The second edition of the Rock Stars of Science is now out online, and in the November 23rd (“Men of the Year”) edition of GQ magazine. As Chris Mooney notes, this is a campaign funded by the Geoffery Beene Foundation, working to raise recognition of scientists’ work (and scientists, period, since roughly half of the American population can’t name a single living scientist). Part of the campaign is to make science noticeable and “cool;” I’ll quote from the press release:

ROCK S.O.S™ aims to bridge a serious recognition gap for science, observes journalist Chris Mooney, co-author of the recent book, Unscientific America, and a partner of the campaign.

“The current gap between science and our popular culture,” says Mooney, “keeps Americans from recognizing the centrality of science to their daily lives. They think science is some strange activity performed by slightly geeky others in white coats. In fact, science fuels our economy and is our great hope for cures to diseases that affect all of us.”

“The RSOS™ campaign shines the spotlight on this critical national issue,” says G. Thompson Hutton, CEO and Trustee of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation, supported by the designer menswear brand Geoffrey Beene, LLC, which dedicates 100 percent of net profits to philanthropic causes. “If we invest in research, we will save lives now and trillions of dollars later.”

So, I think it’s a great cause, and a unique way to spread the word. From that side of things, I’m all for it.

But… (there has to be a “but,” right?)

The first campaign didn’t exactly knock my socks off. Chris gives an update on the participants at The Intersection; if you read through it, you may notice the 2009 participants had many things in common: they were universally older, white men. To be sure, they include older white men doing great things (Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIAID, was one of those featured)–but they promoted the stereotype of scientists as, well, old white guys.

This time around, the lineup is more diverse, featuring 17 scientists–including 4 (white) women and 2 men of color (though still, mostly older). The scientists chosen include notables such as Nobel prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn and physician/astronaut Bernard Harris. The lineup is also heavy on cancer researchers and other biomedical types; understandable, since they are focused on disease and cures. I realize these are easier to “sell” to the public, because we all know someone who has experienced cancer–but if the foundation does a round 3, perhaps some more physical scientists could be included? Even if they maintained the focus on health, climate change, for instance, has the potential for huge impacts on health–and many engineers, physicists, and chemists work on health-related problems.

They also have a cutesy Q&A with each scientist, providing them all the same questions. Some I find to be fairly lame (“What was your worst part-time job?” “Alternate career choice?” “Longest med school study session” [!? why the emphasis on med school?]), along with some that I think make a better impact, like discussing misconceptions of their work, or their best moment in science/research. I realize the “lame” ones are to help the audience see that scientists are just like them, and spent time in crummy jobs, but diversity in the questions would be nice to shake things up a bit. Then they have a portion where the scientist’s research is described…which is terrible. I don’t know if this made it into the print version or is only online, but in many cases, these descriptions are lifted right off the scientist’s professional website. Look at Catriona Jamieson’s, for instance (taken verbatim from her lab website):

Dr. Jamieson specializes in myeloproliferative disorders (MPDs) and leukemia. Myeloproliferative neoplasms are a family of uncommon but not rare degenerative disorders in which the body overproduces blood cells. Myeloproliferative neoplasms can cause many forms of blood clotting including heart attack, stroke, deep venous thrombosis, and pulmonary emboli and can develop into acute myelogenous leukemia. Although some effective treatments are available, they are laden with serious side effects. In addition, individuals can become resistant to the treatments. Dr. Jamieson studies the mutant stem cells and progenitor cells in myeloproliferative neoplasms. These cells can give rise to cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells may lie low to evade chemotherapy and then activate again later, causing disease progression and resistance to treatment. Her goal is to find more selective, less toxic therapies. In the past two years, Dr. Jamieson’s stem-cell research studies have taken a great leap: from identifying a promising treatment in the laboratory to opening and completing the first clinical trial to target cancer stem cells in humans. This trial is the result of teamwork that has brought together her discoveries in myeloproliferative neoplasms and a local pharmaceutical company’s drug development track.

I mean, really?? I’m a scientist, and just reading that even made *my* eyes glaze over. If one thing they’re trying to convey is the importance and relevance of the scientist’s research to GQ readers, what percentage of the readers are really going to walk away with a deeper understanding of what Dr. Jamieson does by reading that description? It would have been a small thing to ask each participant to submit a layman-friendly version of their research (their “elevator talk” description, for example) for GQ to include.

