Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Over at the Intersection, Chris Mooney brought to light a recent interviewby Morgan Spurlock in which he was quoted thusly:

We’ve started to make science and empirical evidence not nearly as important as punditry–people using p.r.-speak to push a corporate or political agenda. I think we need to turn scientists back into the rock stars they are.

I find this quote so refreshing (not just because it places us scientists up on a lofty pedestal), because it validates scientific authority figures as someone worth listening to. For a long time, I sat idly by as governmental agencies such as the FDA, EPA, CDC etc eroded the credibility of scientists. Dismissing the believers in global warming as alarmists, proponents of stem cell therapy as immoral and over-optimistic, laughing at those who might dare suggest that cannabis could pose some therapeutic role. The position of this administration (and of the US government in general) is to promote the science that fits the paradigm, and dismiss the science that challenges it.


I hate to see the laws and policies that direct the lives of US citizens, and the science which may better our lives, fall prey to such an insidious and backwards application of science. At the risk of sounding like we should all bow down to Science ad naseum, successful societies which have progressed and maintained their progress valued the input of experts. These people are not politicians.

But, as a democracy, the onus is on “we the people” to choose who we listen to, and who are placed in positions to influence decisions. In my opinion, this requires an educated public, a nation which is science-literate, and the cessation of the idiotic struggle between progress and a science-phobic religious culture in America.


  1. #1 coturnix
    July 25, 2006

    Yes, you are a rockstar!

  2. #2 agnostic
    July 25, 2006

    I’d change the word “rockstars” to something less celebrity-based. When scientists become rockstars, they tend to become surrounded by idiotic disciple-groupies, insulated from criticism. Freud, for instance. “Hero” sounds a little better, but also suffers from not wanting to challenge them… maybe “anti-hero”? Hell, I don’t know!

    Einstein the playa was the exception to the rule, though; Newton died a virgin, and the day when science nerds get anywhere near the same amount of attention as rockstars will be the day that the average rockstar wears a pocket-protector on stage (aside from Devo members, perhaps).

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    July 25, 2006

    I get your point, and more to the point of what i meant was “someone who is listened to.” Not quite a role model….maybe a philosopher king/queen? 🙂

    The ego-maniac scientists, well they aren’t doing science any favors with their agendas any more than the politicians. Humble brilliance, now thats what we need more of!

  4. #4 iGollum
    July 25, 2006

    Humble brilliance? I don’t know… the road through college, grad school can be so demanding, psychologically (and further down the tenure-track road doesn’t seem to get any easier) there’s times when, personally, it feels like I’m hanging on and scraping through out of pure ego. There’s definitely the joy of doing science, advancing knowledge, yeah, but at the end of the day, when things get tough, ego is the most powerful steam I’ve found. Humble brilliance is a nice idea (and something I associate more generally with gentlemen of leisure doing science as a hobby, perhaps a passion -more or less brilliantly as cases may vary- in past centuries) but I’m not sure it’s a solid solution to *make it* in today’s world, scientific or otherwise. Then again, what do I know… I may be too cynical for my age (25).

  5. #5 jayson
    July 25, 2006

    personally, if anyone is going to be celebrities, it should be scientists, even if egos inflate and self importance balloons. I’d rather have someone educated spouting off than someone who is pretty; whom would you want the general public to listen to? No matter what title you give them to negative aspects of fame are going to creep in, and so be it.

    At least people would have to work hard, both scholastically and professionally, rather than being discovered at a 7-11. I would consider it raising the bar of humanity.

    If they cure cancer, bring on the coke nosed researchers! If it defeats depressions, bring on the viper room romping psychiatrists!

    If it gets people to trust science, and therefore trust reality, then I personally am far less concerned with the rockstardom, and more content with the results.

    I can think of far worse celebrity situations, such as the one we have now.

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    July 25, 2006

    “If they cure cancer, bring on the coke nosed researchers! If it defeats depressions, bring on the viper room romping psychiatrists!”

    I’ll meet ya at the Viper Room!

    And wouldn’t everyone like to listen to someone pretty AND smart??? 😉

  7. #7 Abel Pharmboy
    July 25, 2006

    Just be sure to bring along your pharmacology and drug safety expert to negotiate those waters of variably-standardized street medicines!

    On the serious side, I’ve been blessed to work with a very senior scientist who has made discoveries such that he is treated like a rockstar at international meetings, etc. When I travel with him, I get into the best parties and hospitality suites, but he still doesn’t get courted to the press room at the meetings, a terrible oversight IMHO.

    What I think Prof Batts is trying to say is the best of our respective disciplines deserve equal or more media attention than someone like Tom Cruise holding forth on psych meds or Suzanne Somers talking about alt med therapies for breast cancer.

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