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)?