Finally–one of the “scientists” is Dr. Oz. What is he doing in there? One, I would think he’s already well-known enough; why not save that spot for another scientist? Two, yes, I know he’s actually done research and published, and is on the faculty at Columbia. Fantastic. He’s also a serious woo peddler, who has even featured everyone’s favorite “alternative” doc, Joseph Mercola, on his talk show, and discussed how vaccines may be playing a role in autism and allergies (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary). This seems to completely contradict their goal of “research funding as a national priority,” since Oz is often (and Mercola is always) highly critical of “mainstream medicine.” I really don’t understand his inclusion, and think it’s to the detriment of the rest of the campaign.

I know, this is quite a lot of complaining (isn’t that what bloggers *do*?), but I’m sincere in hoping that this campaign does raise awareness. I hope they expand it beyond GQ–why not do something similar in magazines with a larger female readership, such as Good Housekeeping or even People magazine? Women are the ones who make many of the healthcare decisions, after all. We’re often advocates for health and healthcare research–and if more funding is what they’re ultimately looking for, we vote too.

[Edited to add: Science has an article on the campaign as well.]

Comments

  1. #1 D
    November 18, 2010

    So……who would you want to pose with?

  2. #2 Tara C. Smith
    November 18, 2010

    Hm, good question. Unfortunately one of my favorite musicians (Josh Ritter) isn’t a huge “rock star,” but he does have a science song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s85qlz-qWLA

  3. #3 Kausik Datta
    November 18, 2010

    Part of the campaign is to make science noticeable and “cool”

    The question is: will this campaign be able to achieve that objective? For the all the tremendous service that science does to humanity, is that all it is expected to be remembered for, the coolness quotient? Is this the pinnacle of science ‘communication’?

    I am sorry for my (perhaps undue) scepticism, but given our collective previous experience, I am wary of anything that Mooney touches or approves.

  4. #4 22ndCenturySean
    November 18, 2010

    As one of the initial fans of the 2009 I was pleased to see things evolve a bit for 2010. All science/scientists need some good PR and this truly is a great campaign that gets a lot of attention. But I can’t say it is all that inspiring, especially to young folks. Over at Future-ish, we’re trying to increase interest, literacy, and involvement in science, design, and culture so we’ve highlighted ‘scelebs’ (celebrity scientists) as well as Smart Stars.

  5. #5 Tara C. Smith
    November 18, 2010

    I don’t know, and I don’t know what (if any) measures are in place to determine public response. I know (from one of the articles I’ve read on this) that the website has gotten a lot of hits, so word is spreading, but had it had any influence? Are mostly scientists checking it out? A poll of GQ readers probably could be done, but don’t know how much good data we’d really get from that…

  6. #6 it outsourcing services
    November 19, 2010

    All science/scientists need some good PR and this truly is a great campaign that gets a lot of attention.

  7. #7 Perry
    November 19, 2010

    Tara, you say Dr. Mercola “discussed how vaccines may be playing a role in autism and allergies (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary).”

    You need to go to Pubmed Tara. If you go to Pubmed (library of the National Institute of Health) and type in “autism and mercury” you will get references to 146 papers. The vast majority of papers (over 90%) that involve the generation of original data support the link between mercury and autism. The papers that don’t are literature reviews and epidemiological (statistical manipulation) studies done by the makers, promoters and administrators of vaccines. It’s hard to talk mercury without mentioning vaccines. Here’s why:

    200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste based on toxicity characteristics.
    http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/tsd/mercury/regs.htm

    25,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose, Hepatitis B vaccine vials, administered at birth from 1991-2001 in the U.S.

    50,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTaP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 8 times in the 1990’s to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age and currently “preservative” level mercury in multi-dose flu, meningococcal and tetanus vaccines. This can be confirmed by simply analyzing the multi-dose vials.

  8. #8 Tara C. Smith
    November 20, 2010

    Perry, feel free to poke around the blog archives–I’ve written many posts on vaccines & autism. I’m not going to get into it here, but suffice it to say that I’m quite familiar with Pubmed and with the autism/vaccine/mercury literature, and my point stands. And I actually said that Dr. Oz said that, not Dr. Mercola, if you check out the link.

  9. #9 Joanne
    November 20, 2010

    I nearly choked when I saw Dr. Oz in the layout. And I agree with you about the lack of diversity of scientific fields. I still find myself disturbed by the “fawning over” of the rock stars by the scientists. I still proclaim we should get the rock stars and other celebrities in the lab or field with the scientists and have them help for a day or week, and get a real feel for what scientists do. The scientist would HAVE to explain what is going on at the celebrity’s level, which I think would then make their work understandable to the public.

