a case of trying to be hip while breaking a hip
Some people just don’t get it no matter how many times you have to explain it to them. It happens and it’s very unfortunate when it does. But it’s not quite as bad as when you’re dealing with someone who simply refuses to get it no matter how many flaws are pointed out with his approach. I’m talking about a tireless crusader for the good of all things science who eschews the “explaining how and why scientific education matters” shtick and goes right for scientist-bashing while falling in love with bogus tales crafted to his liking, the master of framing and cash-in accommodationism, Chris Mooney. Apparently the Rock Stars of Science project that I’ve touched on last year is still going on and will resurface in December’s GQ. How does it plan to make science really cool? Have several high profile scientists in their respective fields stand next to a celebrity in a photo op and try their best not to look awkward. Well, I’m sold. That’ll certainly help science finding in the U.S. because as Chris says, the only way Americans will accept science as interesting is if you emulate cheap reality TV.
You see, because the public apparently watches a whole lot of talent shows for amateurs and celebrities who desperately want to either extend their fifteen minutes of fame, or recapture the attention lavished on them ten or twenty years ago, science must then be generalized into a single, all-encompassing package, shoved in a suit with sequins, then made to dance in that Lady Gaga zombie twitch to an overly energetic and disposable techno beat. This is not how you treat hundreds of disciplines and thousands of researchers trying to answer fundamental questions about the natural world. This is how you try to give a balding, out of shape has-been a reboot for some cheap rating spikes and sympathy sales. Even worse, it’s profoundly insulting to both people and scientists. Scientists know that what they do is important. People who aren’t completely wrapped up in a noxious shroud of smug, self-assured fundamentalist absolutism also know that scientists’ work does bear fruit in the form of new inventions. The problem is media-fostered, aided, and abetted anti-intellectualism, a light strain of which Chris loves to pursue himself with his typical “oh those socially inept scientists in an ivory tower don’t know how to talk to people” op-eds for which he’s so well known.
People like actors, athletes, and rock stars because they’re entertaining, as per their job description. But most of science isn’t exactly prime time must see TV material and it involves a lot of math, observation, and a jargon that varies from specialty to specialty. So what exactly does putting a scientist next to a rock star in a big photo spread do? What message does it convey? End the abject apathy about scientific research in D.C. because this geneticist/physicist/astronomer looks totally awesome with a guitar? Invest more in higher education and we’ll have rock stars teach pharmacology? Become a scientist and you’ll get to hang out with Seal after you’re done with the eight years of studying? Are you kidding me? How about photos of scientists next to a little chart showing how many jobs this team’s research can create in the next five to ten years, how many people it can save, or how much waste it can prevent from going into landfills? Or show them doing something that’s really a cool task from their jobs? Or even more importantly, encourage kids to keep tinkering and formalizing their experiments into a more and more scientific format with print ads that show how playing with tinker toys could well end up with them building robots or spaceships, or how looking at ants can land them in exotic jungles around the world, trying to discover new species? You know, a respectful campaign?