after viewing the show did not differ much, except for a slight increase in children drawing Bill Nye, but they were not as stereotypical as those drawn by children during the 1960's and 1970's, and included fewer images of scientists with facial hair , glasses and lab coats, and more images of female scientists. (Robin Boyar, 1996). Indeed, a recent study of 132 secondary school students indicated a change in the standard image of the scientist to show less gender bias (Matthews, 1996).
Maybe some visual aids will help. Consider these two cartoon images of scientist. One from Japan and the other from the good ol USA.
Let's consider that image for a while? If a picture can say a thousand words then the following two can sum it all up.
A good indication of the image a society gives young children of scientist would be through cartoons. The image to the left is from a Anime called "DragonBall Z". The character "Bulma" is a theoretical physicist, mechanically inclined. At one point she actually builds a time machine. Uses it to send her super strong son back in time and prevent another scientist, a "mad" scientist from destroying most of humanity. The son she had outside of marriage with a super strong man from an alien race. The over all image of science and scientist that one get's from watching DragonBallZ is that of well balanced human beings. People who have in common only what they do for a living. People who are approachable who do things that are attainable. Unlike images of female scientist in so much children's media here in America, Bulma is a female scientist who is still pretty and popular with boys. Thus she is a geek instead of a nerd. Where being a geek is ok. Images like that of Bulma are common outside the USA.
In the USA on the other hand we have images such as the following. Super villains such as Doctor otto octavious from the "Spider Man" franchise. A crazed lunatic who blames spider man for his wifes death and the failure of his experiments in controlled fusion. At least the Spider Man cartoons have the hero Spider man as a science student. Or depending on the iteration of the story just a geek who uses science to defeat his enemies. However his image is still negative. "Spidey" is akward and inept with people to the point of pure absurdity. Only with his costume on is he a hero or someone to emulate in any way.
The greatest offender when it comes to this is the Batman Franchise. Look at this wikipedia article on the Batman villians. Many are research scientist, PhD's, people who are good with computers and logic. Basically all of whom are villains bent on killing everyone in Gotham city. These are the images that children get at home and from TV. So how does that effect education in science?
Some good observations were made by Trish who said:
I hear that the TV show “Numbers” is creating some interest in mathematics among kids of high school age. Is this really true, or is it just hype? I can vouch that the other investigative dramas (CSI, NCIS, etc.) have generated a flood of college undergrads majoring in forensic related fields. Law enforcement departments are bursting at the seams. If TV shows can have this effect on young minds why don’t science fiction films produce the same sort of interest in science among the young minds? I must confess that I adore sci-fi no matter how bad. I’m especially attentive during the exposition where the handsome/beautiful young scientist explains to the movie audience what’s going on. Apparently action, drama and special effects are enough.
1) The typical crime drama shows people in realistic and seemingly attainable jobs (albeit the depiction of that job is unrealistic). These jobs seem exciting, challenging but also attainable. Is that why kids are attracted to forensics?
2) The typical sci-fi scientist is either an evil genius, or a misunderstood genius fighting to gain recognition among her peers, or an old established wise and kindly genius who can quickly diagnose a dangerous situation, or etc. The short of it is: the sci-fi scientist is a genius. Most kids know they aren’t geniuses. So most kids think they can’t be scientists. Because of this stereotype, science only attracts the confident.
3. Generally, when they think of what sorts of jobs they would like to have as an adult, kids lack the creativity to invent roles and niches for themselves. They have to be shown explicit examples (real or fictional) of people doing various jobs. To be attractive those jobs have to be exciting. They have to be the sort of job that demands respect. They have to be challenging. But they can’t be too challenging. They have to be jobs that seem attainable.
All of that is in accord with my own observations. In asking why so few kids are into science we have to consider the perception that "science" is hard. Which is not really true.
Educating our youth.
These are problems that could be solved in schools by teaching science in a more realistic way. The way science is taught now is to have students recite facts that they read in books. Which is not what science is all about. The wrote recitation is what makes science look bad.
All science is just a way of finding answers to questions on your own by logical guesses then checking those guesses with experimentations. It is a creative pursuit where the creativity comes in thinking differently than you have before, if not thinking a thought that no one ever thought before. That basic kernel of science is all that needs to be taught at the primary school level. Which could be easily done. Once taught how to find out facts for themselves kids will find out all the information that interest them. This I feel will lead to more scientist graduating from universities in the future.
Or we can just let other societies place value on being a scientist while in America science is demonized. Then we slowly regress as a society.