  10. #10 scienceelite
    November 21, 2010

    Seriously though the Hannah poling case proved vaccines cause autism.

  11. #11 scienceelite
    November 21, 2010

    Hannah poling was fine developed normally and got several vaccines at once and suddenly became sick with seizures fever etc and then autistic. Her Dad, an expert along with the courts saw this deterioration.

    The PDR gets many of its adverse effects list on case studies like this one where people are totally healthy (a mitochondrial disorder that didn’t cause a single symptom? yeah right, probably the result of her illness) and challenged with a drug and become horribly sick.

    So Dr. Mercola is truly speaking fact and evidence based medicine.

  12. #12 T. Bruce McNeely
    November 22, 2010

    So Dr. Mercola is truly speaking fact and evidence based medicine.

    When did that start?

  13. #14 Tabela
    November 29, 2010

    As one of the initial fans of the 2009 I was pleased to see things evolve a bit for 2010. All science/scientists need some good PR and this truly is a great campaign that gets a lot of attention. But I can’t say it is all that inspiring, especially to young folks. Over at Future-ish, we’re trying to increase interest, literacy, and involvement in science, design, and culture so we’ve highlighted ‘scelebs’ (celebrity scientists) as well as Smart Stars..

  14. #15 Steve Neumann
    December 21, 2010

    Hi Tara – sorry for the non sequitur, but I was wondering if have you heard about any further developments regarding the ‘blood’ they collected from that T.Rex and others a few years ago…

    I have been corresponding with a creationist author who cited Mary Schweitzer’s work as more ‘evidence’ that the earth is young.

    Thanks in advance…

    Steve

  15. #16 capsiplex
    January 29, 2011

    Hannah poling was fine developed normally and got several vaccines at once and suddenly became sick with seizures fever etc and then autistic. Her Dad, an expert along with the courts saw this deterioration.

  16. #17 Tabela
    January 31, 2011

    The PDR gets many of its adverse effects list on case studies like this one where people are totally healthy (a mitochondrial disorder that didn’t cause a single symptom? yeah right, probably the result of her illness) and challenged with a drug and become horribly sick.

  17. #18 Dijital Baskı
    January 31, 2011

    Hannah poling was fine developed normally and got several vaccines at once and suddenly became sick with seizures fever etc and then autistic. Her Dad, an expert along with the courts saw this deterioration.

  18. #19 mt2
    January 31, 2011

    “The current gap between science and our popular culture,” says Mooney, “keeps Americans from recognizing the centrality of science to their daily lives. They think science is some strange activity performed by slightly geeky others in white coats. In fact, science fuels our economy and is our great hope for cures to diseases that affect all of us.”

  19. #20 Hit-Makinasi
    February 1, 2011

    Seriously though the Hannah poling case proved vaccines cause autism.

  20. #21 porno
    February 8, 2011

    Seriously though the Hannah poling case proved vaccines cause autism.

  21. #22 goatinformationist
    February 15, 2011

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/gender-discrimination-science/#

    Study: Traditional Focus on Sex Discrimination in Science Is Misplaced
    By Ars Technica February 15, 2011 | 9:45 am | Categories: Miscellaneous

    By Kate Shaw, Ars Technica

    Today, more than half of all PhDs in the life sciences are awarded to women, compared to a measly 13 percent bestowed upon women in 1970. However, women still lag far behind men in full professorships and tenure track positions in math-intensive fields.

    Despite claims that this disparity is due to discrimination against women in the processes of publication, grant review, interviewing, and hiring, a review in PNAS last week, written by Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams of Cornell University, finds that there is actually little evidence for sex discrimination in these areas, and concludes that women’s underrepresentation stems from other causes

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    May 10, 2011

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    July 16, 2011

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  24. #25 tabela
    July 21, 2011

    As one of the initial fans of the 2009 I was pleased to see things evolve a bit for 2010. All science/scientists need some good PR and this truly is a great campaign that gets a lot of attention. But I can’t say it is all that inspiring, especially to young folks. Over at Future-ish, we’re trying to increase interest, literacy, and involvement in science, design, and culture so we’ve highlighted ‘scelebs’ (celebrity scientists) as well as Smart Stars..

  25. #26 Tabelacı
    February 13, 2012

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