So, if you look at this picture:
You might be asking yourself “Why does Debbie Harry rate Secret Service protection?” But no, this isn’t a photo from some alternate universe where the lead singer of Blondie went on to become leader of the free world, it’s part of the Rock Stars of Science campaign by the Geoffrey Beene Foundation. They’ve just rolled out a new campaign in GQ magazine, putting seventeen prominent biomedical researchers in fancy photo spreads with eight different musicians. It’s part of an initiative to raise the profile of science by portraying scientists in a more glamorous light.
This is the second year of the campaign, and they went for something a little more… ominous than last year’s photos, which had more of a goofy fun vibe to them. These are all shot with the same sort of dark background and cop-movie posing, which occasionally leads to some awkwardness, such as this picture, in which Jay Sean seems to be taking part in an entirely different photo shoot than the scientists behind him:
Kidding aside, though, I’m all in favor of this sort of thing (and would be happy to see them glam up some physicists next time out…). Is it kind of corny? Yes, absolutely. But you know what? Corny works for a surprisingly large fraction of the population– that’s how high-end fashion designers like Geoffrey Beene make enough money to do this sort of thing in the first place. And, let’s face it, it’s not like more traditionally respectable science outreach shows any sign of putting us over the top any time soon.
So, by all means, let’s have a campaign built around glamor shots of prominent scientists. Every issue of Rolling Stone has a dozen or so pages of some ephemeral pop sensation lounging about in thousand-dollar outfits– if you’re going to do that for people who can barely play their instruments, the least you can do is to throw in the occasional person who might accomplish something of lasting benefit to society. If it gets people to look into science at all, even just to say “Who are the FBI agents with the chick from Blondie?” that’s all to the good.
I expect there will be some negative reactions to this, especially given that Chris Mooney is involved with the project, which I’m sure will irretreivably taint the whole thing for some people in blogdom. But it’s not like most scientists have their finger on the pulse of American popular culture, here (I include myself, as I had to look up Jay Sean on Wikipedia). If it comes down to it, I think I’d take the word of fashion designers over science bloggers about what’s most likely to reach a wide public.
(To head off another obvious complaint, I think it’s definitely a good thing that they went for shooting scientists like rock stars rather than putting rock stars in science labs. The nerdy lab-coat-and-test-tubes thing isn’t working all that well for anybody, and I don’t think Brett Michaels posing by an NMR magnet is going to draw anything but guffaws.)
Personally, I preferred the goofing-around-in-the-studio look of last year’s shots, but then, I’m not going to be appearing in GQ any time soon, so what do I know? I like the fact that some people who know stuff about selling glamor are getting involved with science. We could use more of this kind of thing.