Over at ERV, Abbeh analyzes the new campaign that tries to make scientists “cool” by juxtaposing them with rock stars in GQ magazine. Her conclusion (couched in language unprintable on a family website): well, maybe such expensive brouhaha helps science education a bit, but there’s not a scintilla of evidence to back up those stentorian and ubiquitous claims. So far it’s all just speculation and wishful thinking—a bunch of sizzle but no sign of beef.
Abbeh offers some alternative advice:
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. [n.b. Abbeh’s is kick boxing]. 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.
I’m on board with ERV here. In the absence of any evidence that these campaigns do a lot for science, it’s annoying to hear the Great Communicators tell us, “This is how it must be done.” Rather than stand next to Justin Bieber and become cool via osmosis (gag), I prefer to write popular books and lecture to lay audiences.
As I wrote in my review for Science of Mooney and Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America, which also promoted a “cool science” approach (Mooney is a major force behind the GQ scientist/rock star fusion):
More than at any time in my life, I see Americans awash in popular science. Bookstores teem with volumes by Stephen Gould, Steven Pinker, Brian Greene, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, Edward O. Wilson, and Jared Diamond; natural history museums have become user friendly; and entire television channels are devoted to science and nature. Science education is readily available to anyone who is curious. And yes, we scientists need—and want—to share our love of science with the public. Still, we must compete with the infinite variety of claims on people’s time and interests, including sports, movies, and reality shows. No matter how much atheists stifle themselves, no matter how many scientists reach out to the public via new media, we may not find the appetite for science infinitely elastic. This does not mean, of course, that we should refrain from feeding it. But figuring out where and how to intervene will take a lot more work than the shallow and unreflective analysis of Unscientific America.