Neil deGrasse Tyson, a prominant astrophysicist has gone a bit viral recently. My favorite is the video above, a part of a documentary, in which he laments the downturn of NASA. Since that youtube clip went up 3 days ago, it has gotten over 100,000 views, and has spawned the twitter hashtag, #Penny4NASA.
Interestingly, deGrasse Tyson has been reappearing in the various media I consume quite a bit lately. He crops up on NPR rather often, and was a guest on Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist podcast (mature audiences only, but don’t let that scare you, the episode is both hilarious and wonderfully nerdy) back in November. He acknowledges in this podcast that much of his job, these days, is to be the public face of science, and he does not shirk from this duty. On top of his duties at the American Museum of Natural History (my FAVORITE museum since I was a child), he not only hosts tv shows, podcasts, and is a frequent guest on other shows and podcasts, but also tweets on a regular basis, and has done 3 AMAs (ask me anything) on reddit.
This has me wondering about what other scientists really put themselves out there to the public. I perused through the wikipedia entry on Popular Science, and asked myself who I recognized in the list of “English populizers of science”. Try it yourself. Those that I recognized fell into 2 general categories:
1) Practicing scientists who happen to be vocal in popular science:
I also looked through the Time top 100, years 2009-2011, and while there were some fabulous scientists doing incredible work, only one of them, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, does much work in the public eye.
I think, if we had more eloquent scientists like deGrasse Tyson willing to put themselves out there, the public might be more inspired by science, rather than frightened of it. This is especially the case for stem cell biology. After all, I do feel that we study science to better ourselves, the human race as a whole. People need to know that.
It takes someone charismatic, but relatable, to make scientists seem (as they are) human. deGrasse Tyson does this wonderfully. I wish there were a biologist out there who could pull off that feat. Why does it seem all the really famous scientists out there are physicists? (or is there a biologist that I am just blanking on who fills that role?)
Edit: March 13, at 1:20pm. My Canadian labmate enlightens me to the existence of David Suzuki, who used to be a genetics professor at UBC in Vancouver, but now spends his time as a climate change activist, and hosts The Nature of Things, which sounds like the Canadian equivalent to NOVA.
You may also want to add James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He’s a very outspoken in the field of “global warming,” now referred to as climate change. He’s often been cited as an ultimate authority or a crackpot, depending on your point of view. See:http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hansen