09 February 2017

The name game and fame

There have been several “Scientists need to do more outreach!” editorial lately. Some have reminded people that most Americans can’t name a living scientist.

The “Do more outreach” editorials got some justified pushback from science Twitter. People listed the many, many things that scientists have been doing for outreach, not least of which was the #ActualLivingScientist hashtag on Twitter. Teachers in K-12 schools started printing out their favourites and stuck them to boards for students to see (above).

But while I love this stuff to death, I don’t think that it will make a big dent in the ability of people in polls to name a living scientist.

If you were asked in a poll to name a living lawyer, would you name a local attorney whose billboard you pass every day on your commute?

If you were asked to name a living football player, would you name your kid’s friend who plays on the high school team?

Probably not, because when you are thinking about answering a poll, you tend to think have to think fast. The names that pop to people’s heads are probably people who have some national fame. So no matter how much grassroots stuff scientists do, in a poll, people are still going to answer with names like Bill Nye or Neil Tyson or Bill Gates or Albert Einstein.

Related posts

Do you know this man?
Who gets to be a scientist?
I want to be Carl Sagan, but can’t

External links

A lot of Americans don’t know a single scientist. We need to fix that
Meet some #actuallivingscientists on Twitter
Picture from here.

No comments: