Why People Are Angry at This Wells Fargo Ad About Scientists

Published: Sep 09, 2016

Why People Are Angry at This Wells Fargo Ad About Scientists September 8, 2016
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Wells Fargo recently ruffled a lot of feathers with an ad campaign for their Teen Financial Education Day. The ads used a tagline, “Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.” One featured a girl doing something science-related with the message: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

The other ad has a boy with a test tube. It reads: “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”

The Wells Fargo ad was apparently intended to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, although it managed to do so by bashing the arts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the tone deafness of the ad, a lot of artists and people interested in the arts pushed back, especially on Twitter. Some fairly well known artists, such as actress and singer Laura Benanti, who appears on the TV show “Supergirl,” Tweeted back, as did singer Josh Groban, among many others.

The backlash was such that Wells Fargo Tweeted a disclaimer apologizing, noting that, “They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. We are making changes to the campaign’s creative [?] that better reflect our company’s core value of embracing diversity and inclusion, and our support of the arts. Last year, Wells Fargo’s support of the arts, culture and education totaled $93 million.”

Its support probably doesn’t include an editor, because the tweet seems to be missing something after the word “creative.” “Content” perhaps?

One Tweeter, the actress Donna Lynne Champlin, perhaps best known for “The Good Wife” TV series, pointed out that, “2016’s highest paid actor at $64 million vs highest paid botanist at $165,049. @WellsFargo, u sure ur a bank? #math.”

Although the Wells Fargo campaign would have been better off promoting STEM careers instead of bashing the arts, Champlin’s tweet also missed an underlying point: the outliers aren’t as important as averages and means. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median hourly salary of an actor is $18.80. The BLS also points out that actors don’t typically work all year on a regular basis, so they don’t even offer a mean annual wage. If the median hourly wage is extrapolated out into a 40-hour work week (2,080 hours), the median annual salary would be $39,104.

In 2015, the BLS indicated that the median income for biochemists and biophysicists, which is the umbrella category under which botanists are classified, was $82,150 per year. Which, based on 2,080 hours per year, would be $39.50 per hour.

Which in many ways is largely beside the point. A person with no interest in STEM is not going to be particularly happy or successful in the sciences, regardless of the job opportunities. And a person with no interest in the arts isn’t likely to be successful in them either.

Bruce Y. Lee, writing for Forbes, says, “Yes, science seems to be declining in the U.S., as U.S. News and Report and Reuters report. However, the problem isn’t the people who don’t naturally gravitate towards science. That would be like telling artists or botanists that they all need to be National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks instead because many teams do not have good quarterbacks. (Although being a botanist doesn’t mean that you can’t be an NFL quarterback. So botanists, please do not angry Tweet me.) There are plenty of people who would like to be scientists but just don’t have the right opportunities.”

And Lee makes a very valid point, writing, “Here’s a news flash. Excelling at anything requires talent and genuine interest. The key to life is matching the appropriate talent with the appropriate opportunity.”

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