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Scientist Rock Star, Part II

Talking about the need to have popular scientists out there, I think the term “rock-star” was an unfortunate choice. Some people in joking, some people in all seriousness, started looking for people with PhD’s who can play musical instruments.

That is, of course, irrelevant. We are not looking for scientists who are also rockstars, but for scientists who are as well known, as universally respected and as seriously taken as the rock stars were back in the 1960s. The idea is to have a scientist or two or three being so well known that anyone and everyone in the country and the world is at least vaguely familiar with their name and who they are. Thus, when they say something, the media reports it and the people repeat it around the water-coolers, in churches, on front porches and online. People who can demystify science and break down the scientific stereotypes, as well as show that scientific careers are fun and profitable and that doing science is not such hard work as it is often believed.

Chad is absolutely correct in noting that popular culture is more fragmented today than at any point in the past (while at the same time being even more global than before), as well as in noting that nobody takes entertainers seriously any more.

So, in this fragmented (and Long Tailed) society, is there anyone who is known by EVERYBODY in the USA, who is respected and listened to almost universally?

I finally remembered: Oprah! She likes a book – everybody reads it! She legitimizes people and ideas by showcasing them on her show.

Can we put a scientist on TV on a talk-show? It could look somewhat like “Don’t Ask Me…” That 1974 – 1978 British show made its resident personalities into real stars! Magnus Pyke even appeared in the TV spot for Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me With Science which was a big hit at the time. It certainly made science look like fun, it gave serious answers to serious questions, and made science more accessible. Where’s Magnus now? How about a more Oprah-like female scientist, more motherly, with a compelling life story (rags-to-riches including surmounting-big-obstacles)?


  1. #1 afarensis
    July 30, 2006

    Speaking of Ph. D’s in science who can also play music…I went to school with Hector Quirko (he was a couple years ahead of me at UT) – anthropology Ph. D. and a damn fine blues guitarist…

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    July 31, 2006


    I formally volunteer to have my own talk show! Can’t say I have anything in common with Oprah, and I’m sure as hell not motherly. Maybe if Jessica Simpson wasn’t retarded and wore a lab coat, I’d get that job.

  3. #3 Rostradamus
    July 31, 2006

    Technically, you could argue that Richard Dawkins is a semi-rock star. Gould used to be. I do entirely agree that science needs more spokesmen, especially when the opponents of science are focused on publicity.


  4. #4 David Winter
    July 31, 2006

    Maybe we should start by getting scientists onto the existing talk shows.

    Imagine if Dawkins and Gould made a tearful reconcilation live on Oprah (ignoring the fact they actually agreed on 97% of topics). Or a scientist apperaing on a late night talk show to to publicise his next paper”

    “So Dr Smith, tell me what we’re going to see here, this is a figure form your new manuscript which appears on January the 12th in PNAS is that right?”

    BTW I used to be in band but the less said about that the better realy

  5. #5 Jaybird
    July 31, 2006

    Here’s some (punk) rock-stars who are also real-life scientists:

    Milo Aukerman, singer for The Descendents, Ph.D. in Biochemistry.

    Greg Graffin, singer for Bad Religion, Ph.D. in Evolutionary Paleontology.

    Dexter Holland, singer for The Offspring, Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.

  6. #6 Zuska
    July 31, 2006

    To add to my list of Jane Goodall and Marie Curie, how about Sally Ride? Rachel Carson? Dian Fossey?
    Please, folks, try to think XX once in awhile when you are thinking science.

  7. #7 Sandra Porter
    July 31, 2006

    My votes are here.

    And, Zuska is absolutely right.

  8. #8 John McKay
    July 31, 2006

    Has no one mentioned “They Might Be Giants?”

  9. #9 DenisMB
    August 2, 2006

    Young, brilliant jazz musicians and twin brothers: the Moutin brothers.
    One got his PhD in physics aged 24, the other (only) a masters degree in mathematics.

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