It was 75 degrees yesterday.
It got down to 24 today.
But Im not gonna write about cold scientists. Im talkin about cool scientists.
Chris Mooney, the expert on facades, appearances, and stabbing people in the back with a smile (you see, if youre smiling, its civil! we are all about civility, here!) is worried, for some reason, that scientists arent cool.
This is not necessarily scientists fault, per se, as very few professions are actually cool. Being a teacher isnt ‘cool’. Being a nurse isnt ‘cool’. Working at Walgreens isnt ‘cool’. And I guess Chris doesnt think being a scientist is cool (probably why hes not one, and has no problem bossing those ‘dysfunctional nerds’ around).
But you know who is ‘cool’? Rock stars!
So Mooney thinks its an AWESOME idea to awkwardly mash some old white guys (weird how the Colgate Twins/Titty Sisters are so concerned about the demographics of others lists, which were at least based on some kind of merit as a metric, while their completely arbitrary list is immune to such considerations) in front of musicians. The math is simple.
SCIENTIST + ROCK STAR = COOL! YAY!!!
Martin Robbins got it 100% right. READ IT.
You all have got to read Mooneys response to Martins request for evidence:
Martin– Handbags aside, can you actually point to a single piece of concrete evidence that GQ readers have been engaged by this campaign and that this has had a positive effect on the perception of science in the US?
You leap on this glossy stuff as though it’s some sort of amazing thing, and scientists and science communicators who might not appreciate it so much are told they’re just ‘out of touch’. The thing is, you do this on the basis of virtually zero evidence of the impacts of it. I’m a 29 year old man in the audience profile of GQ, and I see a bunch of old guys posing in the background of shots of rock stars and looking frankly a bit weird. I don’t see anything here that would inspire me or my age group about science.
If you can show me evidence from focus groups or reader surveys that will back up your claims then I’ll eat my hat and go stand behind some rapper myself. But if you can’t, then you’re guilty of jumping on a bandwagon without being particularly scientific about it.
And my wider gripe with the attitude is this – if you can’t make science itself interesting – to an educated middle-class audience! – then frankly you’re just not a very talented science communicator (I don’t lay any great claim to be myself incidentally, I’m well aware of the limitations of my own greenhouse). If you’re going to fill four pages of GQ with something to grab people’s attention, I suspect you could do a much better job without resorting to shoving rock stars in the foreground.
EPIC DOUCHEBAG MOONEY– Martin, as a scientist…you must be aware of the problem with demanding data on the spot that isn’t easily obtained, especially when this campaign has just launched. Of course there will be attempts at follow up and impact assessments. But you can imagine how complicated that is to perform, and how many aspects of the influence will be very difficult to detect or measure.
So you are setting a burden of proof extremely high and assuming that it falls on Rock Stars. Most people I talk to would assume the opposite…that it falls on you, given all the data I do have on science and the U.S. public.
It is *six* pages of GQ. 8 rock stars, 17 top scientists. A massive undertaking to coordinate, as maybe you can imagine. And all to raise awareness about the importance of science to the economy and the future and to change perceptions that scientists are dysfunctional nerds.
But no good deed goes unpunished.
Oh my fucking god. There is no diuretic/stool softener on the planet strong enough to get Mooneys head out his own asshole. The cholera plaguing Haiti right now couldnt flush his head out. Oh my fucking god.
I recently stumbled upon a bit of completely independent evidence of societies opinion on scientists vs rock stars. I grew up watching Conan O’Brien. I love me some Coco. And now every morning while Im getting ready for work, I catch up on last nights show. A couple nights ago, Conan mentioned Justin Bieber (also featured in GQ *blink*), and before he could get the joke out, the audience pummeled him with ‘BOOOOOOOOOOO!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!’
Despite Biebers success, to a large fraction of the population, he is not cool. If Justin Bieber showed up at your front door, unless you are a child, you would call all your friends. To laugh.
A short while later, Conan mentions Bill Nye The Science Guy. Before he can get the joke out, the audience pummels him with ‘YAAAAAAAAY!!! WHOOOOOOOO!!! *CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP!!!*”
The audience fucking loved Bill Nye. Everyone fucking loves Bill Nye. Not only is he currently cool, he is a major nostalgia win for a large fraction of the US population. If Bill Nye showed up at your front door, you would call all your friends to show off and get cool-by-proximity. Especially if youre around my age.
But cool-by-proximity doesnt really work in the long-term, though. Otherwise everyone who ever took a photo with Mick Jagger or David Bowie would be ‘cool’ not only for the rest of their current life, but into at least the next dozen or so reincarnations.
And then there is no accounting for taste– some people love Justin Bieber. Some people love Roger Waters. Some people love B.o.B. And some people fucking hate Bieber/Waters/B.o.B., for stylistic or even philosophical reasons. You cant just mash a scientist next to a rock star and declare ‘Mission Accomplished’.
Unlike Mooneytits, however, I am not going to demand GQ stop doing their ‘Rock Stars of Science’ spreads because they are ‘hurting the cause’ and ‘doing damage’ or whatever other stupid shit regularly escapes Tits pearly white teeth. I think the campaign is silly, but I also think every little bit helps. If one kid (who reads GQ?) is inspired by these images, then its worth it.
Also unlike Mooney, instead of just screaming “Youre not helping!!!” while he is literally not helping, Im actually going to provide constructive advice. Practical experiences of ‘being cool’ in my own life, that might inspire others in similar positions.
1– Make your research cool.
First of all, my research is cool. It is *painfully* cool. Hopefully soon I will have a few papers out so I can blog about it– but people I know irl know what I do. And even though they might not be scientists, I can communicate it in such a way that peoples response is almost universally “COOOOOOL!!!!” They didnt do that in the GQ spread, as Martin rightly points out.
2– Be cool.
Secondly, I am not cool. Overall, Im a very normal, average, not cool individual. BUT. There are aspects of my non-science-life that are cool. For instance, I beat the crap out of people for fun six days a week, and MMA is currently ‘cool’. We often talk about how girls/minorities/etc are told they arent good at math/science and shouldnt pursue advanced coursework or careers in those fields. Know who also gets this harmful ‘advice’? Jocks. There are adorable children that go to my boxing gym. Kind, sweet kids, that *struggle* in math/science, because they dont think they can be good at ‘school’. So you know what? I fucking offer to help them with their homework after class. Cool chick with awesome shoulders and abs is also pretty dang good at math and science. Maybe they dont ‘have’ to join the Army when they graduate high school…
And then we have the other side of the coin– kids who are nerdy/geeky/’not athletic’ like I was when I was little. They see a grown-up who not only does kick-ass science (GLOWING VIRUSES! MUTANT SWARMS DOING HER BIDDING! AAAHHH!) but also can literally kick-ass. That is fucking cool.
Every scientist I know has 1, cool research and 2, a ‘cool’ aspect of their lives. If you genuinely want scientists, as a profession, to become ‘cool’ like rock stars, you need to start with getting scientists to connect their research to their ‘cool’ selves. As in, going out and being a part of their communities. Most people dont know a scientist, so get out there and mingle.
Or you know what? Maybe just accept people how they are, cool or not. Appreciate their science and their contributions to society and humanity, just like I appreciate the girl helping me find the toothpaste on sale at CVS, or the guy changing the oil in my car (I DO NOT UNDERSTAND CARS), or the cops trying to find my stalker.
Not everyone has to fucking be ‘cool’.
‘Cool’ is superficial crap that means nothing when contrasted with the ability to help people, in any capacity.
While Mooney has made it perfectly clear that superficial crap is his area of expertise, if you want to be cool, I really wouldnt take advice from